National Archives and Records Administration

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National Archives and Records Administration
NARA Logo created 2010.svg
National Archives logo, a stone eagle inspired by the architecture of the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C. [1]
Agency overview
FormedJune 19, 1934;87 years ago (1934-06-19)
(Independent Agency April 1, 1985) [2]
Preceding agency
  • National Archives and Records Service (GSA)
Type Independent
Jurisdiction U.S. Federal Government
Headquarters National Archives Building
700 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, D.C., U.S.
38°53′33.6″N77°01′22.6″W / 38.892667°N 77.022944°W / 38.892667; -77.022944 Coordinates: 38°53′33.6″N77°01′22.6″W / 38.892667°N 77.022944°W / 38.892667; -77.022944
Employees3,112 (2014) [3]
Annual budget$391 million (FY 2012) [4]
Agency executives
Child agency

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is an independent agency of the United States government charged with the preservation and documentation of government and historical records. It is also tasked with increasing public access to those documents which make up the National Archive. [7] NARA is officially responsible for maintaining and publishing the legally authentic and authoritative copies of acts of Congress, presidential directives, and federal regulations. NARA also transmits votes of the Electoral College to Congress. [8] It also examines Electoral College and Constitutional amendment ratification documents for prima facie legal sufficiency and an authenticating signature. [9]


The National Archives, and its publicly exhibited Charters of Freedom, which include the original United States Declaration of Independence, United States Constitution, United States Bill of Rights, and many other historical documents, is headquartered in the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C.


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.

The Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) is a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) resource for the public and the government. Congress has charged NARA with reviewing FOIA policies, procedures and compliance of Federal agencies and to recommend changes to FOIA. NARA's mission also includes resolving FOIA disputes between Federal agencies and requesters.


The Rotunda of the National Archives Building, where the Charters of Freedom documents are publicly exhibited ArchivesRotunda.jpg
The Rotunda of the National Archives Building, where the Charters of Freedom documents are publicly exhibited

Originally, each branch and agency of the U.S. government was responsible for maintaining its own documents, which often resulted in the loss and destruction of records. Congress created the National Archives Establishment in 1934 to centralize federal record-keeping, with the Archivist of the United States serving as chief administrator. R.D.W. Connor was chosen to be the first leader of the organization. [10]

After a recommendation by the first Hoover Commission in 1949, the National Archives was placed within the newly formed General Services Administration (GSA). NARA was officially given its independence from the GSA with the passing of the Records Administration Act of 1984, thus giving birth to the institution that exists today. [11]

In December 1978, millions of feet of news reels were destroyed in a fire at an offsite location in Suitland, Maryland. [12] The reels, made of exceptionally flammable nitrate material, had been donated previously by Universal Pictures and were stored in special vaults intended to protect against fires. In total over 12.6 million feet of film was destroyed. [12]

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). [13] An audit indicated that more than one third withdrawn since 1999 did not contain sensitive information. [14] The program was originally scheduled to end in 2007.

In 2008 the NARA announced that they would not be archiving government websites during transition, after carrying out such crawls in 2000 and 2004. The End of Term Web Archive was established in response to this. [15] [16]

In 2010, Executive Order 13526 created the National Declassification Center [17] to coordinate declassification practices across agencies, provide secure document services to other agencies, and review records in NARA custody for declassification.

List of Archivists

#PortraitNameTerm beganTerm ended
1 Robert-dw-connor.jpg Robert Digges Wimberly Connor October 10, 1934September 15, 1941
2 Solon-justice-buck.jpg Solon Justus Buck September 18, 1941May 31, 1948
3 Wayne Grover with President Truman.jpg Wayne C. Grover June 2, 1948November 6, 1965
4 Photograph of Parham of Iran at the National Archives (35569161665).jpg Robert H. Bahmer November 7, 1965March 9, 1968
5 James-rhoads-bio-m.jpeg James B. Rhoads March 10, 1968August 31, 1979
(Acting) James O'Neill Official Portrait.jpg James O'Neill September 1, 1979July 23, 1980
6 Warner-robert.jpg Robert M. Warner July 24, 1980April 15, 1985
(Acting) Frank Burke DistinguishedServiiceAward1998.jpg Frank G. Burke April 16, 1985December 4, 1987
7 Don-wilson-l.jpg Don W. Wilson December 4, 1987March 24, 1993
(Acting) Photograph of Trudy Peterson, Taken March, 9th 1988.png Trudy Huskamp Peterson March 25, 1993May 29, 1995
8 John Carlin.jpg John W. Carlin May 30, 1995February 15, 2005
9 Allen Weinstein portrait.jpg Allen Weinstein February 16, 2005December 19, 2008
(Acting) Adrienne-thomas.jpg Adrienne Thomas December 19, 2008November 5, 2009
10 David Ferriero official photo.jpg David Ferriero November 6, 2009*Incumbent


NARA's holdings are classed into "record groups" reflecting the governmental department or agency from which they originated. [18] 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 the National Archives Catalog. [19] The archival descriptions include information on traditional paper holdings, electronic records, and artifacts. [20] 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. [21] There are also 922,000 digital copies of already digitized materials. [21]

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. [22] Executive Order 13526 directs originating agencies to declassify documents if possible before shipment to NARA for long-term storage, [23] 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.

Genealogical Requests

1930 Census Record from Naval Station Great Lakes, Lake County, Illinois. 1930 Census Record at Naval Station Great Lakes.jpg
1930 Census Record from Naval Station Great Lakes, Lake County, Illinois.

Most people who access records at NARA are genealogists or family historians. [24] While many records are available online through the National Archives Catalog, individuals can also request paper copies and microfilm scans. When applicable, the catalog will indicate a document's physical location in a National Archives facility.

Census records are among the most frequently requested at NARA, with the oldest entries from 1790. [25] These records often contain information such as addresses and names of family members. However, all pieces of personal data are restricted for 72 years after collection; prior to then, federal agencies can only access statistical data. [26] The newest unrestricted census is from 1940 and was released to the general public in April 2012. The subsequent census from 1950 will be released in 2022.

NARA has also collaborated with,, and to scan microfilms and documents of genealogical interest. [27] These digitization partners have expanded the number of genealogical sources on their respective websites, such as ship passenger lists and military records. NARA will eventually offer free access to all digitized sources through the National Archives Catalog. [28] However, many file collections are not available for public viewing either through NARA or affiliate websites. This includes naturalization records and vital records that reveal extensive personal data. Depending on a requestor's verifiable relation to a subject of interest, restricted files may be obtainable under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). [29]

Since 2005, NARA has held annual Genealogy Fairs with guest speakers and research workshops. [30] These events are free of charge and are designed for interested individuals of any skill level. Materials from past Genealogy Fairs are available on the National Archives website.

Archival Recovery Teams

Archival Recovery Teams investigate the theft of records. [31]

Facilities and exhibition spaces

The National Archives Building from Constitution Avenue National Archives DC 2007s.jpg
The National Archives Building from Constitution Avenue

The most well-known facility of the National Archives and Records Administration is the National Archives Building (informally known as "Archives I"), located north of the National Mall on Constitution Avenue in Washington, D.C. A sister facility, known as the National Archives at College Park ("Archives II") was opened in 1994 near the University of Maryland, College Park. The Washington National Records Center (WNRC), also located in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, is a large warehouse facility where federal records that are still under the control of the creating agency are stored. Federal government agencies pay a yearly fee for storage at the facility. In accordance with federal records schedules, documents at WNRC are transferred to the legal custody of the National Archives after a certain time; this usually involves a relocation of the records to College Park. Temporary records at WNRC are either retained for a fee or destroyed after retention times have elapsed. WNRC also offers research services and maintains a small research room.

Across the United States, the National Archives maintains both research facilities and additional federal records centers (FRCs). In many cases, the research rooms of regional archives are located at the same site as the federal records center, which are inaccessible to the public.

In April 2019 an unknown person set fire to an exterior wall of the archives building using a homemade incendiary device before firefighters were able to extinguish the flames. [32]

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

... an 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. [33]

On January 10, 2007, the National Archives and (formerly Footnote) [34] 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." [35]

In July 2007, the National Archives announced it would make copies of 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, Maryland, 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, D.C. 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. [36]

Social media

The National Archives currently utilizes social media and Web 2.0 technologies in an attempt to communicate better with the public. [37]

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." [38] Also in 2009, the National Archives launched a Flickr photostream to share portions of its photographic holdings with the general public. [39] A new teaching-with-documents Web site premiered in 2010 and was developed by the education team. The site [40] features 3,000 documents, images, and recordings from the holdings of the Archives. It also features lesson plans and tools for creating new classroom activities and lessons.

In 2011, the National Archives initiated a WikiProject on the English Wikipedia to expand collaboration in making its holdings widely available through Wikimedia.


In January 2020, a Washington Post reporter noticed blurred protest signs in an image of the 2017 Women's March at the Archives' public exhibit. Some of the edited signs contained potentially offensive language, and some mentioned president Donald Trump. Besides censoring language, the changes altered the meaning of some protest signs. The agency defended the edits and said they were made "so as not to engage in current political controversy", but admitted it "made a mistake ... we were wrong to alter the image." [41] [42] [43]

In December 2019, the National Archives approved record schedules for federal records created by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) which documented detainee sexual abuse and assault, death review files, detention monitoring reports, detainee escape reports, detainee segregation files, and Detention Information Reporting Line records. The schedules permitted ICE to destroy the records when they were no longer needed for business use. [44] The schedules were approved without changes despite public outcry when they were first proposed in the Federal Register. [45] A lawsuit was brought against the National Archives by several plaintiffs, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the American Historical Association, and the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations. In March 2021, a federal judge for the District Court for the District of Columbia ruled against the National Archives that the records must be preserved stating, “NARA’s approval of the schedule was arbitrary and capricious on the grounds that NARA failed to evaluate the research value of the ICE records and that NARA failed to address significant and relevant public comments.” [46] [47]

Notable thefts

See also

Related Research Articles

Freedom of information in the United States results from freedom of information legislation at the federal level and in the fifty states.

The "thirty-year rule" is the informal name given to laws in the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, and the Commonwealth of Australia that provide that certain government documents will be released publicly thirty years after they were created.

Presidential library Research library with the collection of a U.S. presidents papers

In the United States, the presidential library system is a nationwide network of 13 libraries administered by the Office of Presidential Libraries, which is part of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). These are repositories for preserving and making available the papers, records, collections and other historical materials of every president of the United States from Herbert Hoover to George W. Bush. In addition to the library services, museum exhibitions concerning the presidency are displayed.

Historical Records Survey Project of the Works Progress Administration

The Historical Records Survey (HRS) was a project of the Works Progress Administration New Deal program in the United States. Originally part of the Federal Writers' Project, it was devoted to surveying and indexing historically significant records in state, county and local archives. The official mission statement was the "discovery, preservation, and listing of basic materials for research in the history of the United States."

Freedom of Information Act (United States) 1967 US statute regarding access to information held by the US government

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. § 552, is a federal freedom of information law that requires the full or partial disclosure of previously unreleased information and documents controlled by the United States government upon request. The act defines agency records subject to disclosure, outlines mandatory disclosure procedures, and defines nine exemptions to the statute. The act was intended to make U.S. government agencies' functions more transparent so that the American public could more easily identify problems in government functioning and put pressure on Congress, agency officials, and the president to address them.

National Security Archive

The National Security Archive is a 501(c)(3) non-governmental, non-profit research and archival institution located on the campus of the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1985 to check rising government secrecy, the National Security Archive is an investigative journalism center, open government advocate, international affairs research institute, and the largest repository of declassified U.S. documents outside the federal government. The National Security Archive has spurred the declassification of more than 10 million pages of government documents by being the leading non-profit user of the U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), filing a total of more than 50,000 FOIA and declassification requests in its over 30 years of history.

Archivist of the United States Chief official of the National Archives and Records Administration

The Archivist of the United States is the head and chief administrator of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) of the United States. The Archivist is responsible for the supervision and direction of the National Archives.

The Nazi War Crimes and Japanese Imperial Government Records Interagency Working Group is a United States government interagency group, which is tasked with locating, identifying, inventorying, and recommending for declassification classified U.S. records relating to Nazi German and Imperial Japanese war crimes.

Information Security Oversight Office

The Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) is responsible to the President for policy and oversight of the government-wide security classification system and the National Industrial Security Program in the United States. The ISOO is a component of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and receives policy and program guidance from the National Security Council (NSC).

The United States government classification system is established under Executive Order 13526, the latest in a long series of executive orders on the topic. Issued by President Barack Obama in 2009, Executive Order 13526 replaced earlier executive orders on the topic and modified the regulations codified to 32 C.F.R. 2001. It lays out the system of classification, declassification, and handling of national security information generated by the U.S. government and its employees and contractors, as well as information received from other governments.

Leo J. Ryan Federal Building

The Leo J. Ryan Memorial Federal Building, also known as the Leo J. Ryan Memorial Federal Archives and Records Center, is a United States government office facility which opened in 1973, and is located in San Bruno, California. It houses the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) for the Pacific Sierra Region of the United States. The building was renamed in honor and memory of U.S. Representative Leo J. Ryan, through Congressional legislation which passed in 1984.

The Joint Staff Information Management Division (IMD) is one of two divisions which make up the Joint Staff Secretariat (SJS) of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff currently located in the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia (USA). The other division is called Actions Division (AD) which manages the daily workflow of the staff.

The Vietnam War Crimes Working Group (VWCWG) was a Pentagon task force set up in the wake of the My Lai massacre and its media disclosure. The goal of the VWCWG was to attempt to ascertain the veracity of emerging claims of war crimes by U.S. armed forces in Vietnam allegedly committed during the Vietnam War period.

Archival research

Archival research is a type of research which involves seeking out and extracting evidence from archival records. These records may be held either in collecting institutions, such as libraries and museums, or in the custody of the organization that originally generated or accumulated them, or in that of a successor body. Archival research can be contrasted with (1) secondary research, which involves identifying and consulting secondary sources relating to the topic of enquiry; and (2) with other types of primary research and empirical investigation such as fieldwork and experiment.

FOIA Oversight and Implementation Act of 2014

The FOIA Oversight and Implementation Act of 2014 is a bill that would amend the Freedom of Information Act in order to make it easier and faster to request and receive information. The bill would require the Office of Management and Budget to create a single FOIA website for people to use to make FOIA requests and check on the status of their request. The bill would also create a Chief FOIA Officers Council charged with reviewing compliance and recommending improvements. This bill would also require the federal agency to release the information it disclosed to the person who requested it publicly afterwards.

H.R. 3786 (113th Congress)

The bill H.R. 3786 is legislation that would allow the federal government to sell nine acres of land and the building on it to the city of Anchorage, Alaska. The land is currently owned and used by the National Archives and Records Administration to store "ongoing federal records and Alaska records dating back to its purchase in 1867."

Presidential and Federal Records Act Amendments of 2014

The Presidential and Federal Records Act Amendments of 2014 is a United States federal statute which amended the Presidential Records Act and Federal Records Act. Introduced as H.R. 1233, it was signed into law by President Barack Obama on November 26, 2014.

National Archives facilities

In the United States, the National Archives facilities are facilities and buildings housing the research and agency services of the country's National Archives and Records Administration. Within the organization of the National Archives, the upkeep of its facilities falls under the National Archives Facilities and Property Management Office.

Organization of the National Archives and Records Administration

The organization of the National Archives and Records Administration refers to the administrative and bureaucratic structure of the National Archives and Records Administration of the United States. The National Archives is considered an independent federal government agency, receiving this status in 1985 after existing under the General Services Administration since the National Archives' founding in 1934.

National Archives at Seattle Regional branch of the National Archives and Records Administration

The National Archives at Seattle is a regional facility of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration Pacific Region located in Seattle, Washington. The archives building is situated in the Windermere neighborhood of Northeast Seattle, near Magnuson Park, and holds 56,000 cubic feet (1,600 m3) of documents and artifacts.


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PD-icon.svg This article incorporates  public domain material from websites or documents ofthe National Archives and Records Administration .


Further reading