|Legislatures Come Up With Topnotch
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By Pat Wunnicke
Lycos, one of the much-used search engines for the World Wide Web, has analyzed, listed and published online the top 5 percent of Web sites in various categories. In the category of "U.S. state and local government" five legislatures have reached the top rank--Florida, New Mexico, Minnesota, Texas and Washington.
Florida's site, "Online Sun-shine," has besides bill tracking, daily calendars and profiles of members, information on the state budget and the results of interim research projects. Lycos is impressed with its links to current laws and lobbyists.
Says Lycos, "The unlikely keyword for New Mexico's legislative site is simplicity. . . .this place has maybe the best icons we've seen at a government site, but constituents will be glad to see how easy it is to find a bill, a senator or a New Mexico law." After each session, the site posts a list of bills that passed and committee reports on important proposals. "An innovatiave state government site."
"Texas Legislature Online" gives an immense amount of material, going back to the 1993 session. You can search full-text bills, generate maps of legislative districts and look at House and Senate calendars. This site offers a lawmakers' glossary to help decipher what's really in a bill. It also includes committee meetings and membership. "A model legislative site if we ever saw one," says Lycos.
The Minnesota Legislature site, packed with resources, offers expansive committee pages that link readers with proposals and existing laws. The site shows where legislators actually sit in each chamber. The Fiscal Analysis Department shows spreadsheets with financial data for major programs since 1995. It "keeps on adding good stuff. . ."
Visitors to the Washington site get an overview of the state's legislative process, a complete collection of daily calendars listing committee meetings and reports on new proposals. Every bill is tracked to its final destination. There's a searchable index of the state's laws, and even a Kids' Page where a giant apple greets youngsters with topics like "How a Bill Becomes a Law."
Lycos, a registered trademark of Carnegie Mellon University, judges Web sites on the basis of content, design and overall worth. Its top 5 percent government sites, including the legislative information noted above, can be reached at Lycos.
State Legislatures, May 1998, reprinted with permission. ©1998
News From the Senate Historical Office
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By Karen Paul
Heather Moore, a recent graduate of the University of Maryland HiLS Program, has been appointed Photo Historian in the Senate Historical Office.
The revision of Records Management Handbook for United States Senators and Their Archival Repositories is in the final stages of production. The chapter on electronic records has been extensively revised.
The Senate currently is developing a Legislative Information System (LIS) that will make current legislative information available to staff. In order to make certain that the Senate's permanent records are preserved, the Historical Office is working closely with the LIS project team and is in consultation with the National Archives to establish the record copy of documents represented in the system and to ensure that information in the system can be preserved and accessed in years to come.
An electronic version of A History of the United States Senate Republican Policy Committee, 1947-1997, by Donald A. Ritchie, is available on the Web at: http://www.access.gpo.gov/congress/senate/repub_policy/. Vice Presidents of the United States, 1789-1993 (596 pages, paperbound), by Sen. Mark O. Hatfield with the Senate Historical Office, is available from the U.S. Government Printing Office for $50.00 (Order Number 052-071-01227-3).
Congressional Roundtable Newsletter, March 1998, reprinted with
Congressional Papers Roundtable Corresponds with the House Clerk
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Below is the text of a letter from the Congressional Papers Roundtable to House Oversight Committee Chair Bill Thomas. It is followed by the reply of Robin Carle, Clerk of the House, and the response of the Roundtable. Reprinted here with permission from the Congressional Roundtable Newsletter, March 1998.
9 Feb. 1998
Dear Rep. Thomas:
I write as the chair of the Congressional Papers Roundtable of the Society of American Archivists to you as a member of the House Oversight Committee. Our Roundtable is composed of those professional archivists from throughout the country who work to preserve and make accessible the papers of U. S. representatives and senators. We learned earlier this week that the Oversight Committee has approved a reorganization of the Clerk's Office that effectively abolished the position of archivist. This is an almost unbelievable, and absolutely short-sighted decision that will have substantial ramifications for the history of the House. The presence on the House staff of a qualified, skilled, and experienced archivist has been critical for two decades in ensuring the preservation of increasingly voluminous and complex records of House Committees, and the papers of its representatives, for future generations of students, scholars, and indeed all citizens.
Every one of the members of our Roundtable has worked with--and the thousands of citizens who come to our repositories to consult the papers of representatives have benefitted from--the activities of the House archivist. The House archivist has been an invaluable advocate for, and facilitator of, preserving the history of the House and its members. Every year the archivist has advised representatives on the short-term storage of their records, preventing destruction of important files for apparent wont of space. And every year the archivist works with representatives and repositories to ensure that historically valuable records are preserved and eventually made available to researchers. The archivist is also charged with insuring that the committees and subcommittees of the House preserve the records of their activities and properly transfer them to the Center for Legislative Archives. Once at the Center, House committee records are preserved for the benefit of the House and the entire nation.
We understand that the new Research and Reference department of the House Clerk's Office is intended to assume the duties of the archivist. To do this, the head of that department has been sent to the Modern Archives Institute. There are three fundamental flaws with this plan. First, the Modern Archives Institute is not sufficient to fully educate an archivist to professional standards. In this day and age, a master's-level degree is usually required. Institute graduates may evolve into fine archivists, and do so at the National Archives where they are apprenticed to experienced professionals--but the new "archivist" in the Clerk's office will have no such tutelage. Second, the new "archivist" replaces one (who was, I must add, unceremoniously demoted to a paraprofessional position at reduced salary) with 18 years of experience and national stature in the profession. Third, the Research and Reference department, having been reduced from three professional positions to one professional and one paraprofessional, has no mandate to make archival work a priority. The practical effect will be for the House to have abandoned any responsibility for its own records or the papers of its members.
Frankly this is hardly short of shameful. We urge the Committee to reconsider this decision. The history of the House of Representatives is surely worth the small cost of a professional archivist.
Mark A. Greene
Feb. 17, 1998
Dear Mr. Greene:
Your letter of February 9, 1998, to Chairman Bill Thomas has been forwarded to me so I might respond to your concerns.
For two hundred years, the Clerk of the House has been responsible, by statute and by Rule, for preserving the records of the House. This is a serious and significant responsibility which, I would suggest, my offices have pursued with more vigor in the last three years than was the case in the last several decades.
The reorganization of several offices within the Offices of the Clerk to create the Legislative Resource Center was one of a number of actions we have taken to provide greater support for the efforts of our Members as well as to broaden the public's access to the House. It would be a mistake to interpret the reorganization within my offices to be a signal of a weakening of commitment to archival and historic preservation functions. As with many things, current technology has dramatically increased access to information. At the same time, it has made archival issues increasingly complex. The personnel organizational structure I requested the Committee accept recognizes the increasingly complex nature of the task. Although I obviously will not discuss individual personnel actions, I do want to correct a misconception you
harbor about the previous personnel structure. No official position of "Archivist" existed in the Office of the Clerk either by title or responsibility. The recently approved reorganization resulted in changes in pay structure and position descriptions. Appropriate and adequate support for existing archival responsibilities was considered and addressed.
Your letter also referenced concerns about the continuing education efforts made available to our management staff. Let me put this training in perspective. This training is intended to broaden our ability to continue to improve our support for Members, professional staff and the public, not to threaten or replace existing staff. Continuing professional education is something I would expect your organization to applaud.
Finally, in closing let me say I hope my letter has clarified for you and your organization the recent organizational actions taken within the Offices of the Clerk. The presentation of, and access to, the rich history of the House and its individual Members is an important, shared priority for us. I look forward to a productive working relationship between your organization and the Office of the Clerk in years to come.
With warm regards,
Robin H. Carle
2 Mar. 1998
Dear Ms. Carle:
Thank you for your letter of 17 February. We appreciate your taking time to respond to our concerns. Our deep and continuing concern stems from the one fact about which you and we agree: that the records of the House, and the papers of its Members, are of immense importance to the history of our nation. The presence of a professional archivist--first on the staff of the House Historian, then in the Office of the Clerk--has been of inestimable assistance in our work of preserving the papers of Members and ensuring that official records of the House are transferred to the Center for Legislative Archives.
We do not question the commitment of the Clerk to the history of the House. It is not our contention that the purpose of the reorganization was to weaken the archival responsibility of the Clerk's office--only that such weakening will be the result. We agree wholeheartedly that "current technology has dramatically increased access to information "while making "archival issues increasingly complex." What we find difficult to understand is how eliminating the one position in the House that was staffed by a qualified archivist will facilitate your office's grappling with the complex nature of archival issues in the electronic age. Finally, we are not protesting the personnel decisions made regarding a specific individual. It is the reorganization and reclassification of staff positions that trouble us.
That the Clerk's office had assumed--and "pursued with more vigor in the last three years than was the case in the last several decades"--the archival function when the Historian's Office was closed was all the more reason for us to be shocked upon learning of this last reorganization. That reorganization eliminated the position held by a qualified professional archivist; it also eliminated five clerks/technicians--those who shelved boxes and worked with National Archives staff in transferring files back and forth from House committees. There is now no position remaining in the office that will attract or retain an experienced archivist, and the two-week introduction to archives provided for the LRC supervisor is inadequate to provide archival and records management expertise to the House and its members. It is hard for us not to conclude that the reorganization will result--however unintentionally--in "a weakening of . . . archival and
historic preservation functions."
We stand ready to provide advice and assistance to the Clerk in defining and supporting a strong archival function for the House. The records of the House, and thus inescapably the organization of the Clerk's office tasked with preserving the history of the House, are important to all citizens. Therefore, we once again urge you to reconsider the reorganization.
Mark A. Greene
New Publications from National Conference of State Legislatures BACK TO TOP
Health Care Legislation 1996 ; The NCSL Health Care Program; October 1997; ISBN 1-55516-603-2; paper $25; 198 pages .
State Tax Policy & Senior Citizens; Scott Mackey, Karen Carter; December 1994 ; ISBN 1-55516-523-0; paper $25; 83 pages.
Adolescent Health Issues: State Actions 1996; Joanne Stroud, Kathy Rollins; April 1997; ISBN 1-55516-600-8; paper $20; 63 pages.
Building Blocks: A Legislator's Guide to Child Care Policy; Mary L. Culkin, Scott Groginsky, Steve Christian; December 1997; ISBN 1-55516-757-8; paper $30; 97 pages .
1996 State Legislative Summary: Children, Youth and Family Issues; December 1996 ; ISBN 1-55516-605-9; paper $25; 124 pages.
Critical Issues in State-Local Fiscal Policy: A Guide to Local Option Taxes; November 1997; ISBN 1-55516-562-1; paper $15; 33 pages.
Critical Issues in State-Local Fiscal Policy: Sorting Out State and Local Responsibilities; July 1997; ISBN 1-55516-559-1; paper $15; 16 pages.
The Task Force Report: Long-Term Care Reform in the States; Wendy
Fox-Grage; July 1997; ISBN 1-55516-752-7; paper $35; 55 pages.
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