National Archives and Records Administration

National Archives and Records Administration
NARA Logo created 2010.svg
National Archives logo, a stone eagle inspired by the architecture of the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C.[1]
Agency overview
Formed June 19, 1934; 87 years ago (1934-06-19)
(Independent Agency April 1, 1985)[2]
Preceding agency
  • National Archives and Records Service (GSA)
Type Independent
Jurisdiction U.S. Federal Government
Headquarters National Archives Building
700 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, D.C., U.S.
38°53′33.6″N 77°01′22.6″W / 38.892667°N 77.022944°W / 38.892667; -77.022944Coordinates: 38°53′33.6″N 77°01′22.6″W / 38.892667°N 77.022944°W / 38.892667; -77.022944
Employees 3,112 (2014)[3]
Annual budget $391 million (FY 2012)[4]
Agency executives
Child agency

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is an independent agency of the United States government charged with the preservation and documentation of government and historical records. It is also tasked with increasing public access to those documents which make up the National Archive.[7] NARA is officially responsible for maintaining and publishing the legally authentic and authoritative copies of acts of Congress, presidential directives, and federal regulations. NARA also transmits votes of the Electoral College to Congress.[8] It also examines Electoral College and Constitutional amendment ratification documents for prima facie legal sufficiency and an authenticating signature.[9]

The National Archives, and its publicly exhibited Charters of Freedom, which include the original United States Declaration of Independence, United States Constitution, United States Bill of Rights, and many other historical documents, is headquartered in the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C.


The Archivist of the United States is the chief official overseeing the operation of the National Archives and Records Administration. The Archivist not only maintains the official documentation of the passage of amendments to the U.S. Constitution by state legislatures, but has the authority to declare when the constitutional threshold for passage has been reached, and therefore when an act has become an amendment.

The Office of the Federal Register publishes the Federal Register, Code of Federal Regulations, and United States Statutes at Large, among others. It also administers the Electoral College.

The National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC)—the agency's grant-making arm—awards funds to state and local governments, public and private archives, colleges and universities, and other nonprofit organizations to preserve and publish historical records. Since 1964, the NHPRC has awarded some 4,500 grants.

The Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) is a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) resource for the public and the government. Congress has charged NARA with reviewing FOIA policies, procedures and compliance of Federal agencies and to recommend changes to FOIA. NARA's mission also includes resolving FOIA disputes between Federal agencies and requesters.


The Rotunda of the National Archives Building, where the Charters of Freedom documents are publicly exhibited

Originally, each branch and agency of the U.S. government was responsible for maintaining its own documents, which often resulted in the loss and destruction of records. Congress created the National Archives Establishment in 1934 to centralize federal record-keeping, with the Archivist of the United States serving as chief administrator. R.D.W. Connor was chosen to be the first leader of the organization.[10]

After a recommendation by the first Hoover Commission in 1949, the National Archives was placed within the newly formed General Services Administration (GSA). NARA was officially given its independence from the GSA with the passing of the Records Administration Act of 1984, thus giving birth to the institution that exists today.[11]

In December 1978, millions of feet of news reels were destroyed in a fire at an offsite location in Suitland, Maryland.[12] The reels, made of exceptionally flammable nitrate material, had been donated previously by Universal Pictures and were stored in special vaults intended to protect against fires. In total over 12.6 million feet of film was destroyed.[12]

In March 2006, it was revealed by the Archivist of the United States in a public hearing that a memorandum of understanding between NARA and various government agencies existed to "reclassify", i.e., withdraw from public access, certain documents in the name of national security, and to do so in a manner such that researchers would not be likely to discover the process (the U.S. reclassification program).[13] An audit indicated that more than one third withdrawn since 1999 did not contain sensitive information.[14] The program was originally scheduled to end in 2007.

In 2008 the NARA announced that they would not be archiving government websites during transition, after carrying out such crawls in 2000 and 2004. The End of Term Web Archive was established in response to this.[15][16]

In 2010, Executive Order 13526 created the National Declassification Center[17] to coordinate declassification practices across agencies, provide secure document services to other agencies, and review records in NARA custody for declassification.

As part of its role in receiving and authenticating Electoral College votes, the agency intercepted and rejected forged certificates of ascertainment from Trump allies in seven states in an attempt to overturn the 2020 Presidential Election for the former president.[18][19]

List of Archivists

# Portrait Name Term began Term ended
1 Robert-dw-connor.jpg Robert Digges Wimberly Connor October 10, 1934 September 15, 1941
2 Solon-justice-buck.jpg Solon Justus Buck September 18, 1941 May 31, 1948
3 Wayne Grover with President Truman.jpg Wayne C. Grover June 2, 1948 November 6, 1965
4 Photograph of Parham of Iran at the National Archives (35569161665).jpg Robert H. Bahmer November 7, 1965 March 9, 1968
5 James-rhoads-bio-m.jpeg James B. Rhoads March 10, 1968 August 31, 1979
(Acting) James O'Neill Official Portrait.jpg James O'Neill September 1, 1979 July 23, 1980
6 Warner-robert.jpg Robert M. Warner July 24, 1980 April 15, 1985
(Acting) Frank Burke DistinguishedServiiceAward1998.jpg Frank G. Burke April 16, 1985 December 4, 1987
7 Don-wilson-l.jpg Don W. Wilson December 4, 1987 March 24, 1993
(Acting) Photograph of Trudy Peterson, Taken March, 9th 1988.png Trudy Huskamp Peterson March 25, 1993 May 29, 1995
8 John Carlin.jpg John W. Carlin May 30, 1995 February 15, 2005
9 Allen Weinstein portrait.jpg Allen Weinstein February 16, 2005 December 19, 2008
(Acting) Adrienne-thomas.jpg Adrienne Thomas December 19, 2008 November 5, 2009
10 David Ferriero official photo.jpg David Ferriero November 6, 2009 *Incumbent[note 1]


NARA's holdings are classed into "record groups" reflecting the governmental department or agency from which they originated.[22] Records include paper documents, microfilm, still pictures, motion pictures, and electronic media.

Archival descriptions of the permanent holdings of the federal government in the custody of NARA are stored in the National Archives Catalog.[23] The archival descriptions include information on traditional paper holdings, electronic records, and artifacts.[24] As of December 2012, the catalog consisted of about 10 billion logical data records describing 527,000 artifacts and encompassing 81% of NARA's records.[25] There are also 922,000 digital copies of already digitized materials.[25]

Most records at NARA are in the public domain, as works of the federal government are excluded from copyright protection. However, records from other sources may still be protected by copyright or donor agreements.[26] Executive Order 13526 directs originating agencies to declassify documents if possible before shipment to NARA for long-term storage,[27] but NARA also stores some classified documents until they can be declassified. Its Information Security Oversight Office monitors and sets policy for the U.S. government's security classification system.

Genealogical Requests

1930 Census Record from Naval Station Great Lakes, Lake County, Illinois.

Most people who access records at NARA are genealogists or family historians.[28] While many records are available online through the National Archives Catalog, individuals can also request paper copies and microfilm scans. When applicable, the catalog will indicate a document's physical location in a National Archives facility.

Census records are among the most frequently requested at NARA, with the oldest entries from 1790.[29] These records often contain information such as addresses and names of family members. However, all pieces of personal data are restricted for 72 years after collection; prior to then, federal agencies can only access statistical data.[30] The newest unrestricted census is from 1940 and was released to the general public in April 2012. The subsequent census from 1950 will be released in 2022.

NARA has also collaborated with,, and to scan microfilms and documents of genealogical interest.[31] These digitization partners have expanded the number of genealogical sources on their respective websites, such as ship passenger lists and military records. NARA will eventually offer free access to all digitized sources through the National Archives Catalog.[32] However, many file collections are not available for public viewing either through NARA or affiliate websites. This includes naturalization records and vital records that reveal extensive personal data. Depending on a requestor's verifiable relation to a subject of interest, restricted files may be obtainable under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).[33]

Since 2005, NARA has held annual Genealogy Fairs with guest speakers and research workshops.[34] These events are free of charge and are designed for interested individuals of any skill level. Materials from past Genealogy Fairs are available on the National Archives website.

Archival Recovery Teams

Archival Recovery Teams investigate the theft of records.[35]

Facilities and exhibition spaces

The most well-known facility of the National Archives and Records Administration is the National Archives Building (informally known as "Archives I"), located north of the National Mall on Constitution Avenue in Washington, D.C. A sister facility, known as the National Archives at College Park ("Archives II") was opened in 1994 near the University of Maryland, College Park. The Washington National Records Center (WNRC), also located in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, is a large warehouse facility where federal records that are still under the control of the creating agency are stored. Federal government agencies pay a yearly fee for storage at the facility. In accordance with federal records schedules, documents at WNRC are transferred to the legal custody of the National Archives after a certain time; this usually involves a relocation of the records to College Park. Temporary records at WNRC are either retained for a fee or destroyed after retention times have elapsed. WNRC also offers research services and maintains a small research room.

Across the United States, the National Archives maintains both research facilities and additional federal records centers (FRCs). In many cases, the research rooms of regional archives are located at the same site as the federal records center, which are inaccessible to the public.

In April 2019 an unknown person set fire to an exterior wall of the archives building using a homemade incendiary device before firefighters were able to extinguish the flames.[36]

Public–private partnerships

In an effort to make its holdings more widely available and more easily accessible, the National Archives began entering into public–private partnerships in 2006. A joint venture with Google will digitize and offer NARA video online. When announcing the agreement, Archivist Allen Weinstein said that this pilot program is

... an important step for the National Archives to achieve its goal of becoming an archive without walls. Our new strategic plan emphasizes the importance of providing access to records anytime, anywhere. This is one of many initiatives that we are launching to make our goal a reality. For the first time, the public will be able to view this collection of rare and unusual films on the Internet.[37]

On January 10, 2007, the National Archives and (formerly Footnote)[38] launched a pilot project to digitize historic documents from the National Archives holdings. Allen Weinstein explained that this partnership would "allow much greater access to approximately 4.5 million pages of important documents that are currently available only in their original format or on microfilm" and "would also enhance NARA's efforts to preserve its original records."[39]

In July 2007, the National Archives announced it would make copies of its collection of Universal Newsreels from 1929 to 1967 available for purchase through CreateSpace, an subsidiary. During the announcement, Weinstein noted that the agreement would "... reap major benefits for the public-at-large and for the National Archives." Adding, "While the public can come to our College Park, Maryland, research room to view films and even copy them at no charge, this new program will make our holdings much more accessible to millions of people who cannot travel to the Washington, D.C. area." The agreement also calls for CreateSpace partnership to provide the National Archives with digital reference and preservation copies of the films as part of NARA's preservation program.[40]

Social media

The National Archives currently utilizes social media and Web 2.0 technologies in an attempt to communicate better with the public.[41]

On June 18, 2009, the National Archives announced the launching of a YouTube channel "to showcase popular archived films, inform the public about upcoming events around the country, and bring National Archives exhibits to the people."[42] Also in 2009, the National Archives launched a Flickr photostream to share portions of its photographic holdings with the general public.[43] A new teaching-with-documents Web site premiered in 2010 and was developed by the education team. The site[44] features 3,000 documents, images, and recordings from the holdings of the Archives. It also features lesson plans and tools for creating new classroom activities and lessons.

In 2011, the National Archives initiated a WikiProject on the English Wikipedia to expand collaboration in making its holdings widely available through Wikimedia.


In January 2020, a Washington Post reporter noticed blurred protest signs in an image of the 2017 Women's March at the Archives' public exhibit. Some of the edited signs contained potentially offensive language, and some mentioned president Donald Trump. Besides censoring language, the changes altered the meaning of some protest signs. The agency defended the edits and said they were made "so as not to engage in current political controversy", but admitted it "made a mistake ... we were wrong to alter the image."[45][46][47]

In December 2019, the National Archives approved record schedules for federal records created by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) which documented detainee sexual abuse and assault, death review files, detention monitoring reports, detainee escape reports, detainee segregation files, and Detention Information Reporting Line records. The schedules permitted ICE to destroy the records when they were no longer needed for business use.[48] The schedules were approved without changes despite public outcry when they were first proposed in the Federal Register.[49] A lawsuit was brought against the National Archives by several plaintiffs, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the American Historical Association, and the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations. In March 2021, a federal judge for the District Court for the District of Columbia ruled against the National Archives that the records must be preserved stating, “NARA’s approval of the schedule was arbitrary and capricious on the grounds that NARA failed to evaluate the research value of the ICE records and that NARA failed to address significant and relevant public comments.” [50][51]

Notable thefts

  • In 1963, Robert Bradford Murphy and his wife, Elizabeth Irene Murphy were arrested and sentenced to ten years in prison for stealing documents from several federal depositories, including the National Archives.[52]
  • In 1987, Charles Merrill Mount was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison for stealing 400 documents from the National Archives.[53]
  • In 2002, Shawn Aubitz pleaded guilty to stealing dozens of documents and photographs from the National Archives during the 1990s.[54]
  • In 2005, Sandy Berger was charged with an unauthorized removal of documents from the National Archives; sentenced to 100 hours of community service and fined $50,000.
  • In 2005, Howard Harner was sentenced to two years in prison and fined $10,000 after stealing 100 documents from the National Archives.[55]
  • In 2006, Denning McTague was sentenced to 15 months in prison and fined $3,000 after stealing 164 documents from the National Archives.[56]
  • In 2011, Leslie Waffen was sentenced to 18 months in prison after stealing 955 recordings from the National Archives.[57]
  • In 2011, Thomas Lowry was permanently banned from the National Archives after he confessed to altering the date on a presidential pardon signed by Abraham Lincoln.[58]
  • In 2011, Barry Landau and Jason Savedoff were arrested and sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison for stealing ten thousand documents from the National Archives.[59][60]
  • In 2018, Antonin DeHays was arrested for multiple thefts of military artifacts and records from the National Archive during the mid to late 2010s.[61][62]

See also


  1. ^ "Celebrate July 4 with New Logo and 1st Ever Parade Float!". National Archives and Records Administration. June 30, 2010.
  2. ^ "Archival Milestones". National Archives and Records Administration. Retrieved March 31, 2011.
  3. ^ "U.S. National Archives and Records Administration Fiscal Year 2014–2018 Strategic Plan" (PDF). National Archives. March 2014. p. 18. Retrieved May 10, 2017.
  4. ^ Fiscal Year 2014 Budget Request
  5. ^ "David Ferriero Confirmed by U.S. Senate as 10th Archivist of the United States" (Press release). National Archives and Records Administration. November 6, 2008. Retrieved November 10, 2009.
  6. ^ "Meet our Senior Staff". National Archives and Records Administration. Retrieved August 23, 2011.
  7. ^ Mengel, David (May 2007). "Access to United States Government Records at the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration" (PDF). Society of American Archivists.
  8. ^ "Elections and the Electoral College". National Archives. March 15, 2017. Retrieved April 22, 2019.
  9. ^ "The Constitutional Amendment Process". National Archives and Records Administration. Retrieved July 27, 2014.
  10. ^ Quigley, Sarah (2007). "Cultural Record Keepers". Libraries & the Cultural Record. 42: 81. doi:10.1353/lac.2007.0017. S2CID 161988764.
  11. ^ Bradsher, G (2015). "National Archives Independence 30 Years Ago". Federalist (Society for History in the Federal Government). 45: 4–5 – via EBSCOHost.
  12. ^ a b Daley, Jason. "Forty Years Ago, 12.6 Million Feet of History Went Up in Smoke". Smithsonian. Retrieved May 3, 2019.
  13. ^ "Secret Agreement Reveals Covert Program to Hide Reclassification from Public". National Security Archive. April 11, 2006. Retrieved March 31, 2011.
  14. ^ Scott Shane (April 27, 2006). "National Archives Says Records Were Wrongly Classified".
  15. ^ Webster, Peter (2017). Brügger, Niels (ed.). "Users, technologies, organisations: Towards a cultural history of world web archiving". Web 25. Histories from 25 Years of the World Wide Web: 179–190. doi:10.3726/b11492. hdl:2318/1770557. ISBN 9781433140655. Archived from the original on October 21, 2020.
  16. ^ "National Archives". Congressional & Federal Government Web Harvests. Archived from the original on September 18, 2017. Retrieved January 18, 2021.
  17. ^ "National Archives and Declassification". October 19, 2011. Retrieved April 29, 2013.
  18. ^ CNN, Zachary Cohen and Marshall Cohen. "Trump allies' fake Electoral College certificates offer fresh insights about plot to overturn Biden's victory". CNN. Retrieved January 15, 2022.
  19. ^ Wu, Nicholas. "Jan. 6 panel ramps up investigation into Trump's state-level pressure". POLITICO. Retrieved January 15, 2022.
  20. ^ Ruane, Michael E. (January 13, 2022). "David S. Ferriero, archivist of the United States, is retiring". Washington Post.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  21. ^ Ferriero, David S. (January 13, 2022). "Retirement of Archivist David S. Ferriero". AOTUS Blog | National Archives and Records Administration.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  22. ^ "Record Group Concept". National Archives. August 15, 2016. Retrieved September 16, 2020.
  23. ^ NARA. "The National Archives Catalog". Retrieved May 6, 2016.
  24. ^ NARA. "Open Government at the National Archives". Retrieved December 13, 2012.
  25. ^ a b NARA. "About Archival Research Catalog (ARC)". Retrieved December 13, 2012.
  26. ^ Section 3.2 (d)
  27. ^ "Why Visit the National Archives?". National Archives. September 19, 2016. Retrieved September 25, 2020.
  28. ^ Dennis Szucs, Loretto; Hargreaves Luebking, Sandra, eds. (2006). The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy. Ancestry Publishing. p. 756. ISBN 1593312776.
  29. ^ Heimlich, Russell (April 9, 2012). "The '72-Year Rule' Governs Release of Census Records". Pew Research Center. Retrieved September 25, 2020.
  30. ^ Johnson, Melissa (February 1, 2016). "A Primer on United States Naturalization Records". NGS Monthly: National Genealogical Society. Retrieved September 25, 2020.
  31. ^ "Microfilm Publications and Original Records Digitized by Our Digitization Partners". National Archives. August 15, 2016. Retrieved September 25, 2020.
  32. ^ Trent, Sydney (December 9, 2019). "The genealogy boom has hit a roadblock. The Trump administration plans huge fee hikes for immigration records". The Washington Post. Retrieved September 25, 2020.
  33. ^ "National Archives Virtual Genealogy Fair". National Archives. March 19, 2020. Retrieved September 25, 2020.
  34. ^ Faye Fiore (August 8, 2010). "Guardians of the nation's attic". Los Angeles Times.
  35. ^ Katz, Brigit. "Authorities Are Looking for the Suspect Who Started a Fire at the National Archives". Smithsonian. Retrieved May 3, 2019.
  36. ^ "National Archives and Google Launch Pilot Project to Digitize and Offer Historic Films Online" (Press release). February 24, 2006. Retrieved March 31, 2011.
  37. ^ "". Retrieved November 23, 2011.
  38. ^ "National Archives and Footnote Launch Project to Digitize Historic Documents" (Press release). January 10, 2007. Retrieved March 31, 2011.
  39. ^ "Thousands of National Archives Films to Be Made Available Through CustomFlix Labs" (Press release). July 27, 2007. Retrieved March 31, 2011.
  40. ^ "Social Media and Web 2.0 at the National Archives". Retrieved March 31, 2011.
  41. ^ "National Archives Launches YouTube Channel" (Press release). June 18, 2009. Retrieved March 31, 2011.
  42. ^ "National Archives Photos on Flickr: FAQs". Retrieved March 31, 2011.
  43. ^ "DocsTeach".
  44. ^ Acevedo, Nicole (January 18, 2020). "Blurring 'Trump,' other words in Women's March photo was mistake, National Archives says". NBC News. Retrieved January 21, 2020.
  45. ^ "The National Archives used to stand for independence; that mission has been compromised". January 19, 2020. Retrieved January 21, 2020.
  46. ^ "National Archives Doctored Photos of 2017 Women's March to Blur Messages Critical of Trump". Democracy Now!. January 21, 2020. Retrieved January 21, 2020.
  47. ^ Perrett, Connor. "The National Archives can't allow ICE to destroy records about sexual assault and detainee deaths, a federal judge ruled". Business Insider. Retrieved April 11, 2021.
  48. ^ Peet, Lisa. "NARA Responds to Controversial ICE Records Destruction Request". The Library Journal. Retrieved April 19, 2019.
  49. ^ "Judge Blocks ICE, Records Administration from Destroying Records of Sex Abuse, Detainee Deaths". Law & Crime. March 12, 2021. Retrieved April 11, 2021.
  50. ^ "Citizens for Responsibility & Ethics v. Nat'l Archives & Records Admin., Case No. 20-cv-00739 (APM)". Retrieved April 11, 2021.
  51. ^ United States of America, Plaintiff-appellee, v. Robert Bradford Murphy, A/k/a Samuel George Matz, and Elizabeth Irene Murphy, aka Elizabeth Irene Matz, Defendants and Appellants, 413 F.2d 1129 (6th Cir. 1969)
  52. ^ Churchville, V., & Saperstein, S. (1987, August 16). "THE FALL FROM GRACE OF AN ARTIST, AUTHOR". The Washington Post.
  53. ^ "Man Admits Theft From U.S. Archives". Los Angeles Times. March 14, 2002. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved April 19, 2019.
  54. ^ Carol D. Leonnig. Archives Thief Gets Two Years, The Washington Post, May 27, 2005.
  55. ^ Eve Conant. "To Catch a Thief at the National Archives", Newsweek, May 4, 2007.
  56. ^ Erica W. Morrison. "Leslie Waffen, ex-Archives worker, sentenced for stealing, selling recordings", The Washington Post, May 3, 2012
  57. ^ "National Archives Discovers Date Change on Lincoln Record", NARA Press Release
  58. ^ Barry Landau Sentenced to 7 Years for Thefts From National Archives, Other Institutions, NARA Press Release
  59. ^ "Notable Thefts From The National Archives", The National Archives Official Website (Archived)
  60. ^ Panzino, Charlsy (January 12, 2018). "Historian pleads guilty to stealing dog tags, military records from National Archives". Army Times. Retrieved April 19, 2019.
  61. ^ Nina Strochlic. On the Hunt for National Treasures With America’s Archive Detective, Atlas Obscura, August 16, 2019.

Public Domain This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the National Archives and Records Administration.