A government vault worthy of Dan Brown's attention

Remember paper? The hard copies of laws dating back to 1789 are held in a special archive called Records Group 11.


Somewhere in the Washington area, held in special locked rooms and treated with greatest care, is a treasure of ancient wisdom.

No, this has nothing to do with Masons. Why do you ask? Oh, I see - take that lead, add Freemasonry, and you get the plot of Dan Brown's new novel, "The Lost Symbol." (Decoder would never piggyback on the work of an author of thrillers, however popular that work might be.)

The fact is, there is a real national trove of great stuff - though not all of it is old, and the wisdom of some of it is debatable. It's called Records Group 11, and it contains many original documents that define the United States.

The Constitution and its amendments. Treaties with other countries. And US laws - the actual parchment pieces of legislation signed by presidents, dating back to 1789.

It's "the cream of the cream," says National Archives archivist Rod Ross.

Records Group 11 is stored under controlled conditions in archives sites in Washington and College Park, Md., except for some superfabulous papers, such as the Constitution, which are on display in armored cases programmed to spray disabling gas when threatened by tattooed albino evil masterminds.

Sorry. That last bit isn't true. I've been up too late reading Dan Brown.

Group 11, General Records of the US Government, is the answer to the question of where bills go after they become law. The process is not immediate, though - right now the newest stuff in there dates to 1994.

The actual stimulus bill, signed in February by President Obama? It will eventually end up in a Group 11 vault. If Congress manages to pass a healthcare reform bill, it, too, will be whisked away to archives custody.

There are other National Archive Records Groups. Group 25 is the records of the National Labor Relations Board. Group 58 contains documents pertaining to the IRS.

No, there is no Group 101, Records of Crashed UFOs. That would be fiction ... and perhaps the subject of Mr. Brown's next book.

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