Len Augsburger forwarded this Slate article on federal archiving practices. Will this affect the future availability of U.S. Mint records for numismatic scholars? -Editor President Barack Obama's decision last week to revive the Freedom of Information Act was a good first step toward fulfilling his campaign pledge for a "new era of open government."
Here's an idea for a good second step: Force the federal agencies to file and maintain all the records they're creating now, so that in the future when citizens file FOIA requests to declassify documents, they won't receive a form letter that reads, "Sorry, no such documents exist."
A 2005 report by the National Archives and Records Administration—which was declassified just this week under a FOIA suit filed by the National Security Archive, a private research organization at George Washington University—concluded that, in an era when nearly all records are stored on hard drives, rather than typed on paper, the raw bits of history are evaporating.
In June 2003, I wrote a Slate column, called "The End of History," that expressed some of these worries. I quoted at some length an Air Force historian named Eduard Mark, who had launched a one-man crusade to draw attention to this disaster. He remembered an incident from the early '90s, when he was researching the official Air Force history of the Panama invasion, which had taken place only a few years earlier. At the Air Force operations center, he found a small Mac computer on which officers had saved all the briefings. Someone was about to throw the computer out. Mark stopped him just in time and printed out the briefings. "Those printouts I made," he told me, "are the only copies in existence."
To read the complete article, see: PowerPoint to the People (http://www.slate.com/id/2209981/)
Wayne Homren, Editor
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