NAGARA Webinar Recap: AOTUS Discusses the Presidential Records Act, Bureau of Indian Affairs Records, digitization, and how NARA will provide access to facilities post COVID-19

David Ferriero Archivist of the United States

The discussion with AOTUS David Ferriero this past December was informative and noteworthy. Special thanks to Meg Phillips for also assisting with answers to questions. Below is the Q&A from the webinar:

Q: Given COVID-19 is there any consideration to postponing the “all-digital” mandate deadline as posted in OMB M-19-21?

A: We have no plans to extend that deadline. We are sympathetic to the challenges agencies are facing during the current health crisis; however, the targets set for federal agencies in 2022 are not imminent and do not require adjusting at this point. NARA and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) will continue to monitor the current situation as we all work through this crisis together. We will coordinate any decision on M-19-21 targets with OMB.  (from NARA Bulletin 2020-01)

Q: This is Dr. Dees from Poarch Band of Creek Indians. You said your Office was digitizing Native American documents and would make them available to us. Have you digitized all of them and how can we access them?

A: NARA holds around 75,000 cubic feet or around 225 million pages of Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) records. Only a small percentage of the records have been digitized so far.

However, we have digitized all ratified treaties and associated papers, which are available here:

We have also digitized many BIA photographs which are now available in the BIA Photograph Finding Aid. You can read more about this and link to the collection itself here:

We will keep adding to that collection as more photographs are digitized. We have also prioritized digitization of the BIA records that were moved from Alaska to Seattle, which is about 1000 cubic feet. That work is still ongoing.

Q: Do you consider the documents of all of the appointees as Archival or Record for retention?  Or do you sort and then decide what to do with them?

A: Official documents of political appointees would definitely be managed as Federal records, so they are covered by a records retention schedule and appraised.  Many of them would be designated as permanent records, but not necessarily all of them.

Q: What were you writing to them about? [Question was in reference to the letters AOTUS said he had written to past presidents]

A: David Ferriero wrote to several presidents. He wrote two to President Eisenhower, including one asking for a photo “suitable for framing,” one to President Kennedy asking about the Peace Corps, and one to President Johnson congratulating him for signing the Civil Rights Act.

Q: How about “strange” computer media?  e.g.- old mainframe /minicomputer tapes like Nixon’s appointment calendar/notes that took 20 years to puzzle out. Are those things encountered every now and then?

A: This is probably happening less than it used to, but it does still happen. Now we are more worried about file formats than media.

Q: What type of digital programming is the National Archives offering?

A: Lots of different kinds!  We started a new newsletter to highlight all the things the public can do with NARA while the buildings are closed. You can subscribe yourself if you like.  Here’s the Thanksgiving edition:

Q: Is Phase 3, letting the public back in, All or Nothing? Or will the phase be broken into smaller steps, such as having researchers pre-book and limiting size of researchers allowed onsite at any one time?

A: No, we are not planning for “all or nothing” opening of the research rooms. According to NARA’s phased reopening plan, select research rooms & museum exhibits will open during phase 3 with limited hours and strict social distancing procedures. Phase 3 is not “back to our old normal.”  There are not currently any NARA facilities in phase three. 

To review the entire presentation visit the NAGARA archives site with your NAGARA account.

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