Division of Archives and Records Service

Federal Records Management Audited

Susan Mumford
November 3, 2010

A Government Accountability Office (GAO) audit completed in October shows that nearly 80% of government agencies are at risk of illegally destroying public records and that there are hefty volumes of records needing preservation and care before they are permanently lost or damaged.

Prompted by the loss of the Wright brothers’ original patent, as well as maps for atomic bomb missions in Japan, the GAO report finds some of the nation’s prized historical documents are in danger of being lost forever, including Civil War telegrams from Abraham Lincoln, Eli Whitney‘s cotton gin patent, and some NASA photographs on the moon.  The audit  found many U.S. agencies do not follow proper rules for disposing and storing public records.

“Officials at the National Archives, which houses the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and other treasured documents at its Washington rotunda, had no immediate comment Tuesday on the findings,” said National Public Radio (NPR).

The report comes more than a year after news reports of key items missing at the nation’s record keeping agency. While some of the items have been missing for decades, their absence has recently become widely known.

According to NPR, “The patent file for the Wright Brothers flying machine was last seen in 1980 after passing around multiple Archives offices, the Patents and Trademarks Office and the National Air and Space Museum. As for maps for the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, military representatives checked them out in 1962, and they’ve been missing ever since.”