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City Council Testimony:
Thomas Connors on behalf of the Society of American Archivists

APRIL 5, 2002

My name is Thomas Connors and I am here to represent the Society of American Archivists on the matter of the draft legislation under consideration.

The Society of American Archivists is a national association of professional archivists who work in government, business, academic, historical and other archival settings. SAA's mission is to serve the educational and informational needs of its 3,500 individual and institutional members and to provide leadership to ensure the identification, preservation, and use of records of historical value.

I thank you for allowing me to come before you today to comment on the proposed amendment to the City Charter on the custody and control of city records of enduring value.

The Society of American Archivists applauds this process and emphatically supports the spirit and intention of the draft amendment. Not only does it aim to better preserve the integrity of New York City's historical records, it better ensures their equal access to all members of the public. This is especially important when viewed against what appears to be an emerging trend by some government officials to restrict access to information contained in public records, information that should be openly available to people who want to know how vital policy decisions were made.

When I testified before this committee last February I mentioned George W. Bush's Executive Order 13233 which effectively abrogates the Presidential Records Act of 1978, giving power to the president to allow or deny access to records of past presidents. There are other recent government information-related developments that bear out the feeling that there is a growing movement toward secrecy and denial of access to government information at various levels, but particularly at the federal level.

I will cite just 3 examples (there are more):

•  On October 12, 2001, US Attorney General John Ashcroft issued a memo to federal agencies assuring FOIA compliance officers that the Justice Department would back up any decisions to deny requests for information made under FOIA. This was essentially a revocation of Janet Reno's 1993 instruction to agencies on bending towards openness when responding to FOIA requests.

•  In April 1995, Presidnt Bill Clinton signed Executive Order 12958 which ordered government agencies to automatically declassify, by the year 2000, all permanently valuable national security information records that are 25 years or older and that do not contain currently sensitive information. There is now a cross-agency working group that is looking at revising or possibly revoking EO 12958. (This was set in motion prior to September 11, 2001.)

•  Just this past February the General Accounting Office filed suit against Vice President Cheney to try to force the White House to provide information on meetings of Mr. Cheney's Energy Policy Task Force, particularly making public the identities of energy industry representatives who met with the Task Force. The White House says that the GAO and Congress have no right to this information.

While supporting the draft legislation to amend the City Charter, and in light of these examples of the current "information lockdown" as it has been called, I would like to make a few specific points.

First: In Chapter 3003, 5b, (page 3) regarding the commissioner's entering into an agreement with another archival establishment outside the municipal archives, it reads "such establishment must exist under public auspices." There is an implication here of City auspices, but it is unclear as stated. It could be construed to mean a public institution outside of New York City, or outside of New York State for that matter.

Second: In Chapter 1133b (page 5). It reads "No records shall be destroyed or otherwise disposed of by an agency unless approval has been obtained from the commissioner of records and information services, the corporation counsel and the head of the agency which created or has jurisdiction over the records who shall base their determinations etc. etc." Despite the added lines below that reinforce City control, possession and ownership the wording as it stands could be construed to allow disposition other than that of destruction. We would suggest that the word 'disposal' clearly refer to destruction of materials not deemed archival by the appropriate DORIS officers.

Third: On the matter of retroactivity of the legislation, SAA supports any measures taken to bring the records of former mayor Rudolph Giuliani back into the custody and control of the municipal archives.

Thank you again for allowing me to address the Committee on behalf of the Society of American Archivists.


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Defending the archives contract: Saul Cohen, President, Rudy Giuliani Center for Urban Affairs