National Archives shuttered by government shutdown

The Morrow-based National Archives at Atlanta closed Tuesday as part of a federal government shutdown after lawmakers failed to agree on a funding resolution before the end of the government’s fiscal year Monday. (Staff Photo: Curt Yeomans)

The Morrow-based National Archives at Atlanta closed Tuesday as part of a federal government shutdown after lawmakers failed to agree on a funding resolution before the end of the government’s fiscal year Monday. (Staff Photo: Curt Yeomans)

MORROW — Airplanes will continue to fly in and out of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and the mail will still be delivered while the federal government is shut down.

Federal law enforcement agents will still fight crime and the military will continue to defend the nation.

But, Clayton County residents have one visible reminder that their highest government has stopped working. The Morrow-based National Archives at Atlanta is closed because of the shutdown. The large white building on Jonesboro Road is locked up and not even the people who work there are allowed to go inside.

It is part of a systemwide shutdown of the National Archives and Records Administration’s network of facilities and presidential libraries. They are among a group of operations that are not deemed necessary enough to keep them operating during a shuttering of the government.

“Due to the federal government shut down, all National Archives facilities are closed and all activities are canceled,” NARA officials wrote on the websites for their facilities.

National Archives at Atlanta is just one of several federally run properties in metro Atlanta that would be affected by a shutdown fueled by a debate over health care funding. In addition to the archives, National Park Service facilities, including the Martin Luther King Jr. birthplace, the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area and Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park are closed as well.

The White House announced Monday the shutdown would cause programs that provide meals to senior citizens to lose funding, and military veterans could see cuts in the compensation, pension and education benefits if the government is shut down for an extended period of time.

Only essential federal government services, such as mail, air traffic control, national defense and law enforcement, are allowed to continue operating during a shutdown.

“It’s deplorable what Congress is doing,” said Linda Geiger, president of the Friends of The National Archives-Southeast Region. “They don’t seem to get the fact that they need to work together.”

But, while the shutdown has far-reaching affects, it’s the shutdown of the National Archives that would serve as the most visible direct affect on Clayton County. That’s because it — along with the neighboring Georgia Archives — serves as a major hub for family history research and tourism.

It holds and preserves nearly 200,000 cubic feet of federal records from Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. Some of those records date from as far back as 1716.

Geiger, who is a professional genealogist, said her livelihood is impacted by the shutdown because she now doesn’t have access to records she needs to do work for her clients. However, she said it has wider implications that impact all Georgians.

“People may have been traveling here from out of state this week just so they could visit the archives and do research during their vacations,” said Geiger. “Now they can’t do that because they don’t have access to the records. It will have an economic impact on all Georgia residents.”

The plain language of NARA’s shutdown contingency plan sounds definitive. After all, it does state “all NARA archival facilities and Presidential Libraries will be closed to employees, the public and non-Federal occupants and will be secured for the duration of a funding lapse.”

However, there is fine print in the National Archives contingency plan. Not every facility is actually closed during a shutdown.

The Federal Retention Centers, including the one in Ellenwood, will remain open during the shutdown. These facilities act as the records middlemen between the federal agencies that generate public documents and the National Archives facilities that serve as their final resting place.

A recently created record must be held by the retention center for a few years before it can become available for public viewing at a National Archives branch facility.

The presidential libraries are not completely closed either, according to the plan. Only the parts operated by the National Archives has to close. The other parts of those libraries — the parts run by private foundations — remain open.

The Federal Register will also still be published daily, although its content will be limited to “actions affecting the protection of life and/or property,” according to the archives.gov.

But that does little to comfort supporters of the National Archives at Atlanta.