Archive for Monday, May 15, 1995


May 15, 1995


Confirmation hearings on John Carlin's nomination to head the National Archives will get "nasty," predicts a Kansas University professor.

The tempest over former Gov. John Carlin's nomination to head the National Archives is only beginning, says a Kansas University faculty member.

"I think there's going to be an awful lot of thunder in the committee hearings," said Donald McCoy, a KU distinguished professor of history.

"The relevant professional organizations and at least one group of journalists are prepared to raise hell. And they're not going to be polite about this," said McCoy, who has a long involvement with the National Archives. "I think it's going to be really nasty stuff in the committee."

When President Clinton nominated Carlin to the post on May 5, several professional historical and archivist groups spoke out against Carlin, who served for eight years as the governor of Kansas.

Among them are the American Historical Assn., the Society of American Archivists and the Organization of American Historians.

The National Archives is home to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. It controls access to other historical documents.

Of the documents in the federal record, only about 2.5 percent are regarded as archival material. The National Archives sets up criteria to determine what is important and then transfers that material in a timely fashion from agencies to the archives.

McCoy, a former member of the National Archives Advisory Council, said the position of archivist of the United States has been a professional appointment back to when the agency was formed in 1934.

"Everyone who was nominated and got the job had been either a historian or an archivist," McCoy said. "The main reason for opposition to John Carlin is, of course, he is not a historian, nor an archivist by training or experience."

Most of the staff at the National Archives are trained as professional archivists or historians, lawyers or scientists, he said.

"So the theory is that the head of the agency has to be able to match the people that he or she supervises in terms of knowledge and training," McCoy said.

He said the administrative knowledge a person brings to the job is important. However, in the past, professional historians nominated to the post have surrounded themselves with staff that are administrative or budgetary experts, he said.

McCoy noted that in 1984 Congress passed a law that the person nominated to that post be chosen "solely on the basis of professional qualifications" to ensure political neutrality in the archives.

Carlin is no career historian. He has a degree in agriculture and was a dairy farmer and state legislator before serving as governor from 1979 to 1987. He is now president and chief executive officer of Midwest Superconductivity Inc., a research and development firm in Lawrence.

Carlin, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for a third term as governor in 1990 and for Congress in 1994, chaired Clinton's presidential campaign in Kansas. So the appointment is seen as a political payoff.

"If there has to be a nonprofessional archivist in the United States, John Carlin would probably be as good a choice as one could imagine," McCoy said.

However, it would be similar to appointing former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo to be secretary of agriculture or someone without a legal background to be attorney general, he said.

If Carlin survives the committee hearing process, it's likely his nomination will go through the full Senate, McCoy said.

That's because he already has the support of two prominent Kansas Republicans, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole and Sen. Nancy Kassebaum.

To sway Democrats, Carlin will need the endorsement of Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, McCoy said.

"I'm sorry it's happening to John Carlin," McCoy said. "Why the administration couldn't come up with a really appropriate appointment for John Carlin, I don't know."

Meanwhile, Carlin does have his supporters among the professionals.

Robert Richmond, former state archivist from 1952 to 1977, and an adjunct professor of history at Washburn University, has been writing letters defending Carlin's nomination.

"John Carlin is on the board of the National Archives Foundation, so he is not unfamiliar with the place," Richmond said. "I know he is not an archivist nor is he a historian. But he is not unfamiliar with academia. He has taught at KU, at Wichita and at Washburn. As a former archivist and a working historian, I don't have any problem with him heading the National Archives."

Richmond said most of Carlin's detractors are primarily academic people.

"I think right now what the National Archives needs most is a good manager and John Carlin is a good manager," he said. "There are plenty of people there who can deal with the technical aspect of the National Archives. But they have been without management there for some time and they need it."

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