Publication Date

January 1, 1995

Plans of House Republican Transition Team Threaten the House Office of the Historian

On December 1 the House Republican Transition Team headed by Representative Jim Nussle (R-Iowa) announced a major reorganization plan for the nonlegislative offices of the House of Representatives. The proposal, which will be voted on by the House members when the l04th Congress assembles on January 4, includes the staff of the Office of the Historian among the 1,500 nonlegislative House employees who have been told that their jobs may end on January 4. The transition team recommends that the historical function be transferred to the Library of Congress.

For over a decade, under the leadership of Ray Smock, the Office of the Historian has fostered research on the history of the House of Representatives. Its responsibilities have included providing reference services for representatives, advising members on the disposition of their personal papers, making the records of the House more accessible for scholarly research, and consulting with a wide range of individuals, as well as depositories, on publications, conferences, and exhibitions.

Leaders in the historical organizations have noted the absence of the Office of the Historian in the new organizational chart. Historians are concerned that this office, which has played a pivotal role in ensuring continuity of the historical record and in encouraging the study of the House of Representatives, would be transferred outside of the House. To remove the Office of the Historian from the fabric of the institution with which it works and which it studies would make its work much more difficult.

Selection of New Congressional Leaders

With big November 8 victories, Republicans in the House and Senate are now choosing committee chairs for the l04th Congress. As we go to press in early December, there is still considerable work to be done before we know the composition and leadership of all the committees; however, in many cases the ranking Republican seems likely to become chair. For the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, which has oversight responsibility for the National Archives—and, consequently, the confirmation of the next U.S. Archivist—as well as for many information policy issues, the ranking Republican is William Roth of Delaware. The new chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee will probably be Mark O. Hatfield of Oregon, who is a former commission member on the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) and a long time supporter of both the NHPRC and the National Archives. The ranking Republican on the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, which among other responsibilities has oversight of the National Endowment for the Humanities, is Senator Nancy Kassebaum of Kansas, a former member of the Kansas Humanities Council.

On the House side, due to the large number of new members and the desire by many current members to move to new committees, it is less clear than in the Senate who will be chairing many of the key committees. But in the likely column, it seems that William Clinger of Pennsylvania will become Chair of the House Government Operations Committee, which has oversight of the National Archives and some information policy. The Treasury. Postal Service, and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee with responsibility for the budgets of the National Archives and NHPRC may well be headed by Jim Lightfoot of Iowa, and the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, which has the budgets of NER and the National Park Service in its jurisdiction, will probably be chaired by Ralph Regula of Ohio.

While the House Republicans' Contract with America specifically calls for a reduction in funding for the arts and humanities endowments, many other federal agencies may have smaller budgets as a result of across-the-board cuts. There is also concern that reorganization 8nd downsizing, like that affecting the Office of the Historian of the House, could threaten other historical offices as well as historic preservation programs. It is unclear how the new leadership in Congress may look on the current movements toward reforming information policies to enhance access to government information and expand the use of telecommunications networks.

This is a time for historians to keep a sharp eye on evolving developments that may affect programs that support and promote historical research. Clearly the National Endowment for the Humanities is one of the most endangered of the agencies that foster historical scholarship. If you have any special contacts with a member of Congress, the NCC is developing a network and would appreciate your assistance. The address is: , NCC, 400 A St., SE, Washington, DC 20003.

President Issues Bulk Declassification Order to Open WWII and Other Military Records

Although the Clinton task force working on a major overhaul of the executive order that determines classification and declassification policy has not yet produced a revised order, the president did sign on November 10 Executive Order 12937 titled “Declassification of Selected Records Within the National Archives of the United States." This order, through bulk declassification, made available on December 12 almost 44 million pages of security-classified records. Since last spring, the White House had anticipated an order calling for bulk declassification of many of the classified records in the National Archives, some dating back to 1917. Since almost half of these records deal with World War II, the original intention had been for the president to announce the opening of these records in June at the 50th anniversary of D-day. Resistance from the military and intelligence agencies, however, has caused delays. The World War II documents include records from the Office of Strategic Service as well as Army Air Forces and Allied Operational and Occupation Headquarters files. The remaining records include almost all the classified holdings dating from before World War II, as well as some post-World War II military headquarters files and approximately 6 million pages of papers from the Vietnam War.

This executive order underscores the president's commitment to using bulk declassification instead of the previously required time consuming and expensive page-by-page reviews, which has resulted in large quantities of historical records over 40 or 50 years old still being classified. The opening of these records will reduce by 14 percent the amount of classified records currently being held by the National Archives. Five million pages originally slated to be declassified as a part of this order have, however, remained classified at the request of military and intelligence officials. In a letter to the White House last year, Acting Archivist Trudy Huskamp Peterson highlighted the declassification problems and noted that the large amounts of classified documents in the National Archives not only "deny the American public the information contained in these items," but require needless administrative expense. She called the current situation "intolerable." Members of the National Archives staff have worked long and hard in coordination with other agencies and with the National Security Council to facilitate the signing of this order.

Honoraria Case Argued before the Supreme Court

On November 8 the Supreme Court heard the case dealing with the honoraria ban for federal employees. In a class action suit, the National Treasury Employees Union argued that the Ethics Reform Act of 1989 prohibiting compensation for non-work-related presentations and articles was overly broad and unconstitutional. Although the original intent of this legislation had been to ban honoraria for members of Congress and political appointees, the legislation ended up including all federal employees. The ban on honoraria has discouraged federal historians and government employees from participating in some professional activities that would contribute to their professional development

Last year the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled an honorarium ban unconstitutional; however, the government appealed the case to the Supreme Court. Questioning from Supreme Court Justices on this case centered on several issues. The judges focused on a discrepancy in the law that states that honoraria is not permitted for a single presentation or article but is acceptable for a series of presentations or articles if they are not directly related to an employee's work or prepared or given during work time. In a related matter, they discussed how agencies screened a series of presentations or articles and whether that procedure could be expanded to single presentations and articles. Several judges pressed for specific evidence that federal employees in the past had abused the right to receive honoraria for presentations and articles by giving speeches that required little work and had resulted in payment from an individual or special interest groups seeking to curry favor. A decision will probably be made early in the new year.

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