Nine months after Congress voted to turn the National Archives into an independent agency, the White House still hasn't announced who will head it.
Peter J. Duignan, an African history specialist with Stanford University's Hoover Institution, told a Washington Post reporter last month that he had been selected for the position. But officials with two national historical groups say Duignan has now told several of their members that he is one of several candidates under consideration.
The job of U.S. archivist has been vacant since April, when the National Archives and Records Administration was created and Robert M. Warner stepped down.
Duignan, 58, directs the Hoover Institution's African and Middle East program and has written in support of improving contacts with South Africa. Librarians and historians, however, have expressed concern about his nomination, saying he has little administrative or archival experience. They also said they felt that the appointment is too political, in part because President Reagan's library is to be located at the institution.
Duignan would not return a reporter's telephone calls Friday.
Last week, the council of the Society of American Archivists wrote to Reagan, asking him not to name Duignan and, instead, to follow guidelines recommended in December by the National Coordinating Committee (NCC) for the Promotion of History, an umbrella group of 34 historical organizations.
The committee said the job should go to someone who has experience as a professional archivist and who has demonstrated the ability to run a large organization.
Council Director Page Putnam Miller said, "There is grave concern within the historical and archival professions that . . . Duignan, because of his close connections with the Reagan administration, would politicize the National Archives.
"Without prejudice to the scholarly achievements or intellectual abilities of Duignan," she said, "many historians and archivists feel that the administration should nominate a person who is less identified with partisan politics."
A spokesman for the NCC also said that although Duignan has worked as a professor and student of history, he has never managed a group as large as 20 persons.
Ann Morgan Campbell, executive director of the Society of American Archivists, said her board of directors wrote to the White House last week to "put them on notice . . . that he did not meet the criteria we had set."
And in late May, Rep. Major R. Owens (D-N.Y.), the only professional librarian in Congress, wrote Reagan that Duignan did not have "the requisite minimum qualifications" mandated by Congress for the archivist.
"This position should not be an on-the-job training program for political appointees," he added. "The archives needs a director who can safely and carefully maintain the institution's objectivity and independence."
The council has determined that between February and March the administration interviewed eight candidates, including Charles Blitzer, 58, who served as assistant secretary for history and art at the Smithsonian Institution from 1968 to 1983. Since then, Blitzer has been director of the National Humanities Center at Research Triangle Park, N.C., and a lecturer at the New School for Social Research in New York.
"I favor Blitzer, and so does the Society of American Archivists," Miller said.
Administration sources said that turnover in the Office of Presidential Personnel has led to delays in screening candidates and advancing nominations.
Other candidates that the council said were interviewed are:
John Agresto, 40, a former aide to Education Secretary William J. Bennett who now serves as chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Richard Bishirjan, 44, an analyst at the Heritage Foundation, who has served as deputy director of the U.S. Information Agency for cultural and educational affairs.
Melvin E. Bradford, a professor of English at the University of Dallas.
Edward C. Carter II, 57, a history professor at the University of Pennsylvania.
Charles R. Ritcheson, 60, a history professor at the University of Southern California.
Larry E. Tice, 43, state historic preservation officer for Pennsylvania. Tice is the only candidate who has extensive experience as an archivist and has worked with the National Archives as a member of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.