A National Archives of the Future

In his State of the Union address last week, President Barack Obama said, “We can’t win the future with a government of the past.” He called for a reorganization of government to give the people “a government that’s more competent and more efficient.”

At the National Archives, we are meeting the President’s call to action. Charting the Course is our plan for reinventing the National Archives to meet the demands we face in the digital age.

Our plan was developed with the help of over 40 staff members working on the Transformation Launch Team and in consultation with hundreds of National Archives’ staff. It represents the changes we must make to better serve the American people.

How are we going to become more competent and more efficient?

We’re creating a new culture based on common values at the National Archives. We’re restructuring the agency to better serve the American people and the government. And we are living the principles of Open Government — transparency, participation, and collaboration.

The chart below represents the future structure of the National Archives. This is not a “rearrangement of the deck chairs,” but a bold new way of positioning ourselves to face the future.


While the full story is told in Charting the Course, here are just a few of the new offices and positions you should expect to see at the National Archives in the future:

  • Research Services will combine two separate offices to create one service for researchers accessing the records of the National Archives.
  • Information Services will spark creativity and develop innovative tools that help people discover the records of the National Archives.
  • The Chief Records Officer will lead records management throughout the Federal government with an emphasis on electronic records.
  • The Chief Operating Officer will provide operational leadership to the agency.
  • The Human Capital Office will drive employee engagement by investing in our staff and their development.
  • Business Support Services will help our agency function with efficiency by providing the services that staff need to do their work.

We’ve thought carefully about these and the many other changes that will improve our services to you. We’ve also thought carefully about our different customer groups so that we can align the National Archives to meet each of your needs.

Over 75 years ago, the National Archives was created because we — as a nation — recognized the crucial role records play in our democracy. The changes we are making will ensure that we uphold our fundamental role in safeguarding, preserving, and providing access to the records of our government.

We will be moving quickly to implement our plan and I welcome your comments on Charting the Course below. I hope to hear from you as the changes take effect at the National Archives.

6 thoughts on “A National Archives of the Future

  1. The AOTUS reminds us that this is not a “rearrangement of the deck chairs.” I will add in my echo that it is also not a game of musical chairs. We will not discover the music has stopped and a chair will be missing. This is rather a great opportunity to find more effective and efficient ways of accomplishing our mission, improving our own work environments and more competently assisting our customers. The way we do business has changed and we need to change with it. Now is the time for all of us to realize our potential and the potential of the agency! We’re being given the chance to shine, let’s not be afraid of this opportunity.

  2. This looks like a serious effort. To enhance the credibility of this reorganization, I would encourage dropping the use of “customer” and revert to more accurate and more appropriate terms such as “visitors,” researchers,” “scholars,” etc. NARA need to restore the tone to promote scholarship and thus preservation of records and get rid of a widget-maker mentality. This would go a long way to elevate the reorganization.

  3. AOTUS-
    Thanks for the update! This is exactly what NARA needs to maintain relevance. I look forward to these changes and doing whatever I can to help promote good record keeping throughout the Federal Govt. GO NAVY!!!

  4. You face many challenges at NARA in creating a common culture for units with so many different mission responsibilities and varying but often ingrained ways of operating. Insularity can be an factor here, obviously. I’m heartened to see you state in the update that NARA is looking to “create an open door culture, creating a safe environment for differing views.”

    One of my favorite management books is DRIVING FEAR OUT OF THE WORKPLACE: CREATING THE HIGH-TRUST, HIGH PERFORMING ORGANIZATION by Katherine Ryan and Daniel Oestreich. This examines conditions under which organizations develop so-called “undiscussables” and how to lessen fear in the workplace and to increase rapport and honesty. Identifying what leads to problems is challenging in and of itself, as people often settle into well worn grooves in terms of communicating and interacting. Calcified expectations, stereotyping, discouragement, and distrust can be a problem, too.

    NARA’s mission units have different statutes, customs, and stakeholders. It’s tempting to say, “we know what works, that’s why we’ve developed as we have.” But sometimes you need to take a fresh look to see whether improvements are possible. Examining cultures and interactions isn’t always easy, especially when people are performing mission functions that are perceived as high risk. It’s natural to develop defensive postures and protective mechanisms, some of which work well and some of which add to the problems.

    While it’s important to focus on the high risk or news-making mission units, you need to let people in other parts of NARA know that you are aware of their contributions, as well. I think some of NARA’s low scores on employee surveys stem from the wide range of pay and types of jobs at headquarters and in the field, with some jobs having better career ladders than others. As I observed Jim Hastings do during budget cutbacks that decimated the Nixon Presidential Materials Project where I once worked, skilled and empathetic managers can boost morale by providing intangible rather than financial benefits to employees. My finger in the air sense from examining some of the videos NARA has put out during your tenure is that you are keeping that very much in mind.

    Good luck in working through the many challenges and all my best to my friends and former colleagues at NARA.

    Maarja Krusten
    Historian and former NARA Nixon tapes archivist

  5. Charting the Course looks to be a nice body of work not only for meeting the demands NARA faces in the digital age, but leveraging opportunities as well. Effectively storing and preserving records that document the deliberations and decisions of democracy is vitally important, but limits the usefulness to those savvy enough to find the information. Instead of researchers having to dig through mounds of records looking for relevant information, imagine the power of an information environment where record content is searchable, linked and perhaps even rated by researchers. NARA can become the premiere knowledge management organization for government, which I believe the planned changes will enable. Best of luck with implementation!

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