Naval history at risk, say auditors

Poor storage of documents and artifacts in Washington Navy Yard threatens historical record
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Historical Navy documents and artifacts are at risk of loss due to poor storage conditions in the service's History and Heritage Command facilities at the Washington Navy Yard, says the Naval inspector general.

In a Dec. 11 report (.pdf) obtained by the National Security Archives at George Washington University through a Freedom of Information Act request, auditors say the command has an archival backlog of 113,000 cubic feet of paper, with nearly 170,000 pages in danger of loss.

Historical microfilm war records "are being irrevocably lost" due to a poor storage environment; 10,864 reels require archiving along with 5.67 terabytes of electronic data. Command officials have bought a laboratory-grade refrigerator to store at-risk microfilm, auditors say, but the refrigerator cannot operate properly due to conditions of high humidity in the command's Navy Yard facilities.

The command occupies approximately 230,000 square feet worth of buildings in the Navy facility in southeast Washington, D.C. With the exception of 19,136 square feet, the facilities "are inadequate" to support the command's historic preservation mission, as well as administrative requirements.

Artifacts and art controlled by the command are also in danger due to being stored under conditions of fluctuating heat and humidity, an ideal environment for mold. About 60,000 artifact and art assets are in backlog, while more than 200,000 require full duration.

Many Navy historians also told auditors they believe command officials ignore their concerns about preservation, citing a decision to invest significant time and effort into preparing a commemoration of the War of 1812.

"Mission areas are not prioritized and the staff feels they are often forced to respond to reactive, disruptive, pop-up tasking, rather than long-term, well planned projects," auditors say.

They also concur with historian complaints about being ignored, stating that they, plus curators, archivist and librarians, suffer "disenfranchisement…[and] marginalization in decision processes."  

An online survey of command personnel and focus group sessions indicates that active duty and civilian personnel rate their quality of work life at the command as 5.44 on a scale of 10 (with 1 being the worst), lower than Naval Inspector General rolling average of 6.27.

When it comes to writing the future history of current operators, auditors also throw up concerns, stating that more than 60 percent of other Navy commands are delinquent in completing written submissions that there are too few historians to collect oral accounts of current events.

For more:
- download the report from the National Security Archive website (.pdf)

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