Keeping Up With What To Keep
By Susanne Caro, North Dakota State University / TECHSERT/GODORT Committee Chair
We love when government documents are in the news! It provides an opportunity to provide more information on subjects that may raise questions such as
RECORDS & What belongs to someone holding a government office...In North Dakota, records are defined as a “document, book, paper, photograph, sound recording or other material, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received pursuant to law or in connection with the transaction of official business.”
Some are of historic value, while others are not and there are rules on what is archived, recycled, or shredded and recycled. Knowing if a record is saved and for how long can be helpful when researching an agency or event. For example, communications with the Governor's office are retained by that office for four years before transferal to the North Dakota State Historical Society and the State Archivist. Each level of government should have a guide that instructs agencies on how to handle their records.
At the Federal level, there is the General Records Schedule that provides information for agencies about what must be maintained and for how long and the applicable laws and issues like declassification. Presidential Papers fall into two categories: publications for the public and records. Public papers include memoranda, notices, determinations, letters, messages, and orders which since 1957 have been published in the Federal Register.
The main law regarding presidential records is The Presidential Records Act(PRA) of 1978 which changed the legal ownership of the official records of the President from private to public and the management of those records to the National Archives. Presidential records are defined as “documentary materials, or any reasonably segregable portion thereof, created or received by the President, the President’s immediate staff, or a unit or individual of the Executive Office of the President whose function is to advise and assist the President, in the course of conducting activities which relate to or have an effect upon the carrying out of the constitutional, statutory, or other official or ceremonial duties of the President.” [44 U.S.C. § 2201(2)].”
Giving and receiving diplomatic gifts has been a long tradition. It even has its own special department - the Diplomatic Gifts Unit of the Department of State receives all diplomatic gifts on behalf of White House. Department of State officials keep records of the items which are sent to the National Archives or housed in a specific department (unless they are consumable). This department also assists in the selection of gifts to other counties. Lists of items received and their value can be found in the Federal Register. If interested in recent-ish gifts... 2019 included a bench carved in the shape of a jaguar, pearl earrings, Rolex watches, and a gift card. There is an option for individuals to reimburse the government if there is a gift they wish to keep, but otherwise these items are property of the government. The President and Vice President may keep items valued under $350 dollars.
Gifts can also cause some confusion when it is unclear if the gift is to the governor personally or to the state. Moon rocks are a great example of what can happen if items are not tracked!! In 1976, President Nixon gifted a moon rock to each state. In Arkansas, the rock was packed up with other items from then Governor Clinton’s office and was not found and returned to the state until 2011. For many years, former Colorado Governor John Vanderhoof had the state’s moonrock in his home and in West Virginia, one ended up in the dental office of the brother of a former business partner of Governor Arch A. Moore, Jr.
After reading that, you may worry about North Dakota’s Moon rocks - Don't! According to the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum, “Until 1982, North Dakota's lunar gifts were displayed in the Governor's office before being transferred to the State Historical Society of North Dakota.” They may not be currently on display, but at least we know where they are!