After six months with no reply from three federal agencies for public records on the closure of the National Archives at Seattle, state Attorney General Bob Ferguson on Monday sued them in federal court.
A fourth agency, the little-known, five-person Public Buildings Reform Board that made the recommendation for closure, on July 20 had demanded $65,400 “to redact the material for production to your office.”
Says Ferguson, “This is not a national security issue. What do they have to redact? It’s a property sale. It’s outrageous that after six months, they want the taxpayers of Washington to pay $65,000 so they can make redactions.”
The three federal agencies sued in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington are the General Services Administration, the Office of Management and Budget and the National Archives.
“All we know is having three different agencies all giving us the same response constituted a whole set of red flags for me,” says Ferguson. “Was this a political decision? Are they hiding something?”
The wording in the federal lawsuit against the three agencies is the same.
It asks the court to rule the agencies must respond to Ferguson’s Freedom of Information Act request within 20 days, as required by regulations.
In an email on Monday, the National Archives said, “We don’t comment on litigation matters.”
Concerning the $65,400 the board wants, the sum was listed in an email sent by Michael P. Klein, who has the title of senior adviser, acting agency counsel for the buildings board. He wrote that because of the “extensive” material requested, “we have solicited bids from service providers to redact the material,” and that was the lowest bid.
When contacted on Monday, Klein emailed that Adam Bodner, executive director of the board, would answer questions, but that Bodner was “out of the office for a few days.”
In a letter emailed on Monday, Ferguson wrote the $65,400 “is untimely, unreasonable, and unlawful, and we request that you immediately withdraw it and begin producing responsive records without delay.”
His office said it will otherwise sue the board.
The archives here are the center of a good portion of the heart and soul of this region, at least as it pertains to federal documents.
Now the nearly 1 million boxes of documents will at some point head from Seattle to Riverside, California, and Kansas City, Missouri.
The surprise closure announcement on Jan. 24 was done after the buildings board concluded that the 73-year-old building had “a deferred maintenance backlog of $2.5 million,” and that its annual operating and maintenance costs were $357,000.
Better to sell the 10 acres at Sand Point to housing developers, said the board.
Letters from Washington Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, as well as all senators from Alaska, Oregon and Idaho, and numerous regional representatives to Congress, didn’t draw a response from the board.
When the January closure announcement was made, one of the board members, Angela Styles, said the group was “not required by statute to seek public input first.”
The history of 272 federally recognized tribes is in the archives building.
The building is also home to various drafts of tribal treaties. They are important because some crucial items might have been listed in early drafts, but by mistake not included in the final versions.
The closure will be a long process, which has given some hope to those opposing it.
A Jan. 27 news release from the National Archives says, “We expect the entire process of sale to take approximately 18 months and we have requested to stay in the building for an additional three years following the sale.”
Amber Taylor, historic collections management lead for the Puyallup Tribe, said in an Aug. 2 Seattle Times story, “The fight is still not over.”