Publication Date

January 1, 1996

Fiscal 1996 Funding for the National Archives and the NHPRC

On November 19 the president signed the fiscal 1996 Treasury, Postal Service, and General Government Appropriations Bill, which includes the budgets of the National Archives and the grants program of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). Although the National Archives budget will be slightly larger next year, the increase is not as much as was originally anticipated. Last-minute congressional maneuvering resulted in the transfer of the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) to the National Archives. ISOO has responsibility for the implementation pf the federal classification and declassification policies.

The president requested a little over $195 million for the National Archives, which was very close to its fiscal 1995 budget. The House approved approximately $193 million for the National Archives and in report language stated that the Archives should assume the functions of ISOO. The Senate voted for a $199.63 million budget for the National Archives and in report language stated that ISOO should remain a separate agency with a budget of$1.48 million. At the initiative of Senator Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.), the Senate also earmarked an additional $4.5 million for special electronic records prow jects. Additionally, the Senate provided $1.5 million for repairs and alterations of buildings. The National Archives, with its presidential libraries, regional archives, and records centers, has 33 buildings.

The House-Senate Conference Committee adopted the Senate figure of $199.63 million for the National Archives, which includes the earmarked money for electronic records and building repairs, and voted to transfer ISOO to the National Archives. The conference report states on one page that ISOO is funded at$1.48 million and on the next page that the National Archives has a $1.48 million administrative reduction. Thus the National Archives will have more money in fiscal 1996 than in fiscal 1995, but the amount budgeted for operating expenses, which include everything from utilities reference services, will be $1.48 million less than last year.

The grants program of the NHPRC will have an increase in fiscal 1996 for its competitive grants program. In fiscal 1995 the NHPRC had a budget of $9 million, but almost half of that was earmarked by Congress for some of its favorite projects, with only $4.75 million allocated for competitive grants. In fiscal 1996 there will be $5 million for the NHPRC, but all of it will be for competitive grants.

Oversight Hearing on the Library of Congress

On November 29 Senator Mark Hatfield (R-Ore.), chair of the Joint Committee on the Library, and Representative Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), chair of the House Oversight Committee, cochaired a hearing on the Library of Congress that focused on a number of fiscal and management issues as well as on the security of the collection. The House and Senate subcommittees with responsibilities for legislative branch appropriations, the Senate Rules Committee, and the House Oversight Committee joined the Joint Committee on the Library in holding the hearing. Eight members of Congress attended the hearing. In addition to Hatfield and Thomas, other members attending were Senators John Warner (R-Va.), who chairs the Senate Rules Committee; Connie Mack (R-Fla.), who chairs the Senate Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee; Claiborne Pell (D-R.I.), ranking minority member on the Joint Committee on the Library; and Representatives Robert Ney (R-Ohio) and Ed Pastor (D-Ariz.), both members of the Joint Committee on the Library; and Representative Ron Packard (R-Calif.), chair of the House Legislative Appropriations Subcommittee.

In opening comments senators and representatives stressed the importance of the Library of Congress as a national treasure .and noted that it was making some progress toward correcting problems. Yet despite the cordial atmosphere of the hearing, many witnesses described deficiencies at the library as being quite serious. Senator Hatfield stated that there would need to be a series of hearings and that matters such as the library's use of psychological testing for "fitness for duty" would not be addressed at this time. Senator Mack noted that the hearing was called because of the alleged collection security problems that a former library police detective described in a letter to the attorney general in August. The police detective has claimed that her demotion was an attempt by managers to minimize security violations.

Three representatives of the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) composed the first panel. The testimony addressed in part the progress the library had made in correcting problems that had been identified in the 1991 GAO report Financial Audit: First Audit of the Library of Congress Discloses Significant Problems. This report stated, “We found the Library’s financial and accounting records to be in such poor condition that we were unable to audit significant account balances.” The report made eight specific recommendations for improving the library’s financial affairs. While the library has adopted many of the recommendations, the most important one—conducting a comprehensive audit—has not yet been accomplished. The witnesses stated that the degree of progress made on the other recommendations cannot be fully assessed until the comprehensive audit is completed. Senator Mack said that from talking to some people at the GAO he gathered there were sufficient red flags to suggest that the Library of Congress financial system is still so deficient that the accounts may not be auditable. However, the GAO witnesses said that they wouldn’t know until March, when they complete the initial part of their current study, whether an audit in 1996 would be possible.

The second panel consisted of John Rensbarger, the inspector general (IG), and Ken Keeler, the assistant IG for investigations for the library. Rensbarger stated that his work had been hampered by the fact that his office was nonstatutory and not really independent, as is the case with most agency IG offices. He said that when he sent a letter to Congress detailing some of his concerns, the Librarian of Congress told him that he was hurting the institution. Rensbarger said that restriction on funds and a small staff limited his work and affected his independence. However 1 he noted that since the allegations of theft made in August and since Senator Mack's office had started making inquiries, the situation of the IG's office had greatly improved. Rensbarger also discussed the fact that the library police, who do have statutory authority, would not cooperate with the IG and failed to respond to district court inquiries.

The third panel was made up of representatives of Computer Sciences Corporation, a firm specializing in physical security programs, which began in October a six-month project on improving the library's overall security posture. Mike Kenney, senior program manager for the corporation, noted in his testimony that the library has a dual responsibility of protecting and of making available its collection to the general public, scholars, and members of Congress. "A balance must be struck," he said, "between the conflicting requirements of availability and security." When asked to evaluate the library's security plan, he stated that it was more a list of problems than an integrated plan. Also in response to questions, he stated that the greatest security threat was internal and not external.

The last witness was the Librarian of Congress, James Billington. He discussed the library's mission, the acceleration of its tasks with decreasing staff, and the new digital library initiatives. He stressed that no loss is tolerable and that the library wants to work with the joint committee to strengthen the library. He said that the library would benefit from several specific actions of Congress—passing legislation to give the IG statutory authority and providing proper authority for the library's revolving funds.

Senator Warner commented on how much time Billington was spending on administrative details and asked if it was not time to consider a strong number two person to handle day-to-day operations to allow Billington to consider broad library challenges and improve the overall library system in the United States. Billington replied that he would consider it and get back to Warner with a detailed response.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Attribution must provide author name, article title, Perspectives on History, date of publication, and a link to this page. This license applies only to the article, not to text or images used here by permission.