The Navy historical world was all abuzz this week with a report that U S Navy history is “in jeopardy”. The newspaper Navy Times, in an 8 January article, describes a U S Naval History and Heritage Command (formerly the Naval Historical Center) that is “beset with preservation problems and internal strife”.
The article, citing a recent navy Inspector General inspection, goes on to relate that the chronically underfunded Command lacks proper climate controlled spaces for its extensive collection of fragile documents, photographs and “operational archives”. The result: “documents and photos … deteriorating from mold and mildew”.
In addition, according to the quoted IG inspection, the Command’s mostly civilian staff is not properly represented at the highest levels of leadership, largely because directors of the archives and histories division and the museums and collections division are both retired naval officers with no formal training in archival, historical or museum arts and sciences. The report points out that the Command’s historical and archival “professionals feel like their advice is ignored, their work is underfunded, and their access to the director is limited…”
When Navy officials appointed retired Rear Admiral Jay DeLoach to direct the Command in 2008, according to the Navy Times article, they tasked him to “change the culture” of the Command, and make it more responsive to Navy needs.
DeLoach’s leadership may be paying off despite the IG’s report. For instance,the Command now has a very aggressive Facebook and LinkedIn presence; I have seen several-times-daily posts to these social networking sites. The article also points out that soon after taking leadership, DeLoach began a program to “push” historical notes out to operational commands Navy wide.
DeLoach has also seen some success in improving the Command’s funding: $38 million are earmarked for fiscal year 2012, representing a 46% increase from the year before. Historian Bill Dudley, indicated in a separate communication that the Historical Center’s budget in 2004, his last year as Director, was $12 million. Staffing problems may also be on the way to resolution as well: the Command reports plans to hire forty-seven new personnel in fiscal year 2013.
Finally, the Navy Times article quotes a Command spokesperson reporting success in moving the more fragile elements of its collection into climate controlled facilities.
Comment: The IG report has not been released to the public, so, for now, all we have to go on is the newspaper report and our own personal experience. To this observer, the Naval History and Heritage Command has definitely put on a more “user friendly” face, with frequent Facebook feeds and the like. The Command website is “busy”, but reasonably easy to navigate; and it is rich with resources. It appears that Admiral DeLoach has been pretty successful in obtaining ever more funding for the Command, though one is left to wonder about future funding given upcoming Pentagon austerity. It also appears that actions are being taken to protect the more vulnerable portions of the Command’s vast collections. Left moot is any comment about upgrading facilities to assure proper temperature and humidity control for all of the Command’s archival and museum spaces.
The most glaring apparent problem remaining to be attacked is the reported disconnect between top leadership and the civilian professionals responsible for the day to day operation of the Command’s collections and facilities. This observer believes a meaningful first step would be the immediate appointment of experienced archives and museum professionals as deputies to the commander. This would, in one fell swoop, overcome the barrier of communications alleged to be at the root of the Command’s internal strife.
The documents, photos and other artifacts housed in the Command’s storage spaces, museums, historical ships and other assets are invaluable and often irreplaceable national treasures. Naval officials, it seems to me, have a solemn obligation to assure that state-of-the-art best practices are applied to every aspect of Naval History and Heritage Command operations.If any reader has access to the IG report, please communicate this to me through the Comments section, or in a personal email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
©2012 Thomas L Snyder