General Services Administration chief Rowland G. Freeman III has suspended his widely criticized program to relocate millions of historic records from the National Archives to regional centers.
Freeman said yesterday he ordered the dispersal stopped because "it hasn't been managed very well" by archives officials.
"I assumed we would consult with people who use the records and move the movable, but that was a mistaken assumption," said the retired Navy admiral, who wants to "bring history to the people."
Prodded by Freeman to accelerate a records by decentralization program that has been in existence since 1969, Acting Archivist James E. O'Neill and his staff drew up a list of 300,000 cubic feet of records that should be moved out of Washington or at least considered for dispersal.
But when historians and scholars who use the records heard about the plan, they complained loudly that the dispersal would cripple research efforts and cited a number of specific records slated for removal. Pulitzer Prize-winning historian John Toland, who sits on the archives' advisory council, said shipping records to other parts of the country was "the beginning of the end of the National Archives."
Freeman has been the focus of most of the criticism, but he has maintained that all the records earmarked for removal were selected by archives officials, rather than by him or other staff people at GSA, which oversees the archives.
The admiral said yesterday he is not necessarily backing down on his entire dispersal plan, "but I want to look at the whole thing . . . I'm finding out we really haven't talked with historical societies (and other groups)."
In a memo written yesterday to office heads, Acting Archivist O'Neill reminded his staff that in a letter to Freeman last Sep. 12, "I pointed out the inappropriateness and difficulties" in moving records on the scale proposed by the admiral, who has maintained there is more and cheaper storage space at the archives' 15 regional offices.