Earlier today, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs held its second hearing for Colleen J. Shogan, President Biden’s nominee to serve as Archivist of the United States. I watched as it took place live (you can view the recording here) and wanted to share some of my thoughts and observations of the proceedings. I further want to echo the statements published by the Council of State Archivists and the Society of American Archivists endorsing Dr Shogan’s nomination. I look forward to her receiving a confirmation vote before the full senate soon.
The hearing was led by Committee Chair Gary Peters and included questions from Rand Paul, Ron Johnson, Jon Osoff, Josh Hawley, Roger Marshall, and Thomas Carper, although not in that order.
Much of the questioning directed at Dr Shogan related to recent events that have put NARA in the national spotlight, a place which the agency is relatively unfamiliar. These include the incident involving March for Life protestors being asked to cover their shirts in Archives I building near the mall, controversies related to classified records being found at the homes of Former President Trump, Former Vice President Pence, and President Biden dating back to his time as VP, questions related to overclassification in general, large backlogs of records requests from veterans seeking records of their service to obtain benefits, and questions about records related to COVID. Overall, I felt Dr Shogan answered these questions to the best of her ability and indicated that she will work to maintain the non-partisan nature of NARA. Many of the issues which committee members spoke about are not within the jurisdiction of the AOTUS, most notably classification. This is an important point as it underscores the relative positionality of NARA as compared to other larger federal agencies which it seeks to work with on records issues. Creating agencies are responsible for declassification, and staffing challenges/funding priorities have made this situation quite poor across much of the government.
The hearing did include a few exchanges where the nominee was asked to speak about or defend previous academic work and social media posts which suggest that she holds liberal positions on a number of political issues. Senator Hawley in particular pushed Dr Shogan to respond to Twitter posts he had printed out, including a retweeted post in support of an assault weapons ban. She repeatedly answered “My social media is in my personal capacity, senator” which led him to further accuse her of grandstanding and evading his questions. In a move that’s squarely on the nose, he would later go on to post on Twitter about the entire sequence. Rand Paul would later step in and declare that her being a liberal was not a disqualification for this position because “If we got rid of liberals, we would not really have a lot of librarians or archivists.” Oh how true that statement is, perhaps revealing more about the situation than Senator Paul meant to suggest…
What does this hearing mean for the future of Dr Shogan’s nomination? Given the composition of the Senate, I think she has a good chance of appointment if brought up before a full chamber vote. That being said, given the entrenched positions of both parties regarding some key issues including document classification and Presidential Records, the vote may again spilt evenly along party lines, where it fell last fall. I, for one, would like to see the nomination proceed and for the national archives to have a permanent leader. Dr Shogan would be the first female nominee confirmed to this role and is well qualified for the job. My parting words to the senate: confirm her already and move on to more pressing challenges facing the country!