This collection is available in whole for research use. Some folders may still have withdrawn material due to Freedom of Information Act restrictions. Most frequently withdrawn material is national security classified material, personal privacy, protection of the President, etc.
Office History – Reagan Administration
The National Security Act of 1947 created the National Security Council (NSC) to advise the President with respect to the coordination of domestic, foreign and military policy. The Act legislated only one position for the Council - Executive Secretary. The Executive Secretary recorded the meetings and actions of the NSC. The position and its corollary staff, the Executive Secretariat, remains within the NSC to the present. The title was changed to Staff Secretary from 1969-1980. For the first two years of the Reagan Administration the title was Staff Director. In 1983, the administration reestablished the title Executive Secretary, and made this person responsible for internal staff management and operations. The Executive Secretary coordinated the flow of substantive paperwork through the components of the NSC organization to ensure the effective use of staff resources. Executive Secretaries for the NSC under Reagan were Allen Lenz (Staff Director), Robert Kimmitt, William Martin, Rodney B. McDaniel, Grant S. Green, and Paul Schott Stevens. The Library has collections for all of these individuals and an office collection for the Executive Secretary.
The Secretariat provides information and records management services to the NSC, in much the same capacity as the White House Office of Records Management (WHORM) serves the rest of the Executive Office of the President. The Secretariat provides the indexing and record tracking necessary to manage the flow of paperwork, maintains the filing systems, determines which NSC records should be regarded as “presidential” records or NSC institutional records, and serves as the custodian for the permanent NSC institutional records of past administrations still within the custody of the NSC. The Secretariat manages records ranging from routine correspondence to national security classified records requiring special handling.
The Secretariat screens and logs all documents received by the NSC (i.e. cables, reports and various forms of correspondence). The Secretariat staff logged documents requiring action into the NSC’s correspondence computer tracking system. The Secretariat began using computers for records management purposes in 1970. The tracking database was Action Status (ACSTAT) used to track both presidential and NSC institutional records and correspondence. The ACSTAT database was managed and searched by an IBM database management system, STAIRS (Storage and Information Retrieval System). The Library has no access to the IBM system used at the White House, but relies on microfiche printouts of the database records.
During the Reagan Administration, documents logged by the Secretariat generated an NSC/S Profile Sheet, which would be attached to the cover of the routing folder for the document. The NSC/S Profile Sheet and the database would contain a unique document tracking number, major subject and country keywords, key names, tracking and filing information and a historical decisions index. Each time an action was completed, the NSC/S Profile sheet was annotated on the bottom of the page and the database updated.
The Secretariat made two key decisions about a document when it was logged into ACSTAT. First, the Secretariat placed the document in one of four tracking and control “System Files.” Second, the document received a “File Designator” determining if a document was either a presidential or an institutional record. The System Files were an organized effort to distinguish between the different types of NSC documents and to assist in the tracking of the documents for security and operational reasons. The Secretariat gave all System I, System II, and System IV documents seven digit individual tracking numbers. The first two digits of each document designate the year, the next digit designates the system (O for System I, 9 for System II, 4 for System IV), and the last four digits are a sequential number assigned in order received (i.e. 8701233, 8890023, 8240999). This gives a loosely chronological order to sequential system numbers.
Once the Secretariat determined that a document was presidential it was then assigned a file designator. Designators included: PA (Presidential Acquisition Files); SII (System II Presidential Records); and WH (Presidential Record sent to WHORM for filing). The PA files were primarily System I files. The PA series of Presidential records were maintained in the Situation Room by Executive Secretariat staff members Ed Roberts and Kathleen Shanahan. Roberts and Shanahan maintained a system of subseries for these documents including:
VIP Visits and Presidential Visits
Head of State Correspondence File
At no point was the determination of these sub-series recorded on an inventory or on database records. Either Shanahan or Roberts determined the sub-series for a document at the time of filing based largely on the “Keywords” used by the Secretariat for description and indexing purposes.
During 1984, there was considerable discussion within the NSC about the utility of maintaining the PA sub-series. Shanahan described the sub-series filing practices as “very archaic and arbitrary.” For example, folders within any category came to have not only System I documents, but also non-log cables, non-log correspondence, and even System II & IV documents. Shanahan recommended that a number of the PA sub-series be transferred to WHORM and integrated with the White House Subject File system. NSC staff members argued, when searching for specific topics, countries or individuals, “you cannot beat” having all like records gathered in one folder for ease of use.
During the second Reagan term, the Secretariat decided against this ease of search and use and dropped the division of PA documents into specific sub-series. Documents were now arranged numerically by individual NSC Document numbers. This was modeled on the WHORM system of filing by case file number. There is also a widely-held belief that the sub-series filing system became unworkable with the retirement of Ed Roberts in January 1985. Roberts appears to have carried the institutional memory of how documents were split and filed.
This decision resulted in a bifurcated filing system for the NSC. In the first administration, material for specific agencies, countries and/or head of state can be easily found grouped together. Material regarding the same topics has to be located by NSC System document numbers for the second administration. We also recommend using documents from the staff member responsible for a specific country/issue to fill in information for the second administration. It is essential to note, the PA sub-series do not contain a comprehensive grouping on any particular country/subject/correspondent. As in any filing system, it has gaps and idiosyncrasies.