Consider the Salmon, and also the CRO

Among the items in President Obama’s State of the Union Address was a promise to reorganize the U.S. government.

The President citied his “favorite example” of odd organization to laughter from members of Congress. “The Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they’re in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them when they’re in saltwater.” and promised that “In the coming months, my administration will develop a proposal to merge, consolidate, and reorganize the federal government in a way that best serves the goal of a more competitive America.

U.S. National Archivist David Ferriero got a head start on the process last fall and reported on NARA’s effort in his blog “Collector in Chief” last Thursday. Among the recommendations is the new position of Chief Records Officer (CRO) to “lead records management throughout the Federal government with an emphasis on electronic records.” Ferriero, a career librarian, was the President’s first library related nomination. It seems likely that this President will have the opportunity to nominate a new Librarian of Congress as well. Could there be a broader reorganization ahead?

In Canada, a 2004 reorganization created a single institution, Library & Archives Canada. Some, including Ferriero’s predecessor, Allen Weinstein, have suggested consideration of the Canadian model but that would be more problematic here.

In Canada, libraries and archives, as well as museums and cultural institutions were part of the same government portfolio (the Heritage Ministry), while in the U.S., they are not even in the same branch of government. Folding the archives into the library would mean giving up considerable control by the executive branch over its records, something no previous President has considered. Yet with a presidential promise to “do big things,” perhaps anything is possible.

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