A bipartisan group of U.S. senators and representatives from the Pacific Northwest plans to send a letter Thursday to the Office of Management and Budget urging it to reverse its decision to sell the National Archives and Records Administration facility in Seattle, a month after a federal judge temporarily halted the sale.
Washington Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell and Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski are leading the effort, joined by 23 other lawmakers. The facility contains "irreplaceable records" critical to tribes, state agencies and researchers, according to the letter.
"The removal of the records from the region would make it nearly impossible for our constituents to access them," it reads.
The letter is another piece of Washington's fight to keep the facility in Seattle. In January, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson and 40 other plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the federal government, which Ferguson said accelerated the sale in recent months without conversations with local, state and tribal officials. A month later, a federal judge in Seattle issued a preliminary injunction that said Ferguson's coalition was likely to prevail in the lawsuit.
"Today's legal victory blocks the federal government's unlawful plan to sell the Archives and scatter the DNA of our region thousands of miles away," Ferguson said at the time.
If the sale goes through, it would move a vast collection of historically significant documents from the Pacific Northwest to other parts of the country. The facility currently houses treaty and other records for 272 federally recognized tribal governments in Alaska, Washington, Oregon and Idaho. It also houses records related to the internment of Japanese Americans and Chinese Exclusion Act case files.
In late 2019, the Public Buildings Reform Board identified 12 facilities across the country as "high value assets" and recommended their sale. The archives building had a deferred maintenance backlog of $2.5 million, according to a report from the board. Spread out nationally, the other facilities in the sale proposal included two excess land sales at job corps centers, a fisheries science center, a veterans affairs medical center, a federal courthouse and an office building, among others.
The Office of Management and Budget accepted the board's recommendation to sell the archives facility in January 2020. Congressional delegations from the Pacific Northwest sent another letter shortly after urging the office to reject the recommendations. Their biggest concern was the lack of consultation with tribal representatives.
The process to sell the facility was "legally flawed," according to the letter sent Thursday. The Office of Management and Budget failed to consult with tribal governments and organizations, a violation of an executive order requiring federal agencies to consult tribal officials when developing federal policies that have tribal implications.
According to the letter from lawmakers, Biden reaffirmed the executive order on tribal consultation in a memo where he charged the Office of Management and Budget to review its consultation policies and actions. Ferguson said in early January he had hope that a Biden administration may change the decision to sell.
Because of this, the office "must recognize and remedy its failures to enforce Tribal consultation policies" in the sale of the facility, lawmakers said in their letter.
Both of Washington's senators and nearly all of its representatives signed onto the letter. Only Republican Rep. Dan Newhouse did not. Both of Idaho's senators and representatives also signed onto the letter.