It was incorrectly reported yesterday that the National Archives and Records Service charges libraries $15 when they want to borrow a roll of census microfilm. That is the purchase price of the microfilm.
The memos went out last Friday, firing scores of workers who sort out historic documents from the vast flotsam and jetsam of goverment paper. The staff of the National Archives and Records Service was not surprised: when their $89 million budget was pared to $76 million for 1982, they knew substantial cuts would follow.
And when half of an agency's budget is tied up in buildings and the other half in people, it is the people who get cut: the people who staff the six presidential libraries, declassify 20-year-old documents, preserve brittle paper and film, store income tax forms and Treasury checks for at least six years, compile the Federal Register, sort millions of documents and decide what's worth keeping. And, expected or not, the cuts are making the people angry.
Their anger is directed at the agency with immediate control over their budget, the General Services Administration. Since 1949, when the Archives became part of GSA, the keepers of the government's history have chafed at their ties to the government's housekeepers. Some find the relationship particularly unbearable now.
But not GSA Administrator Gerald P. Carmen. The former New Hampshire automotive parts dealer and state party chairman tries to take an upbeat view, saying he wants to increase the visibility of the Archives, put on more programs for the public, allow the widest possible access to the nation's documents and explore the possibility of private fund-raising efforts on its behalf.
But the fact is that the Archives' budget has declined in real terms over the past decade, while there have been new jobs to do.
Yes, Carmen said, this is a lean year. "The 1982 budget is the corrective budget of this administration. Given the serious state of the economy some serious belt-tightening was needed."
Looking across a room at Archivist Robert M. Warner, Carmen added, "After this holding action I'd like to help Bob make the Archives into something . . . . I'm very interested in public programs. If you want the Archives to be something they have to be more than a warehouse for scholars."
"That's a very important point," Warner said. "It's an enormous national resource.
"Sometimes I think the Archives and GSA have spent more time trying to be opponents than get the job done," he said. "I think it's going to work better now. We don't have any kind of adversary relationship."
"That's right," Warner said.
Some of Warner's subordinates disagree. Archivists, a hybrid of historians and librarians, say that the GSA administrators, with their business backgrounds, can't understand the archivists' work.
Arthur Sampson embarrassed them by agreeing to give former president Richard M. Nixon control of his White House documents and tapes. Adm. R. G. Freeman III frightened them with plans to disperse documents to record centers around the country.
Neither of these moves was successful, but Carmen's actions have filled Archives staffers--few of whom would speak for attribution--with new worries.
They say that a Senate bill that would make the Archives independent probably will die. Warner, who supported independence before taking office in 1980, testified against the bill.
"I think we can do more for the Archives than they can do for themselves . . . in terms of presenting their case to the Office of Management and Budget and the Congress," Carmen said.
They say they worry about GSA's request that the Archives study whether to charge user fees for providing help in finding archival records. The agency fields 20,000 requests a year from genealogists, scholars and others.
The Archives already has announced that it will begin charging local libraries $15 when they want to borrow a roll of census microfilm.
"Taxpayers who aren't using the reference service are subsidizing those who are," said Marshall Cobleigh, one of Carmen's aides. " . . . We're trying to identify the repeat user who's going to make a profit out of the use."
He said Archives officials would make a final decision. In a separate interview, Carmen said, "There's nothing I would put a charge on now that we're giving away for free." Neither he nor Warner mentioned the user fee study.
Most of all, Archives staffers say they worry that the cuts will make it almost impossible to do their basic work.
The Archives has decided already to defer declassification of State Department records of the early Cold War years (1950-54), angering scholars of that period. Others are more concerned that important, but expensive, preservation efforts may slow down.
Three years ago the Archives took a beating in the press and on Capitol Hill because important documents were crumbling and millions of feet of historic film had been destroyed in a fire. Now a GSA inspector general's draft report says there had been avoidable, acid-caused deterioration in such documents as George Washington's proposed revisions to the Constitution.
The draft report also charged that crucial temperature and humidity controls at the main Archives building are inadequate and that archivists have not been rigorous enough in defining what documents are "intrinsically valuable."
But archivists, at the agency and elsewhere, say that preservation is labor-intensive. Unless people go through the records to see what's there and what condition it's in, treasures can crumble simply because no one knows they're there to be preserved.
Carmen doesn't like to take such a negative view. "I hope they realize that GSA and the Archives are having a new day. If we all get toether and pull together the Archives can amount to more than it has in the past . . . . They've been hurt, but they could have been devastated."