Summary of Position Statement on Proposed Legislation, Int. 486-2011
At the behest of Mayor Bloomberg, the New York City Council has proposed legislation that would eliminate the autonomy of New York City’s Department of Records and Information Services (DORIS), the agency that is responsible for the records and archival documents produced by past and present City governments. The proposed legislation would place the currently independent agency within the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS), repealing Chapter 72 of the New York City Charter.
We, the undersigned, are opposed to this legislation (Int. 486-2011), which would significantly downgrade the authority of the Department of Records and Information Services (DORIS) within City government and potentially put at risk its ability to preserve, protect and make accessible the intellectual legacy of one of the world’s greatest cities.
In 1977 City Council President Paul O’Dwyer led the fight to remove the archives and records services from the Municipal Services Administration (the predecessor of today’s DCAS), creating DORIS as an independent agency within City government. Mayor Abe Beame approved the legislation and Mayor Ed Koch reaffirmed it with his support. In 1995, Mayor Giuliani proposed to merge DORIS with the Department of General Services. The City Council’s Oversight Committee and local professional communities successfully argued against the move.
Experience has shown that with good leadership, an independent agency is better able to serve the public, get attention for its budgetary needs and make its case for skilled personnel. Independence for archives and records agencies has proven to be a modern norm as evidenced in New York State’s Archives and in the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), which gained its independence in 1985 from the General Services Administration (GSA). In the case of NARA, the change made a dramatic difference in its ability to make known its budget needs within the government and to the public at large.
In 2002, DORIS fought the attempt of former Mayor Giuliani to remove his official papers to a private repository. Janet Linde of the Archivists Round Table of Metropolitan New York, Inc. stated, “with a fully-funded Municipal Archives and a strong set of records laws we would not again find ourselves in a situation in which the public loses custody of and access to its valuable intellectual heritage and the records that ensure an open government.”
Since 2001, the Bloomberg administration has cut DORIS’ staff by half. It is naïve to think that DORIS would be able to effectively plead for more resources while being less visible within an enormous agency that does not share its basic mission to preserve, protect and make accessible the City’s intellectual legacy.
An independent, strongly led Archives and Records Services Administration is critical to ensuring an open government. Transparency and access must be central to the operations of City’s archives and records services. DORIS’ core mission is not the core mission of an agency that provides general administrative services to the City government. Why would New York City and the City Council want to go backwards and rescind its own legislation, which has proven essential to protecting the people’s right to access government records? Paul O’Dwyer and the City leadership in the 1970s realized the importance of guaranteeing the autonomy of the agency to protect the City’s history from the whims of politicians. This wisdom is ignored at our peril.
It is imperative that New York City, as an international cultural and financial leader, and the place with the greatest variety and highest density of archives in the world, set the standard for how a democratic government preserves and makes accessible its documentary heritage.
Our full position statement on the proposed Legislation (Int. 486-2011) is available through this link.
Please add your name to this sign-on letter to oppose the proposed legislation, and support the preservation of DORIS as an autonomous records agency, with the financial support and professional respect it deserves.