The General Services Administration is now searching for a new Archivist of the United States, although only the lucky few who managed to obtain a copy of GSA Announcement HB-79-024 posted on Sept. 11 would know it.
Need a job? Can you live on $44,756 to $52,800 a year plus perks? Do you have at least three years of "general" experience and three of "specialized" experience, one of which must be "equivalent to grade GS15 in the Federal service"? Do you know the "principles of organization, management, and administration"? Have experience in "planning, coordinating and administering archival and/or historical programs nationwide in scope"? Background in directing "an organization with wide geographic dispersion, a wide variety of programs and rapidly changing priorities"? The "ability to meet and deal effectively on the basis of intellectual equality with leaders of the academic community and historical and archival professions as well as officials of the highest level of Federal Government and with state and local government officials"?
Even for those fit to become the GSA's "dream archivist" (the ad's wording makes it clear that facility in basic English is not a requirement), the quest to fill the post of national archivist is not over. One "suggested advertisement" required submission of an "SF-171 (Personal Qualifications Statement) and a GSA Performance Appraisal Form 2892" by Sept. 26, though there is some confusion on dates, and the job announcement lists an Oct. 10 closing. In either case, not only was insufficient time allowed for candidates of stature to apply for the position, but the phrasing of the job description virtually ensured that many distinguished historians and archivists would decline to apply.
Item: "Experience in . . . acting as the catalyst for the views of a high level management group in such a way as to encourage and develop a 'team concept.'"
Item: "This position requires an individual having eminence and who is recognized in the academic community and the historical profession and who as the ability to effectively implement and [sic] equal opportunity program."
ITEM: "ALL APPLICANTS MUST PROVIDE DETAILED EVIDENCE OF POSSESSION OF EACH OF THE EXPERIENCE KNOWLEDGE, SKILL, ABILITY, AND OTHER PERSONAL CHARACTERISTIC REQUIREMENTS, AND SHOW HOW AND WHEN THEY WERE USED . . . EXPERIENCE DETERMINATIONS WILL BE BASED ONLY ON THE INFORMATION YOU SUPPLY [capitalized in the original."]
If the rhetoric has a vagualy familiar military cadence to it, the reason is readily ascertained. Former naval person Jimmy Carter recently appointed as head of the General Services Administration, which administers the National Archives and Records Service, one of his "non-political" admirals, Admiral R. B. Freeman III. The new GSA director evidently runs a tight ship. Ever since the former national archivist resigned last summer (in the midst of a continuing House investigation of Archives management), Freeman and his staff have ignored various offers of advice and suggestions concerning a replacement from interested professional societies, such as the American Historical Association.
The new archivist will inherit an agency that twice became enmeshed in political controversy during Watergate, once in connection with the Nixon papers donation and tax deduction and, later, in connection with the infamous Nixon-Sampson agreement to shield Nixon's papers and tapes (an agreement since voided by both Congress and the courts). Most historians and archivists consider GSA's control of the Archives a classic bureaucratic mismatch. They have lobbied Congress, unsuccessfully to date, for legislation that would provide for an independent National Archives.
With GAS still exercising a strangehold over the Archives, however, the appointment of an archivist with undisputed professional distinction and great political skill becomes crucial. The deficiencies recently exposed by Congress in the way existing records are now handled can hardly be corrected without a new archivist deft at obtaining increased appropriations. And complaints that the National Archives have been overly timid in past dealings with intelligence agencies will not be put to rest by an appointment Freeman makes, apparently out of his back pocket, without even attempting to consult seriously the interested professionals.
Guaranteeing that the fullest range of government records survive, both today and into the future, will test the talents of someone who must be a uniquely assertive archivist, uninhibitedly willing to confront reticent "records managers" throughout the bureaucracy on behalf of the public's right to maximal preservation and access. Such people exist, but it is not likely that the best of them will become candidates unless GSA immediately revises its ludicrous job description and extends its tight deadlines.
Rather than propose a list of candidates for the post myself, I suggest that Freeman promptly consult such groups as the American Historical Association (which is headquartered in Washington), the Federal Government Historians (also located in town) and the Society of American Archivists. The shame of it is that the good admiral has not been in regular contact with these societies about the archivist's position long before now.
What explains GSA's elephantine and semi-literate job announcement? Why such unseemly haste in deadlines for applicants? What's the rush? Why not the best?