News Briefs, September 2008

Lee White, September 2008

National Archives Issues Founding Fathers Papers Report

On Tuesday, May 6, 2008, Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein submitted a report, entitled "The Founders Online," to the Committees on Appropriations of the U.S. Congress. This report is the response of the National Archives to concerns raised by the committees that the complete papers of America's Founding Fathers were not available online. "The Founders Online" is a plan for providing online access, within a reasonable time frame, to researchers, students, and the general public.

The National Archives received suggestions from the editors of the papers of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington; university publishers; and others in crafting a blueprint for providing access to the already completed print editions and the raw materials for the editions to come. The plan is designed to make available online work in progress with the already complete editions, accompanied by transcriptions of the papers yet to be published. To hasten the transition process, the National Historical Publications and Records Commission plans to invest $250,000 as a demonstration pilot project.

The plan outlines three basic steps toward completion:

  1. Digitizing the existing 217 volumes and publishing the papers on a single web site to allow for research and inquiry across America's Founding Era collections;
  2. Transcribing and otherwise preparing for publishing on the web the remaining papers (approximately 90,000 documents) and replacing these raw materials with authoritative annotated versions as these are completed; and
  3. Creating an independent oversight process to ensure that rigorous performance goals are established and met by the parties carrying out all aspects of the work.

To take advantage of existing online publication efforts of completed volumes and to accelerate the online publication of unfinished volumes, NARA proposes to engage a sole service provider to undertake transcription and document encoding for all Founding Father papers that have not yet been edited. This would prepare these documents for access on the Web.
NARA plans to issue a competitive request for proposals, as a test of concept, in 2008 to undertake work that will help put the unpublished papers in a usable format for online publication services, such as Rotunda.

House Passes Bill to Protect Revolutionary War and War of 1812 Battlefields

On July 16, 2008, the House Natural Resources Committee cleared two battlefield protection bills that authorize federal grants for the preservation of significant sites associated with the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the Civil War.

H.R. 160, the Revolutionary War and War of 1812 Battlefield Protection Act, amends the American Battlefield Protection Act of 1996 (Public Law 104-333) to direct the secretary of the interior to establish an acquisition grant program for battlefields and associated sites identified in a recent Revolutionary War and War of 1812 Historic Preservation Study.

In May, the National Park Service (NPS) released a "Report to Congress on the Historic Preservation of Revolutionary War and War of 1812 Sites in the United States" (http://www.nps.gov/hps/abpp/Rev1812_Final_Report.pdf). The report identified the sites of almost 3,000 events associated with the two wars, including 60 sites within the National Park System. The report indicated that as many as 170 sites, especially those located in rapidly developing areas, will face injury or destruction in the next decade.

H.R. 160 authorizes grants to states or local governments (eligible entities) to pay the federal share of the cost of acquiring endangered sites. The legislation permits these entities to acquire an interest in eligible sites (those identified in the NPS report) using the grants in partnership with nonprofit organizations. The bill requires the nonfederal share of the cost of acquisition of eligible sites to be not less than 50 percent of the total.

H.R. 160 authorizes spending $10 million a year between fiscal year 2009 and fiscal year 2013 for the grants. The bill also authorizes $500,000 to update the Revolutionary War and War of 1812 Historic Preservation Study no later than three years after enactment of the legislation.

The committee also passed H.R. 2933, the Civil War Battlefield Preservation Act of 2008. The bill reauthorizes the existing program providing battlefield preservation grants for sites associated with the Civil War. The Civil War Preservation Act of 2002 (Public Law 107-359) was set to expire on September 30, 2008. H.R. 2933 extends the authorization to cover fiscal year 2009 through fiscal 2013. The bill continues the annual authorization level of $10 million per fiscal year.

Federal Agency Appropriations Held Hostage by Partisan Bickering

The passage of fiscal year 2009 appropriations bills for federal agencies remains bogged down due to a partisan battle over allowing amendments to the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies FY '09 funding bill concerning domestic oil production. The chairs of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have both put a hold on further consideration of FY '09 funding bills until a solution is reached.

Republicans are attempting to force the Democratic leadership in both houses to allow amendments to the Interior bills to permit oil drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) and in the Arctic Natural Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). The Republicans are arguing drilling in these environmentally sensitive areas will increase domestic supply and are trying to paint the Democrats as being opposed to efforts to lower gas prices.

In June, when the House Appropriations Committee brought up the Labor, HHS and Education FY '09 funding bill, Chairman David Obey (D-Wisc.) angrily adjourned the markup when Ranking Member Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) sought to offer the Republican version of the Interior appropriations bill that included oil-drilling language as a substitute amendment. Since then, Chairman Obey has refused to bring any fiscal year 2009 appropriations bills up for markup. In addition, none of the funding bills that have already passed the committee are being brought to the House floor.

In the Senate, Appropriations Committee Chair Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) cancelled both the scheduled Interior subcommittee and full committee markups of the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies funding bills. The Senate Appropriations Committee has already cleared 9 of its 12 fiscal year 2009 appropriations bills.

It is now highly unlikely that Congress will pass any non-defense agency related appropriations bills before the current fiscal year expires on September 30, 2008. It is widely expected that the federal government will operate under one or more continuing resolutions until the new president is sworn in next January. That means that federal agencies will likely operate at the current fiscal year 2008 budget levels until then.

NARA Announces Launch of Electronic Records Archives Project

On June 27, 2008, Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein announced the launch of the initial phase of the Electronic Records Archives (ERA) Project.

The achievement of this milestone comes after a nine-month delay in the rollout of the project and cost overruns estimated by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) at over $16 million. In 2005, the National Archives chose Lockheed Martin to develop the ERA system. Two years later the contractor informed NARA that it would be unable to meet the originally scheduled date of Initial Operating Capability (IOC) in September 2007.

In the IOC stage, the new ERA system will support the basic process of determining how long federal agencies need to keep records and whether the records should be preserved in the National Archives afterwards. ERA will support this process for all federal records, whether they are paper, film, electronic, or other media.

In July the National Archives will have started to move approximately 3.5 million computer files into ERA. The records eventually will be accessible online in ERA.

Four federal agencies (the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the National Oceanographic Office, the National Nuclear Security Administration, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics) have been testing the system and are scheduled to start using ERA in September.

Despite the delays, Archivist Weinstein has assured congressional appropriation and authorizing committees that the ERA will be ready to receive presidential electronic files from the Bush Administration when the president leaves office in January 2009.

House Passes Legislation to Preserve Federal and Presidential Electronic Messages

On July 9, 2008, the House of Representatives passed the Electronic Message Preservation Act (H.R. 5811) by a vote of 286-137, despite a threatened veto by the White House. The bill would direct the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to establish standards for the capture, management, preservation, and retrieval of federal agency and presidential electronic messages that are records in an electronic format. The National Coalition for History endorsed the passage of H.R. 5811.

NARA would have 18 months to promulgate the regulations to implement the bill's requirements. Federal agencies and the White House would have no more than four years to comply. NARA would subsequently be required to report to Congress on White House and federal agency compliance.

There would be an additional requirement for presidential records. One year following the completion of a president's term in office, NARA would be required to report to Congress on the status of the transition of that president's records into his or her archival depository.

During floor consideration, the House approved one amendment to the bill. The amendment would prohibit anyone from viewing classified records in any room that is not secure unless under video surveillance or in the presence of NARA personnel. In addition, no person, other than NARA personnel can be left alone with classified records unless under video surveillance. Persons viewing the records cannot be in the possession of a cell phone or other personal communications device and are required to consent to a search of their belongings upon leaving the facility. Any notes prepared while viewing the records shall be retained by NARA.

The second part of the amendment would require the Archivist of the United States to deny access to original presidential records to any designated representative of a former president if the designee had been convicted of a crime relating to the review, retention, removal, or destruction of records of the Archives. The amendment was inspired by the well-publicized theft of documents from the National Archives by President Clinton's former National Security Advisor Samuel R. (Sandy) Berger. On April 1, 2005, Berger pled guilty to one misdemeanor count of unauthorized removal and retention of classified documents.

On July 8, 2008, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report critical of the National Archives saying the agency was not aggressive enough in exercising its oversight of federal agency e-mail policies and holding agencies accountable. The GAO found that despite the fact NARA has the authority to conduct inspections of agencies' recordkeeping programs, it has not conducted any since 2000. Moreover, NARA has been reluctant to use its authority under the Federal Records Act to report agency problems to Congress and the Office of Management and Budget. GAO also found that four agencies studied during its investigation simply printed out e-mail records instead of using electronic recordkeeping.

NCH Supports Bill to Preserve America's Historical Record

On May 14, 2008, the Preserving the American Historical Record Act (PAHR) (H.R. 6056) was introduced by Congressmen Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.) and Chris Cannon (R-Utah). The PAHR legislation would establish a new federal program of formula grants to the states and territories to support archives and historical records at the state and local level. The introduction of the PAHR bill marks the culmination of years of work by the Council of State Archivists, the Society of American Archivists, and the National Association of Government Archives and Records Administration. The National Coalition for History has endorsed the PAHR bill.

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) would administer the Preserving the American Historical Records program. The legislation authorizes $50 million a year for five years for the initiative to preserve and provide access to historical records.

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