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Northwest Senators introduce ARCHIVES Act to stop sale of Seattle facility

The Seattle branch of the National Archives has been closed to the public throughout the pandemic; a bill introduced by Senator Patty Murray would end the federal government’s threat to sell the real estate and move the archives to California and Missouri. (Feliks Banel/KIRO Radio)

The long battle to save the endangered Seattle branch of the National Archives has now been officially joined by a group of federal lawmakers from the Pacific Northwest.

On Wednesday, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) introduced the awkwardly, yet somewhat cleverly named ‘‘Assuring Regular Consultation to Have Indigenous Voices Effectively Solicited Act’’ – or “ARCHIVES Act” for short – to retroactively amend the original FASTA legislation. FASTA is an Obama-era law that was used by an obscure federal agency to target the Seattle facility, and other valuable federal real estate, for closure and rapid sale.

Specifically, Murray’s new bill says that for federal properties targeted via FASTA, “if the proposed sale or transfer would affect access to Federal agency services by a federally recognized Indian Tribe, the relevant Federal agency shall consult with all Tribal governments that may be so affected.”

This Tribal consultation did not happen with the Seattle branch of the National Archives – which houses more than 150 years worth of federal materials related to Tribes in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska – until after the intent to sell was first reported by KIRO Radio in early 2020. Plans were to move the contents, including photos, documents, maps and other one-of-a-kind archival materials – much of which has not been digitized – to National Archives offices in California and Missouri.

The ARCHIVES Act further states that in most cases, “Federal civilian real property may not be sold or transferred under this Act … if the proposed sale or transfer would substantially reduce or eliminate access to Federal agency services by a federally recognized Indian Tribe.”

In a press release, Senator Murray said that, if passed, the ARCHIVES Act “would correct a flawed process and ensure that Tribes are a part of any decision regarding the future of this facility, which houses so many critical pieces of their history.”

“I will work to make this bill law,” Senator Murray continued, “and I will continue working with the Biden-Harris Administration to explore every option available, including the appropriations process, to ensure that the records and artifacts in the facility remain accessible to local stakeholders.”

It’s unclear if the bill has enough votes in the Senate or the House, though there has been demonstrated bipartisan support in the Northwest for preventing the closure and sale.

Responding to a question from KIRO Radio about the bill’s chances in the Senate and the House — as well as the timing of how soon it might reach President Biden for his signature — Senator Murray’s office shared an additional quote via email.

“This legislation has bipartisan support out of the gate, so I’m hopeful we can work quickly on it,” Senator Murray said. “This is a priority for me, so I’m going to be doing all I can in the Senate to get this bill passed and signed into law.”

In March, a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators and members of the House of Representatives from Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska sent a letter to the White House Office of Management and Budget – whose leadership changed with the incoming Biden Administration – asking OMB to put a stop to the sale.

OMB oversees the Public Buildings Reform Board, or PBRB, the obscure federal agency that failed to consult with Tribes and other Seattle facility stakeholders. All but one federal lawmaker in the four states signed the letter; the lone holdout was Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Central Washington)

Sale of the 10-acre parcel and warehouse was halted by a federal judge earlier this year as a result of a lawsuit filed by Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson and a coalition that includes the State of Oregon, dozens of Tribes, and several historical societies and others with an interest in keeping the facility in Seattle.

Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA); Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK; and Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley (both D-OR), joined Senator Murray in co-sponsoring the ARCHIVES Act.

You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News, read more from him here, and subscribe to The Resident Historian Podcast here. If you have a story idea, please email Feliks here.

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