Publication Date

December 1, 2000

Perspectives Section


Legislative Wrap-Up: 106th Congress

The end of the 106th Congress is finally in sight and with it will come an end to partisan accusations and wrangling over various legislative issues- especially agency appropriations. At this writing, several major appropriations bills have yet to be signed into law and consequently, Congress will meet in a lame-duck session in mid-November to complete its work. Irrespective of the partisan wrangling with respect to appropriations, the 106th Congress will be remembered for its solid legacy of legislative successes with respect to history, archives, and historic preservation.

Legislative Highlights

Noteworthy accomplishments that either have been are or are expected to be enacted during the 106th Congress are:

  • A $5 million increase for the National Endowment for the Humanities
  • $88 million for the National Archives to renovate Archives I in Washington, D.C.
  • $35 million for a third year for the “Save America’s Treasures” Program
  • A net increase of $19.49 million for various historic preservation funding programs
  • Reauthorization of the NHPRC
  • Creation of a Declassification Board (Moynihan Board) to advise Congress and the president
  • Creation of several new national historical park units
  • Creation of a national program for land preservation and historic lighthouse protection
  • Authorization of a veteran’s oral history project in the Library of Congress
  • Preservation of Freedmen’s Bureau records in the National Archives

Still in limbo is the provision in the Labor, Health, and Human Services and Education Bill that sets aside $50 million for history education.

Often times victories are also measured in what legislative proposals do not become public law. Two examples: Preservationists were able to fend off bills that challenged the president’s authority to designate national monuments under the Antiquities Act of 1906. And historians, journalists, and civil rights activists convinced President Clinton to veto the Intelligence Authorization Act (H.R. 4392) that included a controversial “Leak Statute” that would have made it a felony for any government official to willfully disclose “classified information.”

Then there was the enactment of legislation that seems to incrementally take a step in the right direction but still fails to live up to its full potential—the Conservation and Reinvestment Act of 2000 (CARA; H.R. 701/S. 2567) is an example. Because of the CARA proposal, a major land legacy funding increase was realized for historic preservation within the Department of the Interior and Related Agency appropriations bill through the creation of the “Land Conservation, Preservation and Infrastructure Improvement Program”—Title VIII within the Interior bill. But this fell short of a true trust fund for preserving America’s heritage.

Legislation Enacted

As often is the case, the end of a congressional session generates a flurry of last-minute activity. The following bills either are or are expected to become public law:


Moynihan Declassification Bill

On October 2, with minimal debated deliberation, the Senate passed its version of the Intelligence Authorization Act for fiscal 2001 (S. 2507), legislation that includes the establishment of a new advisory board on declassification matters, a measure strongly supported by retiring Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.).

The Public Interest Declassification Act (PIDA; S. 1801), the last vestige of Senator Moynihan’s once ambitious effort to reform the national security classification and declassification system, was incorporated into the Senate version of the Intelligence Authorization Act. It creates a nine-member “Public Interest Declassification Board” whose charge would be to promote openness, to support Congress in its oversight of declassification, and to make recommendations to the president on classification and declassification policy, practices and procedures.

The Intelligence Authorization Act also contained a controversial provision that would make it a crime for government employees to disclose classified information to the public. Without benefit of any congressional hearings, the so-called Leak Statute—Section 304, “Prohibition of Unauthorized Disclosure of Classified Information”—of the Intelligence Authorization Act for fiscal 2001 (H.R. 4392) was passed by Congress by voice vote on October 12, but was vetoed on November 4 by the president. According to numerous historians and journalists who studied this legislation, the proposed law would have been equivalent to an “Official Secrets Act.” It would have severely restricted free speech, undercut the already tenuous rights of federal government whistle-blowers who put their jobs on the line when they disclose wrongdoing, and would have shielded “corruption and government abuse of power behind a wall of secrecy.” Opponents also believed enactment of the legislation would have exacerbated the tendency to criminalize public-policy differences, and would encourage over-classification. Undoubtedly, had this legislation been in place years ago, the public would never have seen or even known about the Pentagon Papers or the status of arms control negotiations between the United States and Russia in 1996. While Congress will need to address the Intelligence Authorization Act when it reconvenes in a lame-duck session in mid-November, the Moynihan bill is expected to be approved and the “leak statute” modified or dropped.

NHPRC Reauthorization

On November 1 President Clinton signed legislation (P.L. 106-410) to reauthorize the National Historical. Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) for the fiscal years 2002 through 2005 with an annual federal appropriations ceiling of $10 million. While the bill (H.R. 4110) passed the House of Representatives on July 24, because the NHPRC still had a year to run in its current authorization cycle, the Senate committee of jurisdiction was reluctant to push for enactment this year. Thanks in large part to your letters, e-mail communications, and phone calls to Senator Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) and other members of Congress (see “Action Item” in NCC Washington Update, July 27, 2000), the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs passed H.R. 4110 on October 3; the full Senate passed the measure on October 19.

Historic Preservation Act Reauthorization

On May 26 President Clinton signed legislation (P.L. 106-208) that extends the reauthorization of the Historic Preservation Fund and Advisory Council on Historic Preservation through fiscal2005. The Historic Preservation Fund is the mechanism used by the federal government to channel grant money to the states and certified local governments for a wide variety of historic preservation related activities. The Advisory Council, in cooperation with other federal and non-federal entities, provides leadership in the preservation of the nation’s historic and prehistoric resources. The legislation also clarifies that the National Trust for Historic Preservation may receive grants from the Department of the Interior consistent with the purposes of its charter and this Act.”

Rosie the Riveter-World War II Home Front National Historical Park

On October 24, the president signed legislation (PL. 106-352) that establishes the Rosie the Riveter-World War II Home Front ational Historical Park in Richmond, California. Introduced by Representative George Miller (D-Calif.) and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the new historical park that will be made part of the National Park System seeks to preserve sites, structures, and areas located in the vicinity of Richmond, California, that are associated with the industrial, governmental, and citizen efforts that led to victory in World War II. According to testimony offered in the support of the bill the National Park Service (NPS) stated that Richmond is an ideal spot for the park as it “has a critical mass of intact historical structures … and its home front experience is nationally recognized and is well-documented.”

The legislation empowers the NPS to hold lands in fee and less-than-fee simple (including leaseholds). The NPS would also be able to accept donations of certain levels and structures but could administer match of the site through cooperative agreement with other entities. The NPS is also charged to operate an education center for the purpose of educating the American public on the significance of the site and on the broader story of the WW II home front. The legislation recognizes that survivors who worked on the home front are in their seventies and eighties and hence an oral history program is authorized: Section 5 of the legislation authorizes “such funds as may be necessary to conduct oral histories” and to carry out other provisions of the act.

Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site

On October 30, legislation (S. 2950) originally introduced by Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.), to create the Sand Creek Massacre Historic Site in Colorado—to recognize and memorialize “the hallowed ground on which hundreds of peaceful Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians were massacred by members of the Colorado militia” in 1864—was sent to the president for his signature. The law authorizes the National Park Service to enter into agreements with willing sellers in an effort to secure lands within a 12,480-acre boundary. Without condemnation authority acquisition of land could take years, but several willing sellers who own property within the core of the site’s proposed legislative boundary have offered to sell in recent months. Once the NPS has purchased a sufficient land base to memorialize and commemorate the massacre, the site will be formally established. Special provisions are found in this legislation that provide tribal access for traditional cultural and historical observances.

First Ladies National Historic Site

Legislation creating the First Ladies National Historic Site was enacted without benefit of any congressional hearings by authorizing committees. This National Park unit established at the home of First Lady Ida Saxton McKinley in Canton, Ohio, was achieved through its inclusion as Section 145. (a) in the Interior Appropriations bill (P.L. 106-291). The mover of the legislation was Representative Ralph Regula, outgoing chair of the House Interior Department Appropriations Subcommittee. The purpose of the new unit is to preserve and interpret the role and history of the First Ladies in American history.

While the legislation empowers the NPS to own and operate the site, it also authorizes the NPS to enter into a cooperative agreement with the National First Ladies Library that can also help operate and maintain the site; entrance fees collected can be retained by the library for the historic site’s upkeep.

In the past, establishment of historic areas as units of the National Park Service without the benefit of authorizing committee hearings have been controversial. The National Parks and Conservation Association (NPCA) vigorously opposed one such historic site to be created in this manner—Steamtown National Historical Park in Scranton, Pennsylvania. With respect to the First Ladies site, the NPCA has not expressed an opinion on the merits of the new park unit, but the organization has sent a letter to Representative Regula objecting to the manner in which it was established.

Several years ago, the National Park Service did study the McKinley home for possible inclusion in the NPS system but did not find it nationally significant. A second NPS report found that the Park Service did not administer any historic site specifically focusing on the First Ladies and because of outstanding interpretive and educational program possibilities that inclusion of such a site focusing on the First Ladies in the NPS system could be justified.

Abraham Lincoln Interpretive Center/Underground Railroad “Freedom Center”

Several other legislative measures were also included in the Interior bill, but all of them had been considered by Congress through one or more hearings and had passed one or both houses of Congress. Section 146 of the Interior bill authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to make grants and contribute funds for the establishment of an Abraham Lincoln Interpretive Center in Springfield, Illinois, to “preserve and make available to the public materials related to the life of President Abraham Lincoln.”

Section 150 of the Interior bill authorizes federal funds (up to 20 percent of the total project cost) for the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. Once constructed, the Freedom Center will serve as a centralized facility for exhibits, collections, and research relating to the history of the Underground Railroad.

Freedmen’s Bureau Records Preservation Act

On November 6, President Clinton signed legislation (P.L. 106-444) that authorizes the expenditure of $3 million in fiscal years 2001 through 2005 to safeguard the records of the Freedmen’s Bureau—a federal agency that from 1865 to 1872 attempted to help better the lives of former slaves after the American Civil War. The records of the bureau document one of the greatest social undertakings in this country’s history.

The new law requires that the National Archives take action to preserve the Bureau records through microfilming and establish partnerships with educational institutions including Howard University in Washington, D.C., and the University of Florida. The partners are to assist NARA in making the records “more easily accessible to the public including historians, genealogists, and students.” The House of Representatives passed the legislation (H.R. 5157) on October 19 and the Senate acted favorably on the measure on October 26. While Congress enacted this bill, Congress did not appropriate any special funding in NARA’s fiscal 2001 budget-yet another example of a congressional unfunded mandate.

Veterans Oral History Project Office

On October 27, 2000, President Clinton signed into law the Veterans Oral Historical Project Act (P.L. 106-380). The legislation directs the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress to establish a program to collect video and audio recordings of personal histories and testimonials of American war veterans. With the support of 235 plus co-sponsors, the House of Representatives easily passed legislation on October 4; the Senate acted favorably on the measure on October 17.

Introduced by Representative Ron Kind (D-Wisc.), the Veterans Oral History Project Act (H.R. 5212) creates a new federally sponsored and funded program to coordinate at a national level the collection of personal histories of war veterans and to encourage local efforts to preserve their memories. The legislation authorizes the director of the Folklife Center to enter into agreements and partnerships with other “government and private entities and may otherwise consult with interested persons” in carrying out the provisions of the act. A total of $250,000 for fiscal 2001 is authorized to be appropriated for this project. While there are no specific funds for this project in the Library of Congress fiscal2001 appropriations, library officials state that, nevertheless funds have been shifted from other ir6rary programs and work on this project is already w1derway.

National Recording Preservation Act

On November 2 an amended version of the National Recording Preservation Act of 2000 (H.R. 4846)-introduced on July 13, 2000, by Representative William M. Thomas (R-Calif.), the chair of the House Administration Committee—was advanced to the White House for the president’s signature. The amendments added to the legislation by the Senate were largely technical corrections to the House passed bill.

The legislation has several major provisions: It directs the Librarian of Congress to establish the National Recording Registry for the purpose of maintaining and preserving sound recordings that are “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”; it also establishes a National Sound Recording Preservation Program tin the Library of Congress and creates National Recording Preservation Board , an appointed body charged to review and recommend the nominations for the National Recording Registry. Finally, the bill authorizes the establishment of a National Recording Preservation Foundation, a federally chartered, nonprofit-charitable corporation charged to raise fW1ds for preservation and public access to the nation’s sound recording heritage.

Things to Watch Out for in the Next Congress

As a consequence of a congressional directive, the General Accounting Office is currently assessing the feasibility of transferring the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLC) to the Library of Congress and studying the impact of providing documents to the public at the FDLC solely in an electronic format. Also, watch for possible increases in the NHPRC budgetary line item—there is the possibility for raising its annual appropriation to its authorized full funding level of $10 million as well as increased NARA funding for electronic records.

Congress undoubtedly will take up a number of measures introduced late in the session but because of the press of time were not addressed by the 106th Congress. For example, congressional authors of legislation focusing on two National Historic Landmark “theme studies,” one for the Cold War (see NCC Washington Update, 6:31, September 15, 2000) and another focusing on “Peopling” (see NCC Washington Update, 6:36, October 20, 2000), plan to reintroduce their legislation next Congress. Congress will also probably tackle what is characterized as “human subjects research protection” (of particular interest to the oral history community and any researchers whose research proposals are reviewed by Institutional Review Boards). Depending on whether the Republicans end up retaining control of Congress, legislation may also be reintroduced to erect a memorial in honor of former President Ronald Reagan and thus override the Commemorative Works Act (see NCC Washington Update 6:30, September 8, 2000 and 6:31, September 15, 2000).

Bruce Craig is the director of the National Coordinating Committee for the Promotion of History.

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