From The Coalition Column of the May 2010 issue of Perspectives on History

Coalition Testimony on NARA and NHPRC Submitted to House Subcommittee

Lee White, May 2010

Budget proposals, which were sent to Congress on February 1, 2010, included small but significant reductions (from the sums appropriated for fiscal 2010) in the amounts requested for the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). In relation to these fiscal 2011 budget proposals for NARA and NHPRC, the National Coalition for History submitted (on March 19, 2010) testimony to the House Committee on Appropriations’ Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government. A slightly edited version of the testimony is reprinted below.

The Honorable José E. Serrano Chairman,
Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government Committee on Appropriations

Dear Mr. Chairman:

The National Coalition for History (NCH) is a consortium of over 50 organizations that advocates and educates on federal legislative and regulatory issues affecting historians, archivists, political scientists, teachers, and other stakeholders. As researchers and conservators of American history and culture we care deeply about the programs and activities of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). Thank you for the opportunity to submit our views on the agency’s proposed fiscal year 2011 budget.

We want to thank you, Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Emerson, and all of the members of the subcommittee for their strong support of NARA’s budget in fiscal 2010. Despite tight budget constraints, you were able to provide NARA with increased funding. We especially want to express our appreciation for the extra funding that you specifically included to hire additional archival staff.

On February 1, President Obama sent to Congress a proposed fiscal year 2011 budget request of $460.2 million for the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). The requested amount for NARA is a 2 percent decrease of $9.6 million from the fiscal 2010 appropriated funding levels of $469.8 million. The National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) would receive $10 million in grant funding, a $3 million cut from fiscal 2010.

While we are disappointed in the proposed cuts, we realize Congress continues to face enormous fiscal challenges in crafting the federal budget for fiscal 2011. Nonetheless, within these tight budget parameters, we have identified some specific priorities that we feel should be addressed at NARA and the NHPRC in next year’s budget.

National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC)

We appreciate the Subcommittee’s strong support for the NHPRC in the fiscal 2010 budget. The $13 million for grants reflected a sizeable increase of $3.75 million over the $9.25 million in grant money the NHPRC received in fiscal 2009. In addition, last year was the first time the NHPRC’s budget exceeded its fully authorized amount of $10 million.

While we are disappointed the Obama Administration has recommended funding the NHPRC grants programs at a level of $10 million, this macro number does not tell the whole story. The NHPRC’s fiscal 2010 budget included a one-time allocation of $4.5 million to the congressionally mandated project to make the papers of the Founding Fathers available online. So in reality, the NHPRC’s core grant programs received $8.5 million last year. Viewed from that perspective the $10 million recommended by the administration this year could be considered an increase. Ideally, we would like to see the NHPRC funded at last year’s $13 million level, but we understand the need for fiscal responsibility during this time of soaring budget deficits.

Unfortunately, the NHPRC’s $10 million annual authorization expired at the end of fiscal 2009. So, the Administration’s recommended funding level is in line with the NHPRC’s previous authorization. We have been urging the authorizing committees in the House and Senate to pass legislation that would reauthorize the NHPRC at a level of $20 million per year for the next five fiscal years. We hope this will be achieved before the end of the current session of Congress.

Operating Expenses

Although the President is requesting decreased overall funding for NARA, he is seeking increased Operating Expenses (OE) funding of $348,689,000, up from this year’s appropriated level of $339,770,000, or a 2.6 percent increase. The OE base increase will fund the increased costs for staff, energy, security, building operations, and information technology requirements.
The proposed OE increase will also allow NARA to hire 57 new full-time staff members to support a variety of programs. These include:

National Declassification Center: For many years, the National Coalition for History urged the creation of a National Declassification Center (NDC) at NARA. We are pleased that the President established the NDC within NARA late last year to overhaul the government’s system of declassifying material, and committed to eliminating the more than 400 million-page backlog of materials awaiting declassification by 2013. For fiscal 2011, the budget requests $5,100,000 and 28 Full-Time Equivalents (FTE) to establish the National Declassification Center (NDC) and hire contract support to design and develop an integrated interagency information technology declassification system. We support the President’s request and are encouraged that the administration is committing the funding necessary for the NDC to succeed in its mission.

Holdings Protection Program: For fiscal 2011, the budget requests $1,500,000 for 8 FTE to implement a comprehensive program to protect NARA holdings from external and internal threats. As you know, there have been a number of high-profile losses of data at NARA and we support the President’s request to help alleviate these security breaches.

Controlled Unclassified Information Office: Staff resources under the Information Security Oversight Office have been increased for the Controlled Unclassified Information Office (CUIO). For fiscal 2011, the Budget requests $1,200,000 for 9 FTE to increase the capability of the CUIO in order to meet its increased responsibilities and expanded mission. We support this request.

Increase Archival Staff: For fiscal 2011, the budget requests $950,000 in OE funding to allow the hiring of 12 new entry-level staff archivists, which will enable NARA to continue building a cadre of new archivists to address the agency’s growing records management workload. As we noted earlier, this subcommittee has provided funding above the request in recent fiscal years to hire additional archival staff. We urge your support for the President’s request to do so again this year.

Electronic Records Archives (ERA) Project

For continued development and deployment of the Electronic Records Archives (ERA), the President is seeking $85,500,000, the same amount appropriated in the current fiscal year.

The long-delayed Electronic Records Archives (ERA) is an essential tool for the NARA of today and tomorrow. Last year, we were told mandatory use of the ERA by all federal agencies was scheduled to begin in January 2011. Now, according to NARA’s ERA website, that date has been further delayed into 2012. Without this system NARA will be unable to manage the exponentially expanding volume of electronic records. Effective management of federal records will improve the performance of our government, save tax dollars, and ensure current and future generations will have access to our nation’s history.

We continue to share the concerns that members of this Subcommittee, the authorizing committees and the Government Accountability Office have expressed about the ERA program’s continued inability to remaining on schedule and budget. This program is vital not just to NARA but also to the entire federal government and the historical and archival communities. We urge this Subcommittee to continue its vigorous oversight of the ERA program and that the contractors responsible for the development of the system are held accountable.

Repairs and Restoration

For Repairs and Restoration (R&R) to NARA-owned buildings, the President is seeking $11,848,000, a decrease of 57 percent from the current year’s level. Most of this decrease reflects the completion of the $17.5 million project to make much needed repairs at the FDR Presidential Library.

Of this amount, $6,848,000 is for base R&R requirements for NARA owned buildings, and $5,000,000 is for the top priority project on NARA’s Capital Improvements Plan, which calls for changes to the infrastructure on the ground floor of the National Archives Building in Washington.

These changes at the National Archives Building will enable the eventual creation of an orientation plaza to improve visitors’ ability to find their way to the Charters of Freedom, Public Vaults, Theatre, and temporary exhibit gallery. It will also create space for a new Freedom Hall gallery, expand the gift shop and create a MyArchives gallery area that will allow visitors a glimpse into the research side of the Archives. The Foundation for the National Archives has committed to raising funds $10 million for this project as well, contingent on the government’s decision to provide the core infrastructure to support the new development.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee recently held a hearing to inquire as to whether the National Archives is over-emphasizing its public education role. While we certainly support NARA’s public education programs, historians and researchers remain concerned that these infrastructure changes are coming at the expense of space formerly occupied by research facilities. Given its limited financial resources, NARA’s public education initiatives should never come at the expense of its core mission of safeguarding and preserving records, and making them accessible to the public.

Sincerely,

Lee White
Executive Director
National Coalition for History

Lee White is the executive director of the National Coalition for History. He expresses his gratitude to the National Security Archive and the Associated Press, on whose reports he has heavily relied for writing this article. He can be reached at lwhite@nationalhistorycoalition.org.