The Sequestration and You: How Are Cuts Affecting the Government-Citizen Relationship?

The sequester continues to affect a myriad of agencies, many of which have already been suffering from being under-funded and under-staffed. One such agency has been the National Archives.

Last week, the National Archives announced significant cuts to its hours of operation. Archives I in Washington D.C. will end exhibit hours at 5:30pm instead of 7pm seven days a week, which Archives II in College Park, Maryland, will close at 5pm instead of 9pm three days a week.

In comparison to many other agencies, such as TSA and the United States Postal Service, this may not seem like a big deal. So what if you can’t see the Declaration of Independence at 6 O’clock at night? So what if less guided tours are offered? However, the implications are bigger than what they seem. The cut hours does not affect agency productivity as much as it hurts connecting with the public. The average citizen works until 5pm, so unless they want to brave a hoard of tourists on a Saturday, the likelihood that they will visit the National Archives too look at an exhibit drops dramatically. This could also lead to less children visiting the National Archives, as their parents will have less opportunities to take them, meaning that the importance of the agency may not be recognized by future generations, at least the intrinsic value.

And what about Archives II in College Park? This is a heavily used research facility that also hosts a variety of programs, including a preservation class for the Archives Program at University of Maryland, College Park. The instructors (who are also NARA employees) are now struggling to find a time and space to continue teaching the classes, while other programs are threatened to be cancelled all together. The more dramatic effect is that researchers have more limited access to materials. Scholars and other types of researchers also often work until 5pm or later; the extended hours at NARA allowed them to have time to research outside of the office or classroom. With limited access, how will this affect the academic world, which already struggles to find time to complete research projects?

Through the example of the National Archives, we see that the sequestration has a larger affect on government agencies and their relationship to constituents. The White House has also stopped tours entirely, which disconnects the public from the executive branch. Could the sequester affect transparency initiatives? Or will citizens have to rely on learning about an agency only through social media and not in person? It may be beneficial to start discussing the cultural implications of sequestration cooing methods instead of just number crunching.

What effects do you think other agencies’ coping methods will have on the
government-citizen relationship?

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Scott Kearby

Change is the only constant … folks will figure out how to adapt and overcome, … or not. If there is no money, then something has to change. The organization will have to figure out what functions will get the resources and what functions will have to go by the wayside. Think of it as an experiment in cultural evolution.