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Openness: the Next Steps
Some Thoughts and Suggestions

Remarks of Roger Anders,
Assistant Secretary for Environment, Safety and Health,
at 1997 DOE Records Management Conference
Las Vegas, Nevada
June 25, 1997

As noted, the title of this session is Openness: The Next Steps. Although I can not presume to lay out a detailed roadmap that will take us to a state of universally regarded openness, I can offer some thoughts and suggestions as to what records managers and the Openness Advisory Panel might now address in moving the Department of Energy, or DOE, toward greater openness. As most of you know, I am a veteran of the human radiation experiments project, serving as a member of the project's senior staff. Since the end of the active phase of the human radiation experiments project-- which occurred on October 31, 1995--l have been involved in openness-related work. I have drawn upon my experiences in putting together these thoughts and suggestions, and I offer them as personal views only.

One reason for speaking from a personal perspective is that I find myself in transition to a new job. Now a widely expected event is occurring--the Office of Human Radiation Experiments is being abolished I will become a part of a new office in EM-6, the Office of Health Studies. My unit is so new that it has not yet been named--it is only presently known by its mail routing symbol--EH-64. In this office, I will become more concerned with helping health researchers gain access to DOE records and in working to refine and narrow the records. I expect to be working with many of you in this new capacity. I will also continue to work on current openness-related projects, such making finding aids to DOE records available to the public and in encouraging the transfer of DOE records to the National Archives and Records Administration.

The Importance of Openness

I would first like to offer some thoughts on why openness is so important to us all.

Why is openness so important? Former Secretary of Energy Hazel O'Leary believed that greater openness was essential for DOE if the institution was to rebuild public trust that it had lost. How else could it carry out tasks such as environmental management and restoration and ensuring the public that nuclear developmental activities, some of which are inherently dangerous, are being conducted safely?

To put the importance of openness on a personal level, one could look at history and make the argument that greater openness is essential if we wish to keep our jobs. Many of us remember the Atomic Energy Commission, or AEC, which was abolished in 1975, and some of us even worked for it. Perhaps some of us do not remember that lack of public credibility was a factor in the AEC's demise. By 1972, the AEC had lost the trust of significant portions of the public and Congress over several controversies related to its promotion of commercial nuclear power plants.

One of these controversies over which the AEC lost public trust was the safety of those plants which were being built several sizes larger than contemporary operating nuclear power plants. New plants, for which there was no operating experience, were being built in the 1000 megawatt range when the largest operating plant weighed in at 275 megawatts. Larger size meant new problems in ensuring safe plant operation. In particular, ensuring that no commercial power reactor suffered a catastrophic meltdown of its nuclear fuel. The AEC, however, did a number of things that undermined its credibility with the public on the issue of power plant safety. One involved the suppression of a report that would have shown that the costs of a large reactor accident would be more expensive than the public imagined and the AEC was willing to admit. Another action which helped to lose public trust involved an attempt to suppress the results of experimental tests in Idaho which seemed to show that crucial commercial nuclear reactor safety equipment would not work as anticipated. These attempts to withhold information became known to the public in the early 1970s.

Another controversy over which the AEC lost public trust involved the environmental impact of these giant commercial nuclear power plants. The AEC was unwilling to incorporate a full scale review of the environmental impacts of these giant nuclear power plants into its licensing process. The AEC maintained that it only had authority to consider the radiological environmental impacts of nuclear power plants. Non- radiological impacts, such as whether a reactor's cooling system might kill a fair portion of river fish, were off-limits for discussion at licensing hearings. Although the National Environmental Policy Act was passed in 1969, the AEC was very restrictive about allowing non radiological impacts into its licensing process, until it lost the famous Calvert Cliffs case in the summer of 1971.

These were not the only controversies which undermined public trust in the agency. But loss of public trust combined with the growing energy crises of the early 1970s were the two factors which led to the abolition of the AEC in 1975. And failures to deal openly with safety and environmental issues helped the AEC lose public confidence.

Like the AEC, DOE has a public credibility problem. Like, with the AEC in the early 1 970s, there have been calls in Congress for the abolition of DOE.

DOE, however, has another problem, and one with which the AEC did not have to deal--public perceptions of loss of its missions. One can argue that DOE was established to do three things:

But what happened to these missions in the 1980s? As a practical matter, the mission of creating a comprehensive national energy policy was eliminated. The mission of managing federal energy research and development was restricted to managing high-risk, long term research and development. The mission of producing nuclear weapons, however, was given increased priority and funding.

A look at some budgetary figures reveals just how much priority. In the 1980 budget, defense activities accounted for 36 percent of DOE expenditures, and energy research and development for 45 percent. In the 1990 budget, defense activities accounted for 60 percent of agency expenditures and energy research and development for 16 percent. We all know what has been happening to the need for great defense expenditures since 1990.

Unlike the AEC then, DOE has lost public trust at the same time it seems to have lost its primary reason for existence. This coincidence of events has already contributed to the budgetary constraints and agency downsizing that we are experiencing. Where will the downsizing stop? I do not think that any of us can predict.

In 1975 all of its production facilities and laboratories survived the AEC's demise intact. But are we willing to gamble that in today's environment DOE's laboratories and other facilities would survive its demise intact?

Loss of public trust over environmental and safety problems can have far reaching consequences as recent events have demonstrated. As you know, a few weeks ago, DOE took an unprecedented step--terminating Associated Universities, Incorporated's contract for managing Brookhaven National Laboratory. AUI had managed Brookhaven since its establishment in 1946. The press release which announced the step stated that the contract was terminated because the Secretary of Energy found significant problems with laboratory environment, safety and health programs and because of "the disintegration of public trust in laboratory management." And the laboratory had lost public trust over an environmental and safety issue-the contamination of groundwater by tritium.

From this perspective then, spending time, effort, and money on creating greater public trust in DOE through greater openness is something that we cannot afford not to do. Whatever the short term costs of openness may be, the costs of loss of public trust can have far reaching consequences, as I think the examples of the AEC and Brookhaven indicate. Contributing to making DOE more open, then, is a responsibility for us all.

What can we do to promote greater openness?

Transferring Records to the National Archives

One obvious way that records managers can help make DOE more open is to help make their site's records more open and accessible. I am not suggesting that legitimate restrictions on access to records be ignored. There is still much, however, that can be done to make unrestricted records more open and accessible.

As you know, Department of Health and Human Services researchers are conducting studies, on worker and other health topics, at a number of DOE sites. They have repeatedly had difficulties in obtaining records that DOE is committed to providing to them. Some sites have refused access to records without additional funding specifically earmarked for this purpose. Health studies, whether conducted by DOE or HHS, however, are an integral part of DOE's commitment to monitor and protect the health of the workforce. They are also directly related to maintaining public trust.

I know that providing access to records can be burdensome. I anticipate working with you to find ways to reduce these burdens.

One way to both reduce site costs of providing access to records and make those records more open and accessible is to transfer those which are of permanent historical value to the custody of the National Archives and Records Administration. As you know, Federal law requires that records which are over thirty years old and which are determined to be of permanent historical value are to be transferred to the custody of the National Archives. Transferring older records to the National Archives is a step toward greater openness because one of the National Archives's prime functions is to make records in its custody available to the public. Thus, to send records to the National Archives is to make them more accessible to the public.

DOE and its sites, however, have been relatively slow to relinquish custody of their older historically valuable records. Even the Central Intelligence Agency has transferred more records to the National Archives than DOE. It is hard to characterize this as openness.

I do not wish to suggest that DOE is not moving to change this record. For example, between 1990 and late 1993, the headquarters History Division transferred about 250 cubic feet of records to the National Archives. The transfer included the first two sections of the records of the AEC Secretary's office, some of the most historically significant records the Department owns.

The History Division, however, is not the only custodian of records which are of permanent historical value. On my travels both during and after the active phase of the human radiation experiments project, I noticed records of permanent historical value at virtually every field site that I visited. I have also spent some time in efforts to move permanently valuable records of two sites, the Oak Ridge Operations Office and the Albuquerque Operations Office, to the National Archives.

My office is now working with the Oak Ridge Operations Office to transfer hundreds of cubic feet of historically valuable records to the National Archives. Some of these records date back to World War 11 and they document the activities of the operations office in producing enriched uranium, managing a community, and in undertaking scientific research in a wide variety of areas. They form a particularly rich picture of many important activities in the early to mid Cold War period. Most require a declassification prior to physical transfer and I am pleased with the cooperation achieved with the Office of Declassification office in obtaining the resources to review these records. I am also pleased to have been able to work with Cathy Marciante, Phyllis Ferguson, and Karen Doughty on this effort. The resources of both headquarters and Oak Ridge have been tapped in making this transfer. The course taken on these records could serve as a model in headquarters/field teamwork and in use of scarce resources for those other DOE sites which should transfer records to the National Archives.

During the course of the active phase of the human radiation experiments project, I came across an extraordinarily valuable collection in the custody of the Albuquerque Operations Office. We called it the operations office historical records collection and invested the resources required to create a detailed finding aid to the collection in preparation for its transfer to the National Archives. The collection paints a rich picture of early Cold War nuclear weapons programs at the field level. The collection has now been offered to the National Archives and accepted. The collection needs, however, to be given a declassification review and the physical transfer made. I urge the Albuquerque Operations Office to complete the job and get this collection to the National Archives.

I am encouraged that other field sites have begun to transfer records to the National Archives. Last summer Savannah River invited the National Archives to take some of its older unclassified historically valuable records. Argonne National Laboratory has offered a large collection of the records of the Center for Human Radiobiology to the National Archives. These records contain very valuable information on contemporary scientific and medical knowledge about the hazards of some radionuclides. The National Archives has accepted the collection, but physical transfer has been delayed by litigation.

There are other field records which can be transferred to the National Archives. Here are just a few examples. One of DOE's premier laboratories, the Los Alamos National Laboratory has never transferred older historically valuable laboratory records to the National Archives. The laboratory maintains historically valuable files going back to World War II, when J. Robert Oppenheimer was director of the laboratory. Los Alamos records document key topics in nuclear weapons research and development during the first decades of the Cold War, subjects that are being given increasing attention by scholars and others outside of the agency. The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory could transfer records created by early Hanford biomedical units. The Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory could transfer the records of the laboratory's Associate or Deputy Director. And so on.

DOE headquarters could also do more in this area as well. Although the History Division has made significant transfers to the National Archives, it could also do more, for example, transferring the remaining sections of the AEC Secretary's records to the National Archives.

One next step in openness for records managers, I think, is the transfer of these and other records to the National Archives. Some actions which can be taken include:

The Openness Advisory Panel may want to put the issue of transferring records to the National Archives on its agenda. Getting records to the National Archives will make them more accessible to health and other researchers, and save the agency and its sites the longer term costs of storing and servicing the records. I think that attention and/or inquiries from the Panel would help complete the transfer of the AEC Secretary's files and the Albuquerque Operations Office Historical Records collection. Assistance from the Panel may be needed to help convince the courts that the Argonne Center for Human Radiobiology records can be transferred without harm to litigation. Moreover, the Panel could encourage DOE to do something else which it has never done--to formulate and implement a comprehensive agency-wide program for getting its older records to the National Archives.

Encouraging a Change in DOE Culture

I want to turn now to a more fundamental problem and one that is more difficult to grapple with. That is the issue of agency culture, or of attitudes throughout the institution toward openness.

Not surprisingly, attitudes are still adjusting to openness and they vary throughout the agency. Some parts of the agency have implemented openness well and others still have a way to go.

For example, in my work on the finding aids project and encouraging the transfer of records to the National Archives, I found some sites deeply concerned about increasing openness and rebuilding public trust. I have already mentioned the work of the Oak Ridge Operations Office in transferring records to the National Archives. I might also add that the operations office gave our office prompt and complete access to its finding aids. Likewise did the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which also approved the release of finding aids to the public within a reasonable period of time. Although a weapons laboratory with information whose dissemination must be restricted, the Sandia National Laboratories gave our office complete access to its finding aids. Rather than make finding aids available to the public, the laboratory decided to increase its openness by declassifying and releasing to the public the records collections which the finding aids described. The Richland Operations Office gave our office complete access to its and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory finding aids and quickly approved their release to the public. Likewise, the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory gave our office complete access to their comprehensive and well-organized set of finding aids.

Not all of my experiences, however, have been so encouraging. One records manager asked me "When is all this openness business going to end?" in a manner that suggested that person would be quite happy to see it end. At one site, it took one and half days to obtain local badges for National Archives personnel who had come to the site to appraise older records. One operations office has been considering a request to release finding aids to its records to the public for fourteen months. A national laboratory, which has few classified records, has been considering a request to release finding aids to its records to the public for eight months. To obtain finding aids from one laboratory, our office had to submit a Freedom of Information Act request.

These experiences, I think, indicate a significant degree of discomfort with openness, Releasing finding aids to inactive records should be a commonplace activity. But, there is worse. One laboratory refused our office access to any finding aids to records stored in the laboratory's archives until DOE had monies forwarded through an operations office to the laboratory It is my impression that the laboratory wanted to assume that our modest effort was going to cost it something like the entire active phase of human radiation experiments project. Although the laboratory archives has good finding aids that accurately and completely describe its holdings, as matters now stand, they will not be made widely available to the public.

What can be done to make more uniform throughout the agency the willingness and habit of being open with the public? I know that this issue has already come up in discussions of the Openness Advisory Panel. I think that my experiences and those of HHS health researchers indicate that it would be an appropriate next step in openness for the Panel to take a look at DOE sites and their openness track records.


The subject of agency culture and changing it brings me back to two of my earlier points-becoming more open is a responsibility for us all. From an historical perspective, an argument can be made that the Department of Energy and its contractors cannot afford not to be more open and accessible to the American people We must not lose sight of the potential long term consequences of losing public trust while we grapple with the short term costs and burdens of making records more accessible. Just prior to the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Franklin observed that now "we must, indeed, all hang together, or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately." DOE and its contractors may very well now find themselves in a similar situation regarding openness.

I mentioned earlier that specific progress has been made in transferring records to the National Archives and I think we need to be creative in finding ways to make DOE and DOE contractor records more accessible. I am happy to note that most DOE sites have web pages through which they get much valuable information directly to the American people about the agency and its contractors. Many of them have valuable information about site records and some even have descriptions of site records. Making use of the World Wide Web is but one creative method of making records more accessible. I am sure that there are others. Let us work together to find them so that we will not hang separately. Thank you.

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