From the Coalition Column of the February 2010 issue of Perspectives on History

News Briefs, February 2010

Lee White, February 2010

Fiscal Year 2010 Budgets Finalized for Key Historical Programs

The National Archives & Records Administration’s (NARA) budget increased by $10 million, or 2.3 percent, to a level of $469 million under the fiscal 2010 omnibus spending bill that was signed into law by President Obama on December 16. The legislation includes increases for the hiring of new archival staff, the maintenance of research hours at NARA facilities, completion of the Electronic Records Archive, funding for repairs at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and the establishment of the Office of Government Information Services to serve as a FOIA ombudsman for the federal government.

The National Historical Publications and Records Commission’s (NHPRC) budget increased from the current fiscal year’s $11.25 million to $13 million in fiscal 2010. Most importantly, the NHPRC would receive the entire $13 million in funding for grants; the highest appropriations level in its history. This is a sizeable increase of $3.75 million over the $9.25 million in grant money NHPRC received in fiscal 2009.

In fiscal 2009, the NHPRC received $9.25 million for grants (plus $2 million for administrative costs). The $2 million that the NHPRC has traditionally received for administrative costs has usually been transferred from the National Archives and Records Administration’s operating and expenses account. For FY 10, the administrative support for NHPRC will be included as part of NARA’s operating and expenses account base funding. As a result the full amount provided in FY 10 for the NHPRC will go towards grants. $4.5 million is allocated to the initiative to provide online access to the papers of the Founding Fathers.

Funding for the U.S. Department of Education’s Teaching American History (TAH) program would remain at $119 million under the fiscal year 2010 omnibus spending bill passed by Congress on December 13. Funding for the program has remained relatively constant since FY 2004, fluctuating annually between $120 million and $118 million.

However maintaining the $119 million funding level can be considered a major victory. The version of the Labor, Health and Education fiscal year 2010 appropriations bill (H.R. 3293) passed by the House would have slashed the TAH program by $19 million, down to $100 million. In conference, the Senate appropriators held firm on the higher level of funding.

The National Archives: History Museum or Records Access Agency?

On December 16, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s Information Policy, Census, and National Archives Subcommittee held a hearing entitled “History Museum or Records Access Agency? Defining and Fulfilling the Mission of the National Archives and Records Administration.”

Subcommittee chair, Wm. Lacy Clay (D-MO), began the hearing by stating he had heard concerns from many of NARA’s constituencies that the agency’s increasing emphasis on museum exhibits and related programs was not only straining its resources but diverting its focus from fulfilling its core mission of receiving, preserving and opening federal and presidential records.

Archivist of the United States David Ferriero was candid in his assessment of the changes needed at NARA. In his testimony, Ferriero touched upon the delicate balance NARA needed to maintain to meet the needs of its varied constituencies. He stated, “The school child who is inspired by seeing the Constitution is no less vital than the scholar writing a book about the Constitution.”

Ferriero addressed the recent controversy caused by NARA’s decision to reduce the size of its microfilm reading room to provide more museum exhibit space. Ferriero admitted that NARA staff did a poor job of communicating the decision to researchers who would be affected by the changes. He announced NARA would be holding a public forum to solicit public input as to how best to design and equip its research areas.

In his testimony, and during the question and answer period, Ferriero addressed the need to improve security at NARA facilities. In response to one inquiry, Ferriero stated that NARA needed to be more pro-active and aggressive in ensuring federal agencies and the White House were meeting their records preservation requirements under law. He expressed confidence that the new Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) being housed at NARA would help expedite the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) process across the federal government. Finally, Ferriero noted that one of his highest priorities was to improve the management culture and employee morale at the agency.

Also on the panel with the Archivist were the Librarian of Congress Dr. James Billington and the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution Dr. G. Wayne Clough. Both men discussed the common challenges they faced in preserving their holdings while also making them accessible to the public. Billington and Clough shared the belief that it was important to complement and coordinate their activities with the National Archives.

Obama Administration Settles Lawsuits over Bush White House E-Mails

On December 14, the National Security Archive (NSA) and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) reached a settlement with the Obama administration of their long-running lawsuits challenging the failure of the Bush administration and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to take any action after confronted with evidence that millions of emails had gone missing from Bush White House servers over a two and one-half year period. An estimated 22 million e-mails that were assumed lost were recovered as a result of the lawsuits.

In April 2007, CREW released a report based on information from two confidential sources detailing loss of more than 5 million White House e-mails generated between March 2003 and October 2005. The National Security Archive originally filed its case in September 2007 seeking the recovery and preservation of millions of e-mails under the Federal Records Act and the Administrative Procedure Act. A subsequent lawsuit filed by CREW in 2007 was eventually consolidated with the National Security Archive’s lawsuit.

Under the terms of the settlement, the Obama administration agreed that the Executive Office of the President (EOP) will restore a total of 94 days of missing emails, which will then be sent to NARA for preservation and eventual access under either the Presidential Records Act or the Federal Records Act.

Lee White is the executive director of the National Coalition for History. He can be reached at lwhite@nationalhistorycoalition.org.