Nearly half of the fire and life-safety dangers found in the National Archives building in 1979 by federal safety inspectors remained uncorrected when General Services Administration officials conducted a spot check this month, GSA officials said yesterday.
Fire alarm bells that were reported broken four years ago have still not been fixed, fire-exit signs remain inadequate throughout the building, and telephone cables remain improperly strapped to sprinkler systems, the spot check showed.
None of the fire-safety problems indicated that the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence, the nation's most precious documents, faced any potential danger.
GSA chief Gerald P. Carmen ordered the spot inspection in mid-June after an Archives employe obtained the four-year-old report through a Freedom of Information Act request, determined that many of the deficiencies remained and asked for the administrator's help.
GSA safety specialist Donald F. Sinsel said a dozen of 27 listed deficiencies should be corrected, including the broken alarms and inadequate signs. But he said he questions the need to make other changes, such as making the doors on a microfilm reading room open outward rather than inward, or requiring the opening of a locked wire door that, for security reasons, now separates researchers in a paper-filled basement room from the nearest exit corridor.
Sinsel said "changing standards, changing times and . . . esthetic reasons" (voiced by Archives officials) made some of the recommended changes unnecessary.
Paul Burnett, one of the two authors of the 1979 report, said, "I would stand by most of the complaints in the report--some are nit-picky but they are the standards that we have to follow." Burnett is now national accident and fire prevention policy coordinator for GSA. The other author, Mike Thompson, is now a fire inspector in Montgomery County.
U.S. Archivist Robert W. Warner said he was concerned because "the problems were not met . . . I had not even seen the (1979) report until last month."
The Archives is a part of GSA, but in 1979 it was only considered a tenant in a GSA-run building. Since then, it has been given virtually complete authority to manage its own facility.
Regional GSA public buildings commissioner James G. Whitlock said the "Archives deserves--and gets--a higher level of attention than many other buildings." He agreed with Sinsel that many of the deficiencies may no longer need to be corrected.