An obscure federal board’s haughty effort to sell off and dismantle the National Archives’ Seattle campus has been halted by the Biden administration, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget announced today, in a decision cheered by the Pacific Northwest’s congressional delegation.
“I am writing to withdraw OMB’s January 24, 2020 approval of the sale of the Federal Archives and Records Center,” Acting OMB Director Shalanda D. Young announced in a letter to the “Public Buildings Reform Board”.
“Tribal consultation is a priority for this Administration. [T]he process that led to the decision to approve the sale of the Federal Archives and Records Center is contrary to this Administration’s tribal consultation policy, and I am accordingly withdrawing OMB’s approval of the sale of that facility.”
The letter added:
“Any effort to sell the Federal Archives and Records Center in the future, through any available and appropriate authority, must comply with at least two substantial requirements. First, it must be preceded by meaningful and robust tribal consultation, consistent with the President’s January 26, 2021 Memorandum on Tribal Consultation. Second, it must proceed through the appropriate administrative process, based on a new factual record, and must comply with the attendant substantive and procedural safeguards of that process.”
The NARA Seattle campus is an important resource for the Pacific Northwest. No amount of consultation will ever justify its dismantling. Before a federal judge (and now Biden’s OMB) intervened to stop this ill-conceived sale, NARA was going to move the contents of the facility to California and Missouri.
NARA’s Seattle campus is aging, to be sure. But the solution is not to demolish the building and move the records. It’s to modernize the facility.
Both of Washington’s United States Senators were quick to hail the decision.
Senator Cantwell said:
“OMB, under the Biden administration, has come to its senses. It believes denying a population access to its historic records is wrong. I’m glad they are going to continue to allow Tribal communities to access this important information.”
Senator Murray said:
“While this process never should have begun in the first place without Tribal and local consultation, I’m glad that OMB has listened to local Tribes and reversed their decision to approve the sale of the Seattle Archive building. I want to thank everyone who made their voice heard throughout this process, and be clear I will continue working to ensure the generations of artifacts and history stored in the Seattle facility will remain accessible to stakeholders across the Pacific Northwest.”
As alluded to above, the idea to sell NARA’s Seattle campus came from the “Public Buildings Reform Board”, a five person entity that was created a few years ago by an act of Congress. The board did not bother to seek public input prior to getting Trump’s OMB to sign off on the sale. An attorney for the board stated last year that the board was “not required by statute to seek public input first.”
That kind of attitude is wholly inconsistent with the values the people of this country expect their representatives, whether elected or appointed, to govern by.
The “Public Buildings Reform Board” should be abolished. An entity that has no sense of proper purpose or accountability doesn’t deserve to exist. Publicly owned buildings and public lands deserved to be treated with care and reverence — they belong to the people of the country and cannot be easily reclaimed once sold off.
Congress must recognize that it made a mistake in 2016 by setting up an unaccountable board and charging it with making weighty decisions about properties like NARA’s Seattle campus. This mistake should be rectified through bipartisan legislation as soon as possible. We hope the Pacific Northwest congressional delegation will step up to lead that effort.