AOTUS: Striving for Equity

June 16, 2021

David S. Ferriero
Archivist of the United States

In my message to you last fall, I announced the formation of a task force at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to address racial inequality in both our customer-facing operations and internally within our workplaces. The group was charged with identifying areas where we as an agency must improve and making recommendations for positive change.

As the home of this nation’s founding documents—the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights—we have a special responsibility to the ideals that all people are created equal, that all people have equal protection under the law, and that there is a common good that includes us all. Although we as a nation have fallen short at times, these are the goals we aspire to as Americans, for all Americans, and the ideals that drove the work of the task force.

Our Task Force on Racism, made up of three teams of NARA employees, began their work in October 2020. The main Task Force addressed the employee experience, barriers to employment, and race-based harassment and discrimination; the Subgroup on Archival Description examined matters relating to anachronistic or offensive terminology that have been used to describe our historical records; and the Subgroup on Museums examined how we ensure a diversity of representation, viewpoints, access, and outreach in our exhibits, education, and public programs.

These team members researched current conditions within NARA, consulted staff and experts outside the agency, and developed recommendations for how we can work toward an equitable and inclusive environment for all employees and customers. The Task Force submitted its final report in April, recommending a robust series of actions to move the agency forward on a path toward diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion. I have accepted the recommendations.

On Monday, June 14, 2021, we published the full report [https://www.archives.gov/files/news/archivists-task-force-on-racism-report.pdf] along with a short summary [https://www.archives.gov/news/topics/recommendations-from-internal-task-force-on-racism] on Archives.gov.

NARA has begun taking the first steps to implement many of these recommendations, in part through the framework of Executive Order (E.O.) 13985, Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government, which was issued in January 2021 and outlines a whole-of-government approach to advancing equity and opportunity for all.

E.O. 13985 requires all federal agencies to establish an agency Equity Team, actively engage with underrepresented communities, conduct initial equity assessments of three agency programs by August 2021, and create an agency Equity Action Plan by January 2022.

The work of the Task Force and its recommendations have laid the groundwork for our E.O. 13985 equity assessments and Equity Action Plan, which includes a plan for ongoing meaningful consultation, engagement, and collaboration with underserved and underrepresented communities.

However, we are not waiting to complete the assessment before we begin to implement Task Force recommendations.

We made equity the centerpiece of our FY 2022 Congressional budget request. We asked for $20 million to advance racial equity by digitizing, describing, and providing free online access to our records that document the history of underserved and underrepresented communities in America. The budget request provides for 144 new permanent hires, with funds included to recruit candidates from minority and underrepresented communities and provide internships.

The budget also includes $3 million for a new National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) grants program to preserve and digitize the records of the creation of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU).

I will charter a Reparative Description Working Group to develop guidance, standards, and processes relating to archival description and equity. In addition, we have added an alert to the National Archives Catalog with a warning about harmful language along with a statement about NARA’s commitment to addressing harmful legacy descriptions.

We are also pursuing a reimagining of the Rotunda exhibit in the National Archives Building that embraces the complexity of the nation’s founding, encourages discussion of our difficult and divided history, and acknowledges, welcomes, and includes the entirety of “We The People.”

And to ensure that the work of the Task Force is built into our business processes, NARA is embedding equity considerations in our agency decision-making, beginning with our 2022–2026 Strategic Plan. We are using the findings and recommendations of the Task Force to assess our current status and to ensure that our future plans are inclusive and impactful to all communities, while supporting and repairing relationships with underserved communities.

NARA leadership and staff are dedicated to working for meaningful and long-lasting changes for our employees and for the communities we serve. We look forward to sharing our progress with you as it unfolds.

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