From Yahoo News:
WASHINGTON – An audit prompted in part by the loss of the Wright Brothers’ original patent and maps for atomic bomb missions in Japan finds some of the nation’s prized historical documents are in danger of being lost for good.
Nearly 80 percent of U.S. government agencies are at risk of illegally destroying public records and the National Archives is backlogged with hefty volumes of records needing preservation care, the audit by the Government Accountability Office found.
The report by the watchdog arm of Congress, completed this month after a year’s work and obtained by The Associated Press, also found many U.S. agencies do not follow proper procedures for disposing of public records.
Officials at the National Archives, which houses the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and other treasured documents at its Washington rotunda, had no immediate comment Tuesday on the findings.
The report comes more than a year after news reports of key items missing at the nation’s record-keeping agency. Some of the items have been missing for decades but their absence only became widely known in recent years.
The patent file for the Wright Brothers flying machine was last seen in 1980 after passing around multiple Archives offices, the and the National Air and Space Museum.
As for maps for the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, military representatives checked them out in 1962, and they’ve been missing ever since.
The GAO report did not specifically mention those or other examples of missing items including Civil War telegrams from Abraham Lincoln, Eli Whitney’s cotton gin patent and some NASA photographs on the moon.
A second GAO report obtained by the AP details “significant weaknesses” in the Archives’ security. The Oct. 21 report refers to a lost computer hard drive from the Clinton administration and highlights problems with the Archives’ computer access controls, clearance requirements for employees and physical security. A third report not yet released is expected to detail 213 recommendations to improve Archives’ security, the GAO said.
The risks highlighted by the GAO could affect volumes of mundane legal memos but also key pieces of history.
Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa requested the audits last year, alarmed at the “apparent lack of effective security.” He noted the loss of the Wright Brothers’ patent, the Clinton administration computer data with classified information and lost maps from World War II.
“This agency is the country’s record keeper,” Grassley said in a statement Tuesday. “It’s responsible for protecting classified materials and for preserving our most important historical documents. … The agency needs to commit to fixing its problems and follow through.”
The Archives acting alone “cannot solve the persistent problems facing federal records management,” the report said, because each agency is responsible for preserving documents.
But the Archives can improve its oversight, the GAO wrote, by pressing for improvement in government-wide records management.
HT: Beth Transue Facebook
Thanks, John (and Beth!) for passing along this story.
In Temple U's public history program, this is what we like to call “job security.”