This Issue Brief was drafted by appointed representatives of SAA, the Council of State Archivists, and the National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators and was approved by the governing bodies of the three organizations.
Government archives are responsible to both preserve and make accessible the permanent records of government. By any reasonable comparison the legally required records of government, as well as valuable historical documents found in government archives, receive too little funding. Even when compared with other “cultural agencies” that receive federal funding, such as the Smithsonian Institution and the Library of Congress, federal archives receive less support. State and local government archives also function with minimal funding as many local governments across the nation have no archives funding.
Neither the federal government nor any state or local governmental agency has systematically studied the cost of maintaining the archival record required by a democratic nation to preserve the legally required and culturally valuable records created by public institutions. In an era in which the public increasingly realizes the need to allocate vital resources rationally, government has failed to ascertain the true cost of maintaining an adequate documentary record of our democracy.
To resolve this problem:
In the short run, the Council of State Archivists, the National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators, and the Society of American Archivists believe that:
Systematic federal and state studies should be undertaken to determine the true cost of maintaining – in archives – public records that are legally required to assure individual rights, document government actions, provide government transparency and accountability, and document historical actions taken by government. Additionally, state archives should recruit local city and county governments to participate in conducting studies. Ensuring that all levels of government records are included, beginning with local government, is important in estimating the true cost of archival preservation.
In the United States the funding made available to public archives is not adequate to serve the public’s legitimate right for access to and preservation of documents that must, by law, be maintained and through which public accountability and historical interpretation are made possible.
Using federal spending as a bellwether for public spending on archives:
The National Archives is significantly underfunded when compared to similar organizations supported by the federal government. In FY12, for example:
The federal government has not invested grant funds in state and local records at the rate at which it has supported similar state and local cultural activities:
Thus the federal government underfunds archives, when compared with similar organizations, both in terms of budgets allocated to somewhat comparable organizations and in grant support for archival activity throughout the nation.
The Council of State Archivists, the National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators, and the Society of American Archivists believe that three steps should be taken to ensure the protection of America’s public records:
In the longer term, governments at the federal, state, and local levels should initiate studies to determine the amount of funding needed to ensure the necessary and required preservation of America’s public records.
For more information on the Preserving the American Historical Record Act, see: http://www2.archivists.org/initiatives/preserving-the-american-historical-record.
For more information on the work of state archives in documenting government, promoting history, and securing rights, see: http://www.statearchivists.org/reports/Importance%20of%20State%20Archives.pdf.
All links accessed 11/20/14.
Approved by the SAA Council: November 2014.