Statement Submitted by the PRG
to the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs
Concerning the Nomination of John W. Carlin
to be Archivist of the United States

Formed in 1981, the Presidency Research Group is an organization representing the nation's scholars interested in the presidency and as such has a particular interest in the appointment of the Archivist of the United States. As regular users of the Archives, we are concerned with its leadership. Almost all of our seventeen officers and board members regularly use the National Archives in their professional research. In addition, the Presidency Research Group is an active sponsor of PRESIDENT, a public/private partnership working to bring the presidential libraries onto the Internet for improved access by scholars and the general public.

The board and many members of our organization have given substantial thought to the issues around the appointment of the Archivist of the United States and to the nomination of Governor John Carlin to fill that post. Beginning in February, we established a series of qualifications for the post; engaged in a continuous debate on the position; conducted an interview with Governor Carlin; and completed a discussion of Governor Carlin's background, professional qualifications, and past experiences. The board members of the Presidency Research Group agree Governor Carlin has a professional background appropriate to head the National Archives and Records Administration. We believe his sixteen years in elected political office provide a firm base for managing an agency the size of the National Archives and Records Administration. He has indeed successfully managed a large work force; he comes with the standing needed for an Archivist to maintain a position of independence; and he has a history of successfully working with elected officials on both sides of the aisle. His eight years as governor of Kansas and an additional eight years in the state legislature, including two years as Speaker of the House, are experiences relevant to the challenges of administering an executive agency. In both the executive and legislative branches, he created budgets regularly, developed policies on a broad range of subjects, managed a large government service many of whose employees were covered by civil service status, and operated in a context where opposing parties controlled the executive and legislative branches. He handled a budget of considerable size and a large state work force. In his last fiscal year in office, Governor Carlin worked with a budget of total expenditures of $3.629 billion dollars and total revenues of $4.112 billion.[1] In that year there were 42,857 full time employees of the State.[2] In its 1993 annual report the National Archives and Records Administration describes itself as having 3,068 employees and a budget of $167,897,000.[3] It is a substantially smaller operation than what Governor Carlin has proven capable of handling in the past.

Strong management experience is critical in the selection of an Archivist of the United States, especially as the agency has been without a head for approximately half of its ten years as an independent executive agency. An agency head must have a permanent portfolio to lead with the confirmed authority that comes from having gone through the nomination process. Of the five years that the Archives did have an Archivist, your committee found sharp fault with the management practices exercised during three of those years. In "Serious Management Problems at the National Archives and Records Administration," your committee reported that you "found that the management of the National Archives and Records Administration has, during the years 1989-1992, reflected a pattern of expedience and control which has been regularly substituted for sound management."[4] In particular, you cited problems with leadership at the top of the agency. "Archivist Wilson bears primary responsibility for the myriad of expedient and short sighted actions raising questions of compliance with laws, regulations, and standards of conduct detailed in the report."[5] With a ten year history of unsteady leadership, management issues are the penetrating concerns facing the National Archives and Records Administration.

An Archivist of the United States must provide an environment of stability and continuity within which agency experts can focus on their particular specialties. With a surfeit of archivists already within the agency, the Archivist of the United States first and foremost should be an able manager. As a manager, he can call on staff to develop specific agency policies. In our interview with him, Governor Carlin confirmed that "in my judgment, the person at the top needs to be as much as anything a manager, an administrator, a leader, a spokesperson, a salesman."[6] As governor, he appointed people whom he considered to be talented and then let them do their work. Robert Harder, who in addition to Governor Carlin, served four other governors of both political parties as Secretary of Social and Rehabilitation Services commented on his management style. "Once a secretary was appointed, he was expected to do his job," the secretary observed. "He made no pretense of being an expert on welfare programs or hospitals and institutions. He hired us to do that."[7]

Governor Carlin's proven style of inclusion has historically involved a broad range of people. He explained how he prefers to work. "One of my management techniques is to involve people through the ranks so that when a decision is made you have leadership and support built into the whole delivery system," he told us. His style emphasizes the involvement of those throughout the system "rather than all wisdom at the top deciding what to do and then telling those folks down through the chain of command what to do," he continued. "But if the person in the field has some ownership or one of their colleagues is a part of putting it together, they are far more likely to be supportive of the program." His style of inclusion would certainly work to the benefit of the Archives. An additional strength is his history of working with business groups. As chairman of the National Governors Association in 1984 - 1985, he made state efforts to stimulate foreign investment and the creation of export markets a centerpiece of his work with the group.[8] Such expertise puts him in a good position to raise additional funds for activities, such as exhibits, that lie outside of the core of the mission of the National Archives.

Governor Carlin also brings the standing that a successful statewide officeholder develops through repeatedly facing the electorate. His reputation is an asset he is likely to protect, not squander. Such authority is invaluable in dealings with other institutions and their personnel. As the Archivist of the United States, the appointee needs a recognized position to deal effectively with people in the executive and legislative branches. A peer is better able to say to a President that a particular action with government records would be unwise. In addition, an official who has had to face an electorate understands the boundaries of decision-making. A professionally trained specialist, on the other hand, may wander naively into unanticipated political difficulties. The recent problems at the Air and Space Museum, concerning the proposed Enola Gay exhibition, provide an illustration of the shoals that a politically naive administrator may founder on and the damage that can result. As the year began, 81 House members signed a petition calling for the ouster of the director.[9]

A former elected official who has gone through the process of opening his own records, Governor Carlin is aware of the issues involved in making such records available. Governor Carlin, demonstrating an appreciation for an open information policy with government records, forthrightly made his own gubernatorial records available. "Before Governor Carlin's day, governors owned their papers and disposed of them as they saw fit," observed a person familiar with the gubernatorial records process in Kansas. "Most sanitized them and then deeded what was left to the State Archives with very strong reservations on their use. One former governor simply burned his records. In fact, before Governor Carlin came into office, a governor's records were a lot like the worst nightmare of the Presidential Records Act: the chief executive completely controlling and manipulating the record. Governor Carlin changed that by creating a tradition of openness and access."[10]

Bipartisan support from members of Congress indicates that Governor Carlin has the base to administer the National Archives in a nonpartisan manner without regard to the considerations of a political party. In his eight years as the governor of Kansas, he operated in a political setting that required the development of bipartisan coalitions to govern. While a Democrat, he was able to successfully deal with a Republican legislature. Robert Harder noted Carlin's gifts in dealing with the legislature. "He certainly knows how to plot a legislative strategy," he said. "He knows how to count. During his eight years, not a single veto was overridden by the legislature, which demonstrated that he understood just how much support he could get."[11] As Archivist, his expressed intention is to serve in a nonpartisan manner. "I intend to be literally nonpolitical in terms of partisan politics," said Governor Carlin in our interview with him. "I am leaving partisan politics. I am going into a position where I serve several branches and both political parties. And the only way to do that is to be a true, legitimate, independent person. I intend to treat this like a judgeship. To be nonpartisan; to do what is right and serve all branches of government." Carlin's words should serve as the standard to which he is held by the Congress and by those interested in the operations of the Archives.

The National Archives serves as our national memory, yet it has been the object of neglect by those it especially serves. In its ten years as an independent executive agency, it has had an Archivist for barely half of those years. Assuming that those leaderless years were dissipated in searches for an ideal candidate, no one has emerged who satisfies all of those involved in the process. It is now time to move on and fill that position with a professional, who has the background to manage an independent executive agency and who has the support of officeholders from both sides of the aisle. Governor John Carlin is such a person.


  1. The Council of State Governments, Book of the States, 1990-91 (Lexington, KY.: The Council of State Governments, 1990), vol. 28, p. 292.
  2. Ibid., p. 358.
  3. National Archives and Records Administration, Annual Report, 1993, The National Archives at Sixty, pp. 42-43.
  4. Report by the Committee on Governmental Affairs, United States Senate, Serious Management at the National Archives and Records Administration, (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1994), p. 37.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Interview with John Carlin, Terry Sullivan and Martha Joynt Kumar, May 3, 1995.
  7. Telephone Interview with Robert Harder, Martha Joynt Kumar, May 16, 1995.
  8. See John Hurbers, "Studies Says States See Initiative on World Trade," Nwe Yourk Times, August 5, 1985.
  9. John Healey, "Government and Commerce," Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, January 28, 1995, vol. 53, no. 4, p. 274.
  10. Background Interview, Terry Sullivan, May 19, 1995.
  11. Harder Interview.