National Archives Not Archiving Very Well

New audit finds many historical documents in danger of being lost for good

Wednesday, Oct 27, 2010  |  Updated 8:31 AM EDT
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National Archives Not Archiving Very Well

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LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 23: Clea Relly from The National Archives extracts a file from the archive March 23, 2004 in London. Dozens of documents, including classified reports on Henry Kissinger, John Lennon and Evelyn Waugh which have been classified for decades, have been released into the public domain. (Photo by Ian Waldie/Getty Images)

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The National Archives is home to some of the nation’s most prized historical documents.  But a new audit by the Government Accountability Office has found that it’s not doing a good job of keeping track of them.

The audit was prompted in part by the loss of the Wright Brothers’ original patent for the flying machine.  It was last seen in 1980 after being passed around multiple Archives offices, the Patents and Trademarks Office and the National Air and Space Museum. Maps for the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were also checked out by military representatives in 1962, and haven't been seen since.

The report by the watchdog arm of Congress, completed this month after a year's work and obtained by The Associated Press, also found that many U.S. agencies do not follow proper procedures for disposing of public records.

Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa requested the audits last year, alarmed at the "apparent lack of effective security."

"This agency is the country's record keeper,'' Grassley said in a statement Tuesday.  "It's responsible for protecting classified materials and for preserving our most important historical documents. ... The agency needs to commit to fixing its problems and follow through."

Officials at the National Archives, which houses the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and other treasured documents at its Washington rotunda, had no immediate comment on the findings.

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