Publication Date

April 1, 1998

Archives Instructed to Reappraise Okinawa Films

On February 2, 1998, Judge T. S. Ellis III of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia ruled in Seiko Green v. The National Archives that the National Archives’ decision to dispose of the Okinawa films collection “was based on erroneous factual premise.” Because the National Archives’ conclusion that the films lack sufficient value to warrant continued preservation was “unreliable,” the decision calls upon the National Archives to “set aside” their previous appraisal decision.

Seiko Green, a historical researcher, was studying films about the U.S. occupation of Okinawa that had been obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request when the National Archives informed her that the records were being packed for transfer to the Okinawa Prefectural Archives. The collection consists of approximately 2,185 16-mm films in 55 boxes. The archives' decision to dispose of the records was based on its understanding that these films are for the period 1944-61. Plaintiff Green contended that virtually all of the films are from the period 1960-72. The National Archives also claimed that the films simply depicted local life on Okinawa and its neighboring islands, but the plaintiff argued that many of the films chronicle U.S. military and diplomatic activities, including chemical weapons operations, trials of political activists, and the U.S. Army's control of a civil government and economy in an occupied territory for two decades. Green also reported that there were no duplicate films. The National Archives stated that the decision was "based on the considered judgment of the Archives' professional staff." However, Judge Ellis did not find persuasive the National Archives' attempts to "harmonize” appraisal archivist's affidavit the deposition testimony.

The judge stressed that his opinion did not determine whether the Okinawa film collection should be retained by the National Archives. He said that the final disposition would be "committed to NARA's sound discretion." Archivist John Carlin has promised a full reappraisal of the value of the Okinawa films, stating that the archives "will respect the court's opinion by giving them a fresh evaluation."

Fiscal 1999 Budget for NEH

The president's fiscal 1999 budget request of $136 million for the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) is a significant increase over the current funding level of $110.7 million. The fiscal 1999 request includes $100.2 million for the NEH's national grant programs in support of high quality education, research, preservation, and public projects; $5 million for start-up funds to support the new multiyear special initiative titled "Rediscovering America: The Humanities and the Millennium"; $10 million for NEH Challenge Grants to stimulate and match private, nonfederal donations in support of humanities institutions and organizations; $4 million to stimulate and match nonfederal contributions to humanities projects; and $16.8 million for administrative expenses. The $100.2 million for the NEH's ongoing national grants programs has four line items: $35.6 million for the state humanities councils; $20 million for the Preservation and Access Program; $16.2 million for the Public and Enterprise Program; and $28.4 million for the Research and Education Program.

One of the chief components of the "Rediscovering America: The Humanities and the Millennium" initiative is the establishment of regional humanities centers around the country. William Ferris, chair of the NEH, envisions the centers serving as cultural hubs for each of the nation's distinctive regions. The centers will have the mission of broadening public awareness about the humanities and increasing access to and participation in the humanities. Ferris has noted that any funds appropriated for the new initiatives will be in addition to current funding amounts. He has also explained that support for the centers will be part of a public-private initiative, and that the goal will be for the centers to become self-sustaining.

There are a number of other components to the new millennium initiative of interest to historians. Of particular note is a special emphasis by the NEWs Preservation and Access Division in support of projects to digitize important materials held by the nation's museums, libraries, archives, and historical organizations. The millennium initiative also calls for the implementation of an "American Legacy Editions" project within the NEH's Research and Education Division to help ensure the survival of scholarly projects that are preparing documentary editions of the papers and writings of important historical and literary figures.

Budget Increase for National Archives Recommended

The numbers in the president's fiscal 1999 budget requests to Congress became public on February 2, 1998. President Clinton has requested $230 million, a $24.8 million increase, for the National Archives' operating budget. If approved by Congress, this 12.1 percent increase would greatly assist the National Archives in expanding access to its records and developing solutions to the problems of managing and preserving the nation's electronic records.

In addition to the operating budget for the National Archives, the president requested $10.45 million for a separate line item for repairs and restorations. This amount is divided into three categories: $4 million is earmarked for ensuring the preservation of the nation's charters of freedom—the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights; $4.45 million will go for repairs at the National Archives' buildings, which include presidential libraries, regional archives, and records centers; and $2 million will be used for an architectural and engineering study for the renovation of the National Archives' building on Pennsylvania Avenue.

President's Fiscal 1999 Request for NHPRC is $6 Million

The president has requested a fiscal 1999 budget for the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) of $6 million. Last year the president requested only $4 million for the NHPRC; however, Congress appropriated $5.5 million. If the NHPRC receives $6 million in fiscal 1999, this would be a 9.1 percent increase over the current level and would be the most that the NHPRC has ever received for competitive grants.

New Presidential Initiative: The Millennium Program

President Clinton in his January 27, 1998, State of the Union Address proposed a program to preserve and restore our nation's heritage as we enter the new millennium. The theme of the Save America's Treasures program is "Honor the Past, Imagine the Future." Part of this program will be the development of a challenge grant initiative that will assist in the preservation of endangered historic places and artifacts across the United States over the next three years.

The president's budget proposal states that the funding for these grants will come from the Historic Preservation Fund, and shall be used "to preserve the Nation's irreplaceable heritage, as authorized by the Historic Preservation Act, including preservation of intellectual expressions and cultural artifacts, and of historic structures and sites." The president's budget specifies that one half of these funds will be transferred to federal agencies for the preservation of our cultural heritage and the other half will go to the state historic preservation offices and Indian tribes. The state historic preservation offices—with appropriate state partners—will assist state agencies, local governments, and nonprofit organizations in preserving America's historic treasures.

The Save America's Treasures program will be housed at the Department of the Interior. The president's budget request includes $50 million for the first year of the program, with an anticipated $50 million to be allocated in each of the next two years. At this point only the conceptual outline of the program is available; additional details are forthcoming. However, it does appear that the grants will require some level of matching funds.

Legislation Introduced to Put CRS Products Online

On January 28 Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Representative Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) introduced bills (S.R. 1578 and H.R. 3131) to provide the public with no-cost Internet access to Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports and products. A division of the Library of Congress, CRS will receive nearly $65 million this year to provide information and detailed analysis to members of Congress and to produce reports, issue briefs, and authorization and appropriations products. Currently, members of Congress are permitted to provide constituents with reports upon request. Under the new legislation, the CRS director will post CRS products on a web site; however, to protect CRS staff time, McCain has emphasized that the staff will not be available to the public to answer questions about the reports. The bill also gives the director of CRS authority to withhold information that is considered confidential. In addition, there will be a 90-day delay between the release of CRS material to members of Congress and its publication on the web site.

In introducing the bill, McCain noted the high quality of CRS products that are widely recognized as unbiased, concise, and accurate. He said that "public access to these CRS products will mark an important milestone in opening up the federal government." Because constituents will be able to see the research documents that influence congressional decisions, the public will have an opportunity to gain a more accurate view of the decisionmaking process. It is McCain's hope that an understanding of the trade-offs and factors considered by members will help to counter the prevailing cynical view about members of Congress selling their votes to the highest campaign contributor.

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