Best Customer Service by a Government Agency - 2002
National Archives and Records
Pacific Sierra Region
You don't have to be a records geek to know that the stuff in the National Archives -- essentially, the government's attic -- is really cool: prison files from Alcatraz Island, legal cases as far back as the building of the railroad, family records of immigrants and internment camp residents, World War II propaganda, maps of just about anything. The keepers of this little corner of the nation's history are overworked, underpaid, and incredibly dedicated to the preservation and retrieval of public records. NARA's archivists and librarians have fought to get custody of records that have been left in atrocious condition, and have spent hours organizing the 200 million or so files from 110 federal agencies. Staff members will also -- after a few heavy sighs and a short speech on how long it might take -- perform heroic feats to help find a lost relative or buried record, or even, dare we say, fulfill the never-ending requests of a pesky journalist. Professional and amateur genealogists hang out at NARA, poring over immigration, census, and war records. Academic researchers dig through obscure moments in history. So special is this government agency that people actually volunteer here. If all public servants did their jobs half as well as the staffers of NARA, we would be a much more efficient, better informed, and significantly less frustrated citizenry.