OMB blocks sale of National Archives facility listed as underutilized, citing tribal records

The Office of Management and Budget is pulling its approval to sell one of a dozen high-value underutilized federal properties identified by an independent boar...

The Office of Management and Budget is pulling its approval to sell one of a dozen high-value, underutilized federal properties identified by an independent board last year.

Acting OMB Director Shalanda Young, in a letter to the Public Building Reform Board and the acting head of the General Services Administration, said plans to sell the Federal Archives and Records Center in Seattle, Washington are “contrary to this administration’s tribal-consultation policy.”

Young said efforts to fast track the sale of the National Archives and Records Administration facility ran counter to President Joe Biden’s Jan. 26 memo that directs all agencies “with engaging in regular, meaningful, and robust consultation with tribal officials in the development of federal policies that have tribal implications.”

Any sequent effort to sell the Federal Archives and Records Center, Young wrote, must include “meaningful and robust tribal consultation” and must go through “the appropriate administrative process, based on a new factual record, and must comply with the attendant substantive and procedural safeguards of that process.”

The facility holds permanent agency records, including tribal and treaty records from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, more than 50,000 original files related to the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and original records related to the internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II.

If sold, NARA planned to ship its records to other agency facilities in Southern California and Missouri, but a federal lawsuit led by Washington State’s attorney general challenged the board’s work selecting properties to sell, and its engagement with the local communities in the process.

“The Archives facility’s tribal and treaty records hold great value for Tribes and tribal members in particular, who use them for a variety of purposes such as applying for federal recognition or restoration, establishing tribal membership, demonstrating and enforcing tribal rights to fishing, tracing their lineage and ancestry, and accessing Native school records,” the plaintiffs wrote.

Tribal officials, in the lawsuit’s complaint, said the “federal agencies did not even alert tribes about the proposed sale. We learned about it through a news source.”

“This action shows a callous disregard for the people who have the greatest interest in being able to access these profoundly important records,” the plaintiffs wrote.

GSA, working with the PBRB, planned to sell all 12 properties “as a single portfolio, although still enabling offers for individual assets” early this year, according to the board’s website.

After its inaugural meeting in June 2019, the board had six months to identify at least five federal civilian properties with an aggregate fair market value ranging from $500-750 million to sell through an expedited sale and disposal process.

Congress authorized the PBRB, and set these sale and disposal goals under the Federal Assets Sale and Transfer Act (FASTA) it passed in December 2016.

The Government Accountability Office, in a recent report, found the PBRB didn’t fully document how it narrowed its short-list of 44 buildings down to 12.

Other sites the board recommended for sale include a former missile site in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and a fisheries science facility built to withstand the strongest earthquakes in California.

The board is also looking to sell excess federal land in high-price ZIP codes. Valuable properties include excess land surrounding two Job Corps centers owned by the Labor Department and four acres of coastline property owned by the Commerce Department in Pacific Grove, California.

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