MYNORTHWEST HISTORY

AG Bob Ferguson issues ultimatum over ‘illegal’ decision to move Seattle National Archives

Feb 26, 2020, 6:31 AM | Updated: 11:08 am

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson has issued an ultimatum to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) regarding “fatal flaw[s]” in a decision last month to shutter the National Archives in Seattle, move the materials to California, and sell the World War II-era warehouse and 10-acre property to the highest bidder.

AG Ferguson weighs legal action over Seattle National Archives closure

In the eight-page letter addressed to OMB Acting Director Russell Vought — as well as to staff and board members of the obscure federal agency known as the Public Buildings Reform Board (PBRB) — Ferguson writes, in plain language, that, “The decision is illegal and was made without consulting with local, state, or tribal officials.”

Ferguson cites the impact that closure of the facility will have on all users, but in particular, Native Americans.

“The decision of your agencies not to meet with or collaborate with local tribal officials as required by Executive Order 13175 and to wholly ignore the impact that removing tribal records from the region would have on tribes located in the Pacific Northwest is inexcusable and unacceptable,” he said.

The letter says that the OMB’s “decision also should be reconsidered and reversed because it suffers from numerous legal deficiencies,” and goes on to list multiple instances where actions taken by the PBRB – who carried out the work to identify so-called “under-utilized” federal properties – weren’t consistent with the 2016 federal legislation known as “FASTA,” that created the agency and a means for fast-track disposal of federal real estate.

Historians, archivists, genealogists and tribal officials in Washington (as well as Oregon, Idaho and Alaska) have complained since news of the planned closure broke in January that the PBRB implemented a flawed and secretive process, and didn’t consult with any stakeholders about the impact of the closure of the Seattle facility.

Reached late Tuesday, Attorney General Ferguson confirmed that what people in the four states served by the facility have been saying all along is accurate.

“We’ve had the chance to dig into some documentation, and what everybody feared is true,” Ferguson said by phone. “There was no process. [The PBRB] didn’t reach out to anyone in Washington state.”

Ferguson says this is “bad from a policy standpoint,” because officials should “want to hear from tribes … or individuals who are affected by your decisions.”

But the actions of the Public Buildings Reform Board go beyond mere policy, Ferguson says.

“It’s also problematic from a legal perspective,” Ferguson noted. “The law requires certain processes before the federal government acts [and] that’s a good thing. [Federal agencies] should have to get input. They should have to hear from entities and individuals and tribes that might be affected. They didn’t do that, and we think that is a fatal flaw in their decision from a legal perspective, and that’s why we think if we file a lawsuit, we’ll prevail.”

Attorney General Ferguson has given the White House Office of Management and Budget until close-of-business on Wednesday, March 18 to respond to his request.

Solutions emerging to Seattle National Archives debacle

“To be clear, after that three-week time period, we may well be filing a lawsuit if we don’t get a sufficient response,” Ferguson said. “In other words, my team is drafting a complaint as we speak. They are close to having that complaint finalized, and so I just feel it is important to give the federal government, these agencies, an opportunity to say, ‘Hey, you know what, yes, we want to resolve this outside the courtroom.’”

Ferguson says a lawsuit isn’t the only possible solution, and he invited the OMB and PBRB to meet with him in advance of the March 18 deadline.

“We’re open to a resolution short of a lawsuit, but my team is proceeding with the complaint, putting it together literally as we speak, and it’ll be ready to file after three weeks if we don’t get an appropriate response,” Ferguson said.

And what exactly is the “appropriate response” that Attorney General Bob Ferguson is looking for by March 18?

“The end result has to be that these key records stay here in Washington state,” Ferguson said. “I’m not going to accept any outcome that doesn’t involve that as the ultimate outcome.”

KIRO Radio reached out on Tuesday, once again, for updates on the process from officials at the DC offices of the Office of Management and Budget, Public Buildings Reform Board and National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). OMB and PBRB have continued to ignore requests for comment; a NARA official promise some kind of response before the end of this week.

More from Feliks Banel

MyNorthwest History

An old newspaper clipping from the 1920s shows the "airsign" for SEATTLE at the Standard Oil facili...

Feliks Banel

All Over The Map: Searching for ‘ghost signs of the air’

An aviation historian said you might be able to spot one of these "Ghost Signs of the Air" still on duty in a few Washington towns.

4 days ago

Taco Time Wallingford...

Feliks Banel

Feliks Banel: ‘Beacon of tacos’ shutting down in Wallingford

News broke Wednesday afternoon that the iconic Taco Time restaurant in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood will close in just a few days.

4 days ago

Marshall Dompier of Port Angeles was one of the earliest American Cub Scouts, and likely the first ...

Feliks Banel

Feliks Banel: Forgotten Pearl Harbor hero was a Cub Scout from Port Angeles

A young sailor from Port Angeles who died more than 82 years ago in the early hours of the attack on Pearl Harbor is making history.

6 days ago

Photo: Airborne United Airlines’ DC-4 at Sea-Tac Airport on July 9, 1949....

Feliks Banel

Vintage photos: Sea-Tac Airport celebrates 75 years

While its origins as an airfield date back to the early months of World War II, the Port of Seattle is marking 75 years of Sea-Tac Airport.

12 days ago

Image: XXX Root Beer in Issaquah will reopen as a Burgermaster location in 2025....

Feliks Banel

All Over The Map: Remodel project uncovers hidden past of beloved XXX drive-in

Work underway in Issaquah to convert the old XXX Root Beer to a Burgermaster has revealed a key feature of the original drive-in.

17 days ago

Stacey and her fellow Edmonds Junior High alums went all out with a video singing - and dancing - t...

Feliks Banel

Welcoming summer with vintage local junior high fight songs

Three community members took the time to record the middle school fight songs they remembered so that they could preserved for posterity.

25 days ago

AG Bob Ferguson issues ultimatum over ‘illegal’ decision to move Seattle National Archives