Government Relations in the 1980s: the Archival Arrangement

The American Jewish Historical Society’s HIAS project team recently completed processing on records of the Administration and Government Relations Department of the 1980s. The records cover the years 1982-1990. This post will take a look at how the records are organized.

But first, what was the Administration and Government Relations Department? You wouldn’t be alone if you assumed the two parts of the name must have had something to do with each other—some of us did too. But looking at the records, we found that the “Administration” part actually referred to the administrative functions of the entire agency. Yes, we’re talking about dealing with switchboard problems, setting policy, ordering computers, managing office renovations, evaluating workflow in the mailroom, etc.

The Government Relations part is a bit more interesting, and thankfully represents the bulk of the materials. The federal government was involved in every step in the process of refugee migration to the United States, from the moment a person applied for refugee status, to the time they stepped off the plane. Because of this, HIAS’ relationship with the government agencies responsible for oversight and implementation of the US refugee program was an essential one. The Government Relations department’s role was to establish and maintain a system of frequent and extensive contact with a wide range of entities in Washington, D.C. More on this in a future blog post.

As with other departments, Administration and Government Relations maintained their records alphabetically by subject file, in one to two year chunks. Here is how the records are arranged:

1982 The first set of folders belonged to Karl Zukerman, who at this time served as Assistant Executive Vice President. They are from 1982 and are labeled A-I . So the first folder in this group contains materials related to the American Council of Voluntary Agencies for Foreign Service (predecessor to InterAction), while the last relates to Indochinese Refugees. Folders for J-Z subjects are not present unfortunately.

1982-1983 The next set of Zukerman’s files is for a two year chunk, 1982-1983. For this group we have letters A-U, which is likely the full set of folders, since there weren’t many subjects beginning with letters V-Z. Yay! But you might be wondering, why is there an 82-83 set of folders, and a set of 82 folders by themselves? The reason is that the two sets had two different owners, or “creators” as archival science refers to them. For example, the set of A-I folders from 1982 could have been inherited by Zukerman from the prior staffer in that role. Alternatively, they could have been maintained by Zukerman’s assistant, while the 82-83 set belonged to him. Or, one set could have been what we might consider “general department files” to which multiple staffers contributed materials. It all depends on how the department was organized and what sort of filing scheme met the needs of that group of people.

A two year chunk makes sense because it means keeping recent documents close for when they are needed, while still being a manageable amount of stuff to keep right in the office. At the end of the two years, the files were probably boxed up and brought to the Central Files department. At that point, they were not as close as before, but close enough that one could still retrieve items as needed, probably with the assistance of a staff member in Files. After some period of time in Central Files, records were boxed up again and sent to warehouse storage.

1984 Here again we have one year of files. And again, only folders A-I are present! We do not have an explanation for this. In these materials we see Phillip A. Saperia come on as Director of Planning and Government Relations in June of 1984. He appears to have inherited the files previously kept by Zukerman. So memos, correspondence, notes, etc. addressed to or from both men are present here.

1985-1986 For this period, subjects A-U are covered, just like 82-83. During this time, HIAS reorganized the administrative functions of the agency. In these materials we see that in February or 1986, Saperia’s title changes from Director of Planning and Government Relations to Director of Administration and Government Relations.

1986 This next set is a small group of only administrative files, all pertaining to personnel policy. It is slightly curious that these files were maintained apart from the rest of the 1985-1986 materials, which contained Administrative files mixed in with the Government Relations material, including those related to personnel policy. Perhaps this set originally contained documents of a sensitive nature?

1987 The 1987 files are well represented, running from A-U.

1988-1990 This is the last set of files for this period, and they appear to be complete, ranging from A-W. Yes, this time the subjects went beyond U and into W: Washington Processing Center, and World Refugee Survey. This group appears to have been kept around for some of the next director’s tenure, because Saperia left in 1990 or 91, but there are a few things in here from 92 and 93.

 

Parting question: Do you know why the archivists didn’t just combine the files when there was more than one set? For example, the 1982 group of folders, and the 82-83 group. Leave your thoughts below, and we’ll discuss this topic in a future post.

 

 

 

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