Allen Weinstein: Soft-Spoken Nominee for Archivist (But Was He Well-Prepared?)

Historians in the News

Jennifer Johnson, a graduate student assigned by the University of Maryland to attend the hearing on Allen Weinstein as archivist of the United States:

It was encouraging to note that the Senate, as well as many archivists, has questions on why Governor Carlin was asked to resign as Archivist of the United States. Hopefully, the Senate Committee will follow through on Senator Levin’s suggestion that the White House be asked specifically about the reasons behind their request for Carlin’s resignation.

My overall impressions of the hearing were that the Committee seemed to find Allen Weinstein very impressive. They were quick to assure him that their questions on the nature of his nomination did not reflect on their opinions of him. Except for Senator Durbin’s questions on the conflict the EO 13233 presents for Weinstein’s commitment to access to records, the questions he received were not difficult and did not press him to make a great statement on any one issue. Several topics were noted in the Senators’ opening statements, but few were actually addressed in their questions to Weinstein. Specifically, the ERA was addressed in only two questions and only to the point of making sure Weinstein did not know anything about the potential vendors for the project, grants were not mentioned at all, and the Presidential Records Act conflict with EO 13233 received the greatest treatment. But, given the six-minute time limit for each Senator, could anything of depth really have been addressed?

As for the candidate himself, is Allen Weinstein a commanding presence? In essence, he is a soft-spoken, older man. He lacks a certain charisma and presence that may be necessary to defend and argue for the needed funding for NARA from Congress. During the hearing he made reference more than once to not having received briefing materials on certain topics, which brings up the question just how well informed is he about the National Archives? It seemed that knowledge he could have gleamed from NARA’s web site, such as information on NARA’s strategic plan and goals, the Electronic Records Archives, and EO 13233, had not been a part of his pre-hearing briefing materials. I was left with the impression that we, first year archives students, may be better informed on these issues from course readings and assignments than the man that could lead NARA. Perhaps, if given more time and asked broader questions, Weinstein’s knowledge on these topics would have become clear. The hearing simply brought Allen Weinstein’s ability to be an inspiring future leader for the National Archives into question.

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