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United States National Archives

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United States National Archives

National Archives and Records Administration
National Archives logo
Agency overview


(Independent Agency April 1, 1985)[1]
Preceding Agency National Archives and Records Service (GSA)
Jurisdiction Federal government of the United States
Headquarters 700 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, D.C.
Employees 2,462 (2009)[2]
Annual budget $391 million (FY 2012)[3]
Agency executives David Ferriero, Archivist[4]
Debra Steidel Wall, Deputy Archivist[5]

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is an independent agency of the United States government charged with preserving and documenting government and historical records and with increasing public access to those documents, which comprise the National Archives.[6] NARA is officially responsible for maintaining and publishing the legally authentic and authoritative copies of acts of Congress, presidential proclamations and executive orders, and federal regulations. The NARA also transmits votes of the Electoral College to Congress.

The chief administrator of NARA is the Archivist of the United States.


The Archivist of the United States is the chief official overseeing the operation of the National Archives and Records Administration. The Archivist not only maintains the official documentation of the passage of amendments to the U.S. Constitution by state legislatures, but has the authority to declare when the constitutional threshold for passage has been reached, and therefore when an act has become an amendment.

The Office of the Federal Register publishes the Federal Register, Code of Federal Regulations, and United States Statutes at Large, among others. It also administers the Electoral College.

The National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC)—the agency's grant-making arm—awards funds to state and local governments, public and private archives, colleges and universities, and other nonprofit organizations to preserve and publish historical records. Since 1964, the NHPRC has awarded some 4,500 grants.


Rotunda of the National Archives Building

Originally, each branch and agency of the U.S. government was responsible for maintaining its own documents, which often resulted in records loss and destruction. Congress established the National Archives Establishment in 1934 to centralize federal record keeping, with the Archivist of the United States as chief administrator. The National Archives was incorporated with GSA in 1949; in 1985 it became an independent agency as NARA (National Archives and Records Administration).

The first Archivist, R.D.W. Connor, began serving in 1934, when the National Archives was established by Congress. As a result of a first Hoover Commission recommendation, in 1949 the National Archives was placed within the newly formed General Services Administration (GSA). The Archivist served as a subordinate official to the GSA Administrator until the National Archives and Records Administration became an independent agency on April 1, 1985.

In March 2006, it was revealed by the Archivist of the United States in a public hearing that a memorandum of understanding between NARA and various government agencies existed to "reclassify", i.e., withdraw from public access, certain documents in the name of national security, and to do so in a manner such that researchers would not be likely to discover the process (the U.S. reclassification program).[7] An audit indicated that more than one third withdrawn since 1999 did not contain sensitive information.[8] The program was originally scheduled to end in 2007.

In 2010, Executive Order 13526 created the National Declassification Center[9] to coordinate declassification practices across agencies, provide secure document services to other agencies, and review records in NARA custody for declassification.

In 2011, a retired employee pled guilty to stealing original sound recordings from the archives.[10][11][12] Archival Recovery Teams investigate stolen records.[13]


NARA's holdings are classed into "record groups" reflecting the governmental department or agency from which they originated. Records include paper documents, microfilm, still pictures, motion pictures, and electronic media.

Archival descriptions of the permanent holdings of the federal government in the custody of NARA are stored in Archival Research Catalog[14] (ARC). The archival descriptions include information on traditional paper holdings, electronic records, and artifacts.[15] As of December 2012, the catalog consisted of about 10 billion logical data records describing 527,000 artifacts and encompassing 81% of NARA's records.[16] There are also 922,000 digital copies of already digitized materials.[16]

Most records at NARA are in the public domain, as works of the federal government are excluded from copyright protection. However, records from other sources may still be protected by copyright or donor agreements.[17] Executive Order 13526 directs originating agencies to declassify documents if possible before shipment to NARA for long-term storage,[18] but NARA also stores some classified documents until they can be declassified. Its Information Security Oversight Office monitors and sets policy for the U.S. government's security classification system.

Many of NARA's most requested records are frequently used for genealogy research. This includes census records from 1790 to 1930, ships' passenger lists, and naturalization records.

Facilities and exhibition

National Archives Building

NARA facility near the University of Maryland, College Park.

The National Archives Building, known informally as Archives I, located north of the National Mall on Constitution Avenue in Washington, D.C., opened as its original headquarters in 1935. It holds the original copies of the three main formative documents of the United States and its government: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. It also hosts a copy of the 1297 Magna Carta confirmed by Edward I.[19] These are displayed to the public in the main chamber of the National Archives, which is called the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom. The National Archives Building also exhibits other important American historical documents such as the Louisiana Purchase Treaty, the Emancipation Proclamation, and collections of photography and other historically and culturally significant American artifacts.

Once inside the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom, there are no lines to see the individual documents and visitors are allowed to walk from document to document as they wish. For over 30 years the National Archives have forbidden flash photography but the advent of cameras with automatic flashes have made the rules increasingly difficult to enforce. As a result, all filming, photographing, and videotaping by the public in the exhibition areas has been prohibited since February 25, 2010.[20]

National Archives at College Park

Because of space constraints, NARA opened a second facility, known informally as Archives II, in 1994 near the University of Maryland, College Park campus (8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD, 20740-6001). Largely because of this proximity, NARA and the University of Maryland engage in cooperative initiatives.[21] The College Park campus includes an archaeological site that was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996.[22]

Affiliated facilities

The National Archives Building in downtown Washington holds record collections such as all existing federal census records, ships' passenger lists, military unit records from the American Revolution to the Philippine-American War, records of the Confederate government, the Freedmen's Bureau records, and pension and land records.

There are also ten Affiliated Archives[23] locations across the U.S. which hold, by formal, written agreement with NARA,[24] accessioned records.

Regional facilities

There are facilities across the country with research rooms, archival holdings, and microfilms of documents of federal agencies and courts pertinent to each region.

Two offices in the St. Louis, Missouri area comprise the National Personnel Records Center.[36]

In addition, Federal Records Centers exist in each region that house materials owned by Federal agencies. Federal Records Centers are not open for public research. For example, the FRC in Lenexa, Kansas holds items from the treatment of John F. Kennedy after his fatal shooting in 1963.

Presidential libraries

NARA also maintains the Presidential Library system, a nationwide network of libraries for preserving and making available the documents of U.S. presidents since Herbert Hoover. The Presidential Libraries include:

Libraries and museums have been established for other presidents, but they are not part of the NARA presidential library system, and are operated by private foundations, historical societies, or state governments, including the Abraham Lincoln, Rutherford B. Hayes, William McKinley, Woodrow Wilson and Calvin Coolidge libraries. For example, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is owned and operated by the state of Illinois.

The broad range of material which NARA preserves at the Presidential libraries is exemplified by the President's VH-3A "Sea King" helicopter at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum.

Public-private partnerships

In an effort to make its holdings more widely available and more easily accessible, the National Archives began entering into public-private partnerships in 2006. A joint venture with Google will digitize and offer NARA video online. When announcing the agreement, Archivist Allen Weinstein said that this pilot program is important step for the National Archives to achieve its goal of becoming an archive without walls. Our new strategic plan emphasizes the importance of providing access to records anytime, anywhere. This is one of many initiatives that we are launching to make our goal a reality. For the first time, the public will be able to view this collection of rare and unusual films on the Internet."[40]

On 10 January 2007, the National Archives and Footnote[41] launched a pilot project to digitize historic documents from the National Archives holdings. Allen Weinstein explained that this partnership would "allow much greater access to approximately 4.5 million pages of important documents that are currently available only in their original format or on microfilm" and "would also enhance NARA's efforts to preserve its original records."[42]

In July 2007, the National Archives announced it would make its collection of Universal Newsreels from 1929 to 1967 available for purchase through CreateSpace, an subsidiary. During the announcement, Weinstein noted that the agreement would "...reap major benefits for the public-at-large and for the National Archives." Adding, "While the public can come to our College Park, MD research room to view films and even copy them at no charge, this new program will make our holdings much more accessible to millions of people who cannot travel to the Washington, DC area." The agreement also calls for CreateSpace partnership to provide the National Archives with digital reference and preservation copies of the films as part of NARA's preservation program.[43]

Social Media and Web 2.0

The National Archives currently utilizes social media and Web 2.0 technologies in attempt to better communicate with the public.[44]

On June 18, 2009, the National Archives announced the launching of a YouTube channel "to showcase popular archived films, inform the public about upcoming events around the country, and bring National Archives exhibits to the people."[45] Also in 2009, the National Archives launched a Flickr photostream to share portions of its photographic holdings with the general public.[46] A new teaching with documents website premiered in 2010 and was developed by the education team. The website[47] features 3,000 documents, images, and recordings from the holdings of the Archives. The site also features lesson plans and tools for creating new classroom activities and lessons.

In 2011 the National Archives initiated a Wikiproject on the English WorldHeritage to expand collaboration in making its holdings widely available through Wikimedia. See WP:GLAM/NARA.

See also


  1. ^ "Archival Milestones". National Archives and Records Administration. Retrieved 2011-03-31. 
  2. ^ "Strategic Human Capital Plan 2009-2014". 2009. Retrieved 2011-03-31. 
  3. ^ Fiscal Year 2014 Budget Request
  4. ^ "David Ferriero Confirmed by U.S. Senate as 10th Archivist of the United States" (Press release). National Archives and Records Administration. 6 November 2008. Retrieved 2009-11-10. 
  5. ^ "Meet our Senior Staff". Retrieved 2011-08-23. 
  6. ^ "What's an Archives". Retrieved 2011-01-26. 
  7. ^ "Secret Agreement Reveals Covert Program to Hide Reclassification from Public". National Security Archive. 11 April 2006. Retrieved 2011-03-31. 
  8. ^ Scott Shane (April 27, 2006). "National Archives Says Records Were Wrongly Classified". 
  9. ^ "National Archives and Declassification". 2011-10-19. Retrieved 2013-04-29. 
  10. ^ Tricia Bishop (October 4, 2011). "National Archives employee pleads guilty to stealing recordings". The Baltimore Sun. 
  11. ^ Banks, Kathy. "Guilty Plea in National Archives Audio Thefts". NBC Washington. Retrieved 2011-11-23. 
  12. ^ "Ex-Employee Put National Archives On eBay". NPR. 2011-10-09. Retrieved 2011-11-23. 
  13. ^ Faye Fiore (August 8, 2010). "Guardians of the nation's attic". Los Angeles Times. 
  14. ^ NARA. "Archival Research Catalog (ARC)". Retrieved 13 December 2012. 
  15. ^ NARA. "Open Government at the National Archives". Retrieved 13 December 2012. 
  16. ^ a b NARA. "About Archival Research Catalog (ARC)". Retrieved 13 December 2012. 
  17. ^ Section 3.2 (d)
  18. ^ "National Archives Announces New Ban on Photography" (Press release). 26 January 2010. Retrieved 2011-03-31. 
  19. ^ "Conference SponsorsNational Archives and Records Administration - University of Maryland Program Coordinating Committee". Retrieved 2011-03-31. 
  20. ^ "National Archives Site". National Park Service. 22 August 1996. Retrieved 2011-03-31. 
  21. ^ "". 2011-10-19. Retrieved 2011-11-23. 
  22. ^ "Affiliated Archives". Retrieved 2011-03-31. 
  23. ^ "The National Archives at Atlanta". Retrieved 2013-04-29. 
  24. ^ "National Archives at Boston". Retrieved 2013-04-29. 
  25. ^ "National Archives at Chicago". Retrieved 2013-04-29. 
  26. ^ "Rocky Mountain Region". 2011-10-19. Retrieved 2013-04-29. 
  27. ^ "The National Archives at Fort Worth, Texas". 2011-10-19. Retrieved 2013-04-29. 
  28. ^ Nationwide Calendar of Events. "National Archives at Kansas City, Missouri". Retrieved 2013-04-29. 
  29. ^ "National Archives at New York City". Retrieved 2013-04-29. 
  30. ^ "The National Archives at Philadelphia". Retrieved 2013-04-29. 
  31. ^ "National Archives at Riverside". 2011-10-19. Retrieved 2013-04-29. 
  32. ^ "The National Archives at San Francisco". 2011-10-19. Retrieved 2013-04-29. 
  33. ^ "The National Archives at Seattle". Retrieved 2013-04-29. 
  34. ^ "Regional Archives". National Archives. Retrieved 20 November 2009. 
  35. ^ "National Archives to Open Service Records". 2011-10-11. Retrieved 2011-11-23. 
  36. ^ "The National Personnel Records Center (NPRC". Retrieved 2013-04-29. 
  37. ^ "Official Personnel Folders (OPF),Federal (non-archival) Holdings and Access". 2011-10-19. Retrieved 2013-04-29. 
  38. ^ "National Archives and Google Launch Pilot Project to Digitize and Offer Historic Films Online" (Press release). 24 February 2006. Retrieved 2011-03-31. 
  39. ^ "". Retrieved 2011-11-23. 
  40. ^ "National Archives and Footnote Launch Project to Digitize Historic Documents" (Press release). 10 January 2007. Retrieved 2011-03-31. 
  41. ^ "Thousands of National Archives Films to Be Made Available Through CustomFlix Labs" (Press release). 27 July 2007. Retrieved 2011-03-31. 
  42. ^ "Social Media and Web 2.0 at the National Archives". Retrieved 2011-03-31. 
  43. ^ "National Archives Launches YouTube Channel" (Press release). 18 June 2009. Retrieved 2011-03-31. 
  44. ^ "National Archives Photos on Flickr: FAQs". Retrieved 2011-03-31. 
  45. ^


Further reading

  • "Sixty-Ton Statue is Carved from a Single Slab of Stone". Popular Mechanics 64 (2): 256. August 1935.  The statue Gladiator commissioned for the main national archive building in Washington DC in 1935.
  • "Ten-Ton Door Made of Bronze is Thirty Five Feet High". Popular Mechanics 62 (4): 519. October 1934. 

External links

  • Official website
  • National Archives and Records Administration in the Federal Register
  • Archival Research Catalog of the National Archives and Records Administration
  • Outdoor sculpture at the National Archives building
  • NARA on
  • National Archives and Records Administration at FamilySearch Research Wiki for genealogists
  • National Archives and Records Administration's Our Archives wiki, which provides information both about NARA and also about the records held at NARA
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