THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES ISSUES REPORT ON THE DESTRUCTION OF NAVAL RESEARCH LABORATORY RECORDS
In August 1997 staff at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) in Washington, D.C. found that a large volume of their historically valuable records were destroyed as part of routine destruction cycles for non-permanent federal records in 1996 and 1997. The records had been stored at the National Archives' Washington National Records Center in Suitland, Maryland, and they had recently been reclassified under a revised retention schedule for Navy records adopted in 1995. The destroyed records consist of approximately 600 cubic feet of laboratory correspondence and 250 cubic feet of laboratory notebooks spanning the years 1918-1986. They include important documentation on the early U.S. space programs, Vanguard and Explorer, as well as a wide variety of other research conducted at NRL. In November the Chief of Naval Research, Admiral Paul G. Gaffney, II, formally notified Archivist of the United States John Carlin of the destruction of the records and asked for an investigation. Mr. Carlin responded on November 19th, promising that the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) would conduct a full inquiry.
The National Archives released its report of the inquiry on April 27, 1998. The report finds that "NARA staff, working with the Navy, correctly followed established procedures for the appraisal, scheduling, and disposal of the records in question." However, valuable records were destroyed primarily because NRL and NARA staff interpreted the retention schedules differently. To prevent similar problems in the future, the report contains a total of eleven recommendations that fall under five headings. These include 1) reexamining the strategy for identifying permanent Naval laboratory records as part of an overall review and development of appraisal criteria for scientific records, and 2) closer coordination with agencies on schedule implementation. The report also states that the National Archives should send disposal notices to agencies by certified mail.
For the link to the records of the Office of Naval Research on the National Archives web site, visit http://www.archives.gov/research/guide-fed-records/groups/298.html.