NARA’s Chief Innovator Won Big Last Week

A top official at the National Archives took home two prestigious awards last week, including one specifically for civil servants. The recognition comes at a time of heightened scrutiny of federal records management.

Pamela Wright, the first-ever chief innovation officer at the National Archives and Records Administration, received a Distinguished Executive Presidential Rank Award for 2022. She is the first recipient from her agency to receive such an award. The Presidential Rank Awards, first established by the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act, go to career federal employees for their extraordinary work. This year there were 233 winners from 33 federal agencies, who are all members of the Senior Executive Service, senior-level and scientific and professional corps. 

“Pam’s exceptional executive leadership is invaluable to NARA, our strategic goals and our mission,” said Debra Steidel Wall, acting archivist of the United States, in a statement on November 15. 

Wright, who first came to NARA in 2001 and has been in her current role since 2012, “is recognized as an industry-wide expert on emerging digital technologies designed to dramatically expand public access to the archived permanent records of the federal government,” said a press release from NARA. She is the lead for NARA’s open government plan, developed a citizen archivist program to make records more accessible to the public, launched the History Hub, the agency’s first digital reference platform, and was a part of the Archivist’s Task Force on Racism, which made a series of recommendations to NARA to advance diversity, equity, accessibility and inclusion, among many other accomplishments at the agency.

“From developing programs to ensure front-line workers are protected at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and leading the nation toward zero-emissions technology, to directing a mission to discover new galaxies, this year’s recipients illustrate what’s possible when you work for the federal government,” said Kiran Ahuja, director of the Office of Personnel Management, announcing the award winners. “Not even the sky is the limit.” 

Last week, Wright also received American University’s 2022 Inclusive Technology Policy Changemaker Award.

“Pamela Wright is a model of how leaders can foster a more just, equitable and productive society,” American University President Sylvia Burwell said in a statement. “Her purpose-driven work is an inspiration for AU changemakers, and she has created impactful solutions to the unique challenges of today’s rapidly changing technology landscape.” Wright is the second recipient ever of this award. 

NARA has been in the spotlight the past few months following the FBI’s search of President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence over the summer to retrieve records not returned after he left office, which has led to an ongoing legal dispute between federal officials and Trump’s team. NARA has been praised by some for taking down Trump, threatened by others and accused of politicization. Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed a special prosecutor on Friday to oversee the Justice Department’s investigation into the classified documents probe (as well as its January 6 one). 

“The work we do really goes kind of unsung; it’s kind of under the radar,” Wright said on Friday at American University, when asked what advice she would give to librarians and archivists. “The same with federal government workers. We’re a nonpolitical agency, we’re just doing our jobs. It’s very quiet until it becomes threatened and then all of a sudden, you know, yeah, we come in the news. But I think, just keep at it. Keep going forward.”

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