Calling “illegal” the decision to close and sell the National Archives at Seattle, State Attorney General Bob Ferguson has told federal officials that his office is prepared to sue if the move is not “reconsidered and reversed.”
Ferguson sent a letter dated Feb. 25 to Russell Vought, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and to all members of the Public Buildings Reform Board, which is a relatively-unknown group charged with examining ways to trim federal properties deemed excess.
OMB announced Jan. 24 that the 73-year-old archives at Sand Point would be shuttered and the building and 10-acre site sold for real estate development. The board said the building had a “deferred maintenance backlog of $2.5 million,” and it was better to sell it to housing developers to “generate the highest and best value.”
The decision came as a shock to local historians, tribal leaders and state congressional representatives.
In the letter, Ferguson said the decision violated Executive Order 13175 to “establish regular and meaningful consultation and collaboration with tribal officials in the development of Federal policies that have tribal implications …”
That order was issued in 2000 by then-President Bill Clinton.
In an email, Adam Bodner, executive director of the buildings board, said Wednesday that “because of the threat of pending litigation, I don’t want to comment on the letter.”
The Seattle archives is the repository for all federal records in the Pacific Northwest. It includes important treaty documents relating to the 272 federally recognized tribes in Alaska, Washington, Oregon and Idaho.
The nearly 1 million boxes and numerous other records are to be moved to Kansas City and Riverside, California.
Ferguson also wrote the decision did not satisfy even the “most basic statutory obligations” under Section 11 of the Federal Asset Sales and Transfer Act (FASTA) of 2016. The section Ferguson cites says standards should be developed in evaluating potential properties for sale. He said no such standards were ever developed.
The way the board evaluated properties, Ferguson wrote, was “highly problematic.” As an example, he noted that although FASTA became law in December 2016, it wasn’t until 2 ½ years later, in May 2019, that “even a minimum quorum of five members were appointed” to the public buildings board.
Ferguson wrote that state and local officials were denied the opportunity to present their case for keeping the archives in Seattle, and that no public hearings were held.
Ferguson asked for a response by March 18.
He concluded, “Although I hope to avoid litigation, my team is preparing to take legal action to defend access to these important historical records and prevent your agency’s unlawful decision from taking effect.” Ferguson said he was “open to meeting” with the feds “about resolving these issues and keeping these records in Washington state.”