Appendix A: Summary of Comments Received
The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) created a robust dialog and consultation process for the development of the agency’s fourth Open Government Plan. Internal and external engagement efforts surpassed all previous efforts, which resulted in more than 180 discrete ideas, suggestions, and proposals for strengthening open government at NARA.
NARA held more than 10 internal brainstorming sessions and office briefings. NARA also hosted its first webcast Open Government Town Hall for all staff members to participate in locations across the country. The Archivist of the United States, David S. Ferriero, was joined by NARA senior executives to present on open government topics and respond to suggestions. The Open Government Team at NARA received feedback via email and on the agency’s Internal Collaboration Network throughout the two-month consultation process.
During Sunshine Week in March 2016, NARA’s external engagement kicked off with blog posts on the NARAtions Blog, NDC Blog, Records Express, the FOIA Ombudsman, and social media posts on Facebook and Twitter. The Open Government Team at NARA also monitored ideas and comments submitted on the Open Government space on History Hub, a pilot project for researchers and the public to ask questions and collaborate on research.
On March 29, 2016, the Archivist of the United States and NARA Senior Executives held the first Open Government webinar. The webinar included an overview and presentations on innovation, research services, declassification, Freedom of Information Act, and records management. The recording from this webinar is also available on the agency’s YouTube channel. NARA also held an in-person meeting with the researcher community at the National Archives in College Park, MD, with remote participation from researchers across the country.
As part of the development process, we considered more than 180 ideas, comments, and suggestions for inclusion in this plan. The number of ideas submitted by general topic is below, along with a summary of some of the suggestions and initial responses to those ideas.
We continue to welcome your feedback on History Hub or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about opportunities to participate and to follow open government updates, please visit Archives.gov/open.
Customer and Research Services
Suggestions related to customer service include ideas for improving NARA’s communication with the public and improving the research experience.
1. Idea: Set up an inter-archive loan system so that materials including microfilm publications that are only available in one location can be used by visitors at other locations when practicable.
NARA Response: Occasionally we send microfilm publications from one NARA location to another and we will consider ways of expanding this practice. Microfilm publications are also high priority candidates for digitization. Shipping original records from one location to another, however, incurs a potential for high risk and is costly. In order to be good stewards of the holdings, we try to minimize such risk and instead we offer digital copies whenever possible and pursue other options for digitizing records to increase the availability of holdings online. We will continue to explore innovative options for more electronic access to records.
2. Idea: Take steps to make the holdings and research room more accessible for persons with disabilities.
NARA Response: To ensure we meet the needs of all researchers, we continually review our public services for opportunities to increase access. As part of our commitments for 2017–2018, we plan to carry out a comprehensive review of our services at all 15 locations to identify any ways that holdings can be made more accessible to researchers with disabilities.
3. Idea: Extend research room hours for the public.
NARA Response: Research room hours are necessarily constrained due to current budgetary limitations. Current staffing levels and other business costs make it very difficult to provide public services outside of core business hours. However, we do continue to search for creative solutions to extending access to the records. Providing increasing amounts of our holdings in electronic form online is one of the most significant ways that we can broaden access and NARA is dedicated to a vigorous program of digitization.
4. Idea: Create a unified researcher card system for all NARA facilities.
NARA Response: We agree that a single electronic researcher card system would benefit the public. We will continue studying available options, but developing such a system is challenging because a single system would need to serve 13 Presidential libraries and 15 Research Services research rooms across the country.
Ideas related to declassification include suggestions for improving access to declassified material and for ensuring that as much material is declassified as possible.
5. Idea: Celebrate NARA's role in releasing the remaining John F. Kennedy documents and highlight that many of the records released under the JFK Assassination Records Act could have been withheld as “properly classified” under the current classification regime.
NARA Response: We are considering ways that we can mark the release of records related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
6. Idea: Allow the public to comment on the upcoming agency revisions to classification guidance.
NARA Response: The Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) will oversee the Fundamental Classification Guidance Review (FCGR) required by Executive Order 13526, “Classified National Security Information” to ensure compliance with the instructions both ISOO and the Director of National Intelligence issued to agencies concerning the FCGR process. The classification guidance agencies will review is sensitive and classified, which precludes the public from viewing or commenting on the information contained in the guidance or any specific revisions to the guidance. In order to engage the public in the oversight process of the FCGR, ISOO will report publicly on the agencies’ interim status updates on the FCGR due to ISOO in October 2016 and February 2017. ISOO will assess the updates and report interim findings on its website, welcoming public comment to inform and assist the monitoring of the FCGR process. Final FCGR responses from agencies will also be made publicly available on ISOO’s website.
7. Idea: Review open government models from other countries to see if there are any practices that could be adopted to speed up declassification.
NARA Response: NARA has in the past consulted with declassification and access professionals from other countries. These include an exchange of guidance with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in Great Britain and ongoing work with the NATO Archives Committee. We have also discussed broader access policy with several nations. As opportunities are made available, we will continue to consult with our counterparts in other countries, looking for potential practices that could create efficiencies.
8. Idea: Create more opportunities for declassification archivists and teams working on Mandatory Declassification Review (MDR) and Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to have more communication with each other in order to increase knowledge and create efficiencies.
NARA Response: NARA is working both internally and externally to improve communication among mandatory declassification and FOIA professionals. We have established an internal FOIA council made up of representatives from Research Services, Presidential libraries, the National Declassification Center (NDC), the National Personnel Records Center, and General Counsel. This council discusses streamlining NARA internal processes. The Presidential libraries, in cooperation with the Central Intelligence Agency, operate the Remote Archives Capture (RAC) program. This highly successful program involves scanning classified Presidential records and having them reviewed at a centralized location. As these records are already scanned, they can be expedited in the event one is subject to a mandatory review request. Finally, the NDC is currently pilot testing on-site consultation for FOIAs and MDRs at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland. This effort uses other-agency declassification staff members already posted to the NDC, to triage requested records for level of sensitivity in an effort to reduce the number of cases that require lengthy, complex processing.
Ideas related to employee engagement were focused on actively seeking feedback from NARA staff and on encouraging collaboration across the agency.
9. Idea: Publish a draft of NARA's Open Government Plan prior to publication for NARA staff to provide feedback.
NARA Response: NARA will publish a draft of the agency’s fourth Open Government Plan prior to publication for NARA staff and the public to provide feedback and comment.
10. Idea: Engage staff and the public in the development process for next generation finding aids.
NARA Response: NARA is increasingly integrating user-centric design principles as part of its development efforts. This includes the development of personas, which are profiles of our customers, and journey maps, which are visualizations of how customers interact with the agency. The use of personas and journey maps ensure development efforts align well with the needs and expectations of actual users. A diverse set of NARA staff are being included in the creation of these tools. Moreover, NARA is investigating approaches to conduct more in-depth surveys and user studies with users of our systems and visitors to our physical spaces. As the personas and journey maps reach a final draft, these will be shared publicly for additional input and feedback.
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
Ideas related to FOIA were primarily focused on improving communication with FOIA requesters about the process and what can be released.
11. Idea: Inform the public about why certain records at NARA are exempt from public disclosure.
NARA Response: NARA’s regulations at 36 C.F.R. 1250.6 were recently updated to explain what records in NARA’s holdings are subject to FOIA and how researchers can gain access to records not available under FOIA. We will add this information to archives.gov/research to increase visibility.
12. Idea: Create resources to help the public (particularly high school students) better understand FOIA.
NARA Response: In the U.S. National Action Plan 3.0 and NARA Open Government Plan 4.0, OGIS committed to develop tools to teach students about FOIA, drawing upon real-world examples to foster democracy and explain how the public can use FOIA to learn more about the government's actions. All developed resources will be posted online.
13. Idea: Host a celebration of FOIA’s 50th birthday.
NARA Response: During Sunshine Week 2016 the FOIA Ombudsman, OGIS, hosted an event celebrating FOIA’s 50th anniversary and exploring the future possibilities of open government. The copy of the FOIA signed by President Johnson of July 4, 1966, was placed outside of the venue during the event. NARA also plans to place the signed copy of the FOIA in the Rotunda over the summer in honor of the statute’s milestone, and we will continue to look for opportunities to highlight FOIA’s continued importance to making access happen.
Ideas included in the “other” category included a suggestion that NARA forwarded to another agency with responsibility for the topic addressed, and comments regarding better explaining NARA’s goals and ideas for engaging new users and potential partners.
14. Idea: Explore partnerships with other institutions (other archives, museums, educational institutions, etc.) to share resources as a way to reach new audiences at relatively low costs.
NARA Response: NARA’s External Affairs Liaison, Meg Phillips, assists NARA offices that seek external partners to work with on initiatives of mutual interest and benefit. The External Affairs Liaison is also happy to assist any other organization that wants help reaching the relevant office within NARA to discuss a proposal for working together. For more information about NARA’s External Affairs, please contact Meg Phillips at email@example.com.
NARA has expanded the number of organizations and institutions it partners with on digitization projects by developing different methods of partnering. We recently established a short-term digitization project plan that allows individuals or institutions focused on digitizing a smaller volume of material to enter into an agreement with NARA. These plans set specific project targets and image/metadata formats that they will contribute to NARA at the end of the project. In return, they are allowed to set up their scanners in the research room and keep them in place for the duration of the project. For projects lasting less than one week, NARA established an Innovation Hub that allows researchers and citizen archivists to have a separate and dedicated digitization space for their projects. They can use NARA’s digitization equipment and space so long as they provide NARA a copy of the metadata and images they create for inclusion in the catalog. For traditional digitization partners focused on large, on-going projects, NARA continues to offer the Partnership Agreement that allows for multiple projects under one agreement.
If you are interested in a Partnership Agreement or a short-term digitization project, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In addition to digitization projects, NARA is also actively working toward increasing partnerships that help expose NARA holdings to wider online audiences. This includes both reaching out directly to possible partner organizations to discuss collaboration opportunities and expanding NARA’s role as a platform where similar organizations can share information and expertise. For example, NARA’s History Hub allows NARA to foster partnerships between our agency and other cultural heritage institutions and serves as a hub where cross-agency collaborations can happen without the need for NARA’s direct involvement.
For anyone interested in possible digital engagement partnerships with the NARA, please contact Andrew Wilson at email@example.com.
Some commenters made suggestions directly related to improving access to materials at Presidential libraries.
15. Idea: Encourage the National Declassification Center (NDC) to share resources with Presidential libraries to improve declassification.
NARA Response: The NDC and Presidential libraries have a history of cooperating on declassification issues. NDC coordinates with the libraries to identify responsive records associated with their special review projects: Presidential records were cited in the two Berlin Wall projects, the Katyn Forest Massacre, and Human Rights Abuses in Brazil. The NDC is hosting a Remote Archives Capture (RAC) review capability onsite at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland, so agency declassification reviewers working here can review prioritized Presidential records at the same location that they are reviewing accessioned federal records. Finally, the NDC encourages Presidential library participation in declassification review and equity training, including a recent live-streamed training that taught staff how to recognize classified information from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
Ideas related to records management addressed storage and record keeping policies at NARA and ways to help other agencies improve their records management.
16. Idea: Release agency responses to the Records Management Self-Assessment.
NARA Response: Starting in 2016, NARA committed to putting Senior Agency Official for Records Management Reports online. These reports are required by the Managing Government Records Directive. Agencies are asked to report on their agency progress in meeting the directive goals as well as on other significant records and information initiatives as defined by NARA. This information is available at Archives.gov/records-mgmt/agency/sao-reporting.html.
17. Idea: Proactively disclose online accessioning paperwork when collections are transferred to NARA from agencies and post the forms used to appraise records.
NARA Response: Research Services is publishing quarterly reports of records newly transferred to the National Archives, called accessions, on Archives.gov (Archives.gov/research/accessions/). These reports list new accessions by custodial unit (location), record group, and series. Information includes date range and access restrictions. We will continue to explore possibilities for expanding the information contained in this report to provide as much information about newly accessioned records as possible.
Approved records schedules and records appraisals since 1978 are available in our Records Control Schedules Repository (RCS): Archives.gov/records-mgmt/rcs/. We have included a commitment to begin the process to improve the RCS as part of the US National Action Plan 3.0. This work is under way.
Comments under the category “Sharing Innovation” include suggestions to make available the code for NARA-created tools like the History Hub and to take steps to improve understanding of the development and uses of NARA’s tools.
18. Idea: Share the code for NARA's innovation tools, such as the History Hub.
NARA Response: NARA is committed to the use and promotion of open source tools and platforms and has a history of using an open source code repository, GitHub, for several of its projects. We look to expand on this solid foundation as we embark on upcoming web development efforts as part of a redesign of Archives.gov and the broader use of Drupal, an open source web content management system, in NARA’s web operations.
With respect to the current platform supporting NARA’s History Hub, Jive, this is founded on open source development (see developer.jivesoftware.com/open-source/) and their code repositories are available on GitHub at github.com/jivesoftware.
19. Idea: Host a multiday boot camp at NARA—or digitally—to present the agency's innovation tools and discuss how they were developed.
NARA Response: NARA’s Office of Innovation regularly holds events in support of its work and will consider additional events to share our innovation activities. We have held internal-facing events such as the Office of Innovation Fair on March 9, 2016, and external events, such as hack-a-thons and edit-a-thons. To make these events as inclusive as possible, we are considering virtual events in order to reach those outside the Washington, DC, area.
Ideas regarding NARA’s web presence include suggestions of new apps that NARA could develop, and suggestions for how to expand or otherwise improve access to NARA’s holdings.
20. Idea: Develop a NARA-branded Constitution app or "Charters" app that includes the Declaration, Constitution, Bill of Rights, and Magna Carta.
NARA Response: More than a third of visitors to NARA’s websites access our information via a mobile device. This number increases every year, making mobile access to our holdings and information a significant priority. More broadly, mobile usage of the Internet now outpaces access from traditional devices, making it more important than ever that NARA’s holdings and content are available anytime, anywhere, and on any device. We prioritize mobile optimization, via techniques such as responsive design that make web-based content accessible to the broadest possible set of audiences and devices. As a step in this direction, the planned release of the next version of Archives.gov will make the vast majority of NARA’s web pages mobile friendly. This includes a redesign of the current web pages supporting the “Charters of Freedom.”
Given the importance of America’s founding documents, we will continue to investigate how to make these records more easily accessible to those online. In addition to improved mobile access, the next version of Archives.gov will include a home page that features the founding documents more prominently at the top of the home page. We have also recently upgraded our search engine to a platform that allows us to highlight valuable content. We are now featuring the Charters of Freedom Documents in search results. To see the results, visit Search.archives.gov/search?affiliate=national-archives&query=charters+of+freedom.
21. Idea: Enhancements to the National Archives Catalog, including showing users' most recent and trending search terms; feeds showing new material added to the catalog and the latest transcriptions, tags, or comments made by the public; and improvements to the Catalog API for bulk access to digitized records.
NARA Response: We will be developing automated ways to provide greater visibility into the activity of the National Archives Catalog. We hope that increased transparency will spur engagement efforts and generate data that will help us improve the system. Developing these features will require changes to the systems, so we are also investigating manual ways to achieve these goals in the short term. We are also working to improve the API for the National Archives Catalog. We have developed and prioritized requirements to enable a range of new use cases using the API.