The new National Archives leader whose nomination was swept into the partisan furor over the criminal documents-hoarding case against ex-President Donald Trump says she is now preparing the agency that's responsible for preserving historical records for an expected flood of digital documents.
Colleen Shogan, a political scientist with deep Washington ties, says the spotlight on the Archives during the past year shows that Americans are invested in preserving historical materials. After events in Kansas on Wednesday, she reiterated that she had no role in decisions made when the Trump investigation began and said the Archives depends upon the White House to deliver documents when a president leaves office.
“It provides an opportunity for us to discuss, quite frankly, why records are important,” Shogan said. “What we’re seeing is that Americans care about records. They want to have access to the records.”
Shogan was in the Midwest this week for visits to two presidential libraries. She went Wednesday to Dwight Eisenhower's library in the small town of Abilene on the rolling Kansas prairie, and on Thursday to Harry Truman's library in Independence, Missouri, in the Kansas City area.
The Archives is the custodian of cherished documents such as the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, but also billions of pages of other records and millions of maps, charts, photographs and films. An order from President Joe Biden will require U.S. government agencies — but not the White House — to provide their records to the Archives in a digital format starting at the end of June 2024.
“We are responsible for the preservation of those records and the storage of those records, but also sharing those records with the American people,” Shogan said in an interview by Google Meet from the Eisenhower library. "That’s a large task, and it's not getting any smaller, obviously.”
Biden nominated Shogan as archivist last year, but the U.S. Senate did not confirm her appointment until May. She was then an executive at the White House Historical Association, having served under both the Trump and Biden administrations. Before that, she worked at the Congressional Research Service, which provides nonpartisan analysis for lawmakers and their staff.
While the Archives generally has been staid and low-key, Shogan's nomination was not the first to create a stir. In 1995, then-President Bill Clinton picked former two-term Kansas Gov. John Carlin, a fellow Democrat, and the leaders of three groups of historians opposed the appointment, questioning whether he was qualified. Carlin held the post for a decade, and an archivists' society honored him near the end of his tenure.
But Biden nominated Shogan amid an investigation of Trump's handling of sensitive documents after he left office, which led to dozens of federal felony charges against the former president in Florida, home to his Mar-a-Lago estate. On Thursday, his valet pleaded not guilty to new charges in that case.
The Archives set the investigation in motion with a referral to the FBI after Trump returned 15 boxes of documents that contained dozens of records with classified markings.
Senate Republicans sought to portray Shogan as an actor for the political left, and during her first confirmation hearing Republican Sen. Josh Hawley, of Missouri, declared that the Archives was part of a “political weaponization” of government. She told senators that she would be nonpartisan in the job.
Under a 1978 law, documents from the White House belong to the National Archives when a president leaves office.
“But when a president is in office, until the term is is concluded, which is January 20th at noon, then those records are the property of the incumbent president,” Shogan said.
She said that while the Archives works with an administration as the end of a president's time in office nears, “We are relying once again upon the White House and those designated officials to be executing the transfer of those records.”
Shogan agrees with experts that the National Archives and Records Administration does not have enough money and staff but after only a few months on the job, she hasn't yet set a figure for what would be necessary.
“We want to make sure that NARA is able to continue its mission as it goes forward, as the large volume of records increases, both in the paper format and also in the digital explosion that we will be seeing in the near future,” she said.
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