Publication Date

January 1, 2001

Perspectives Section


The Faces of the 107th Congress

In one of the most dramatic and memorable elections of all time, the Republicans managed to maintain their control over both the House and Senate, albeit by very slim margins, as Democrats managed to pick up several House and Senate seats. As this issue of Perspectives goes to press, George W. Bush has become the president-elect designate of the United States.

The 107th Congress will have 43 new House members—29 Republicans and 14 Democrats (the numbers may change when two contests, one in New Jersey and the other in Florida, are decided). Statistically, the quintessential new House member is a middle-aged white man with a decade or more of experience in state government and is in possession of a master’s degree. Among the new members is a Japanese American imprisoned as a child in an internment camp, a former spy, a quadriplegic, and the former head football coach of the Nebraska Cornhuskers (Tom Osborne, R-Mo.)—the only new member to possess a doctorate degree. By contrast, the handful of new senators are a more diverse group of conservatives, liberals, and moderates. A fairly good number of them (both Republican and Democrats) won their seats by spending their own money. As a consequence, one political strategist commented that the Senate is “becoming a House of Lords.”

At this writing, the Republican leadership has yet to name the new chairs of various congressional committees. Leadership of several House committees is up for grabs because of the GOP’s 1995 decision to impose a six-year limit on all committee chairs. While virtually no changes are expected in the Senate, there may be a significant overhaul in the House of Representatives. Five current chairs are retiring, and several other House members are hoping to take advantage of their seniority to slide into those powerful positions. Resources Committee chair Don Young (R-Alaska), for example, is in line to take over the Transportation Committee, thus leaving the Resources Committee position possibly for James V. Hansen (R-Utah). The House Government Reform Committee that oversees the operations of the National Archives may also see changes: Representative Steve Horn (R-Calif.) has reached his mandated term limit as chair of the Government Management, Information, and Technology Subcommittee and must be rotated off as subcommittee chair. Whether he retains oversight control over the National Archives in whatever new position he assumes is a matter for speculation. For the committees that have oversight over the Library of Congress and the Superintendent of Documents, House Administration Committee chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) is expected to make a play for the powerful chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee. Should he leave, John Boehner (R-Ohio) would technically be next in line for the chairmanship; his interest in the position is not presently known. No major changes are expected in the Senate legislative branch oversight committee.

Panel Addresses Long-Term NEH Projects

On Friday, November 17, 2000, the 133rd meeting of the National Council on the Humanities was called to order at the Old Post Office building in Washington, D.C. Following presentations by Chairman William Ferris and several guest speakers, and after the reports by the policy committees (see below), the panel turned to the issue relating to long-term project funding of scholarly projects. These include over 40 ongoing editing projects relating to presidential papers, correspondence and papers of important historical figures, as well as dictionaries, encyclopedias, and bibliographies.

In past meetings, some council members had expressed concern over the amount of money the NEH was investing in certain editing projects and also were dismayed over the length of time sometimes needed to complete such projects. At the last meeting of the council, it was decided that NEH staff would prepare a concept paper that would address the issue and that it would be presented during the November meeting (see NCC Washington Update 6:24, July 19, 2000). An NEH Task Force prepared a draft policy paper that was circulated within the NEH as well as to the scholarly community for comments and reactions (see NCC Washington Update 6:34, October 5, 2000). Some 170 comments were received by NEH staff.

Following nearly an hour of discussion, by a vote of 15 to 4, the council adopted a complexly worded motion offered by Martha C. Howell (Columbia Univ.) . The motion, worded in such a way to give greater scrutiny to scholarly editing projects, contained three essential elements: first, it embraced the task force recommendation of having the division of research consider all such funding requests collectively in a “scholarly editions” program category. Second, the motion directs the NEH to develop a new set of guidelines (or rather “management principles”) that gives priority to projects with “finite terms” (five to seven years was mentioned but not made a part of the resolution) and projects that possess “free-standing increments.” Third, the motion states that the NEH shall analyze all long-term editing projects currently underway to gauge how close they are to completion and to assess what can be done to make that work available to scholars and the public more quickly (i.e., installment publishing, electronic editions).

Most council members voiced support for the suggestions to establish a separate funding category, devise new guidelines, and study ongoing projects. Several members, in particular council member Margaret P. Duckett and Ira Berlin (Univ. of Maryland at College Park), questioned the wisdom of giving preference to projects that can be completed more quickly than others. Berlin warned that the council should avoid a “straight-jacket … one-size fits all” policy. Furthermore, Berlin stated that unless the council is careful, they will be “raising an issue in a clumsy way that is not going to do us any good.” Preparation of the draft guidelines was referred to the chair’s staff, the NEH Research Division, and to the Research Committee of the National Council to address.

In other business, the chairs of the various policy committees reported on their work. The Research Committee announced that because of funding increases, fellowship funding would be raised this next year from $30,000 to $35,000 (2001 award announcements will be made next month). The Education Committee reported on a unique partnership between the NEH and MCI Corporation that would give a half million dollar shot in the arm to the NEH EDSITEment program. The Public Programs Committee reported on various museum exhibits and increased grant support to small and mid-sized museums. The Federal/State Partnership Committee report updated council members on the ongoing self-assessment program for state council reviews. The Preservation Access/Challenge Grant Committee reported on its progress in the support of state online encyclopedias. Finally, the report on the status of the Jefferson Lecture revealed that more than 100 possible honorees had been considered and that 18 semi-finalists were being actively considered. The finalists’ names will be presented to the Jefferson Committee and to the full council for action in March 2001.

Public Citizen Files Petition with National Archives

Public Citizen has filed a petition with the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) challenging the archivist’s implementation of General Records Schedule 20 (GRS 20) and requesting that NARA’s rules on electronic records be amended to prevent further creation of a gap in historical records being preserved by federal agencies.

The petition claims that agencies have not taken steps to preserve the complete contents of records created in electronic form. Filing of the petition coincides with the October 31, 2000, deadline for agencies to submit their plans for implementing the Government Paperwork Elimination Act, which requires that agencies be prepared to conduct their transactions with the public entirely through electronic means by 2003. Public Citizen hopes that researchers, historians, research organizations, and technology vendors will submit letters or comments supporting the petition. An HTML version of the petition may be found at

Supreme Court to Review Tasini Copyright Case Decision

On November 6, 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review an appellate court decision relating to a 1993 copyright case, Tasini v. New York Times. At issue is the extent to which certain original publications can be reissued (preserved or even archived) in electronic format. The central issue is whether media companies or free-lance writers control rights to post-published articles and writings that are converted into electronic and computer-based formats.

The high court will be reviewing a September 1999 U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit decision that overturned a lower court ruling dating back to 1993. The three-judge appellate court found that the New York Times did not have the right to include the work of freelance writers in full-text databases without having secured a separate contract with the writers. In reversing the lower court ruling that had found for the publishers, the appeals court decided that reuse of a freelance writer’s work on CDROMs and electronic databases without the author’s permission constituted a copyright infringement.

Should the Supreme Court uphold the appellate court decision, hundreds of thousands of articles currently online may have to be permanently deleted, thus creating havoc for archivists and librarians. Also impacted would be researchers who will find it more difficult to access back articles. Harvard professor Laurence Tribe (who also serves as attorney for several publishers who are principals in the case) believes that if the Supreme Court upholds the appellate court decision the result would be “disastrous for the nation’s libraries, academic institutions, and publishers.” Arguments on the case will be heard in the Supreme Court chamber early in 2001, probably in April.

New Digital Copyright Ruling: Bad News for the History/Library Community

In a recent ruling, Librarian of Congress James Billington granted only two exceptions in the fair use proceeding involving the 1201 anticircumvention provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA; P.L. 105-304). In 1998, with the enactment of the DMCA, a new title was added to Section 17 of the United States Code, which among other things provides that “no person shall circumvent a technology measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under this title.” The librarian’s ruling grants only two exceptions to this general rule.

According to the ruling published in the October 27, 2000, issue of the Federal Register (65:209, “Rules and Regulations,” 64555-74) exemptions are to be provided only for “literary works, including computer programs and databases” that are protected by control mechanisms that fail to permit access because of “malfunction, damage, or obsoleteness” and compilations “blocked by filtering software applications.” In layperson terms, this ruling makes it illegal to open any digital lock without the specific authority to do so. While historians and researchers can easily browse the stacks of a reference library freely and open the binding of virtually any book, this law makes it illegal to browse certain electronic documents, hence, making it virtually impossible to make fair use of them. Scholars had hoped for a broader interpretation of the exceptions-language that would have enabled them to freely download portions of literary, musical, and video materials and access them through established fair-use provisions.

The library community, educators, and several historical groups are on record in support of the principle that “fair use” must continue with respect to digital documents. With this ruling, users of digital information will have fewer rights and opportunities than users of print information. According to Nancy Kranich, president of the American Library Association, “The Copyright Office has issued a misguided ruling taking away from students, researchers, teachers, and librarians the long-standing basic right of ‘fair use’ to our Nation’s digital resources.” The scholarly community is expected to regroup in the coming months and launch either a circumvention ban by bringing action in federal court or press Congress to amend the DMCA. For a copy of the ruling, see

Comments Sought on Proposed Policy: Federal Court Case Files

The Judicial Conference of the United States, Committee on Court Administration and Case Management, Subcommittee on Privacy and Electronic Access to Court Files has filed a request for public comment in the Federal Register (November 8, 2000; 65:217, 67016-19). The policy under consideration addresses issues of privacy and security relating to the electronic availability of court case files. All comments must be received by a January 26, 2001, deadline. For a copy of the proposed policy “Electronic Public Access to Federal Court Case Files,” tap into the Federal Register Online via GPO Access.

Smithsonian Museum Gets New Name

On October 27 President Clinton signed legislation (P.L. 106-385) renaming the “National Museum of American Art” to the “Smithsonian American Art Museum.” The name change had been proposed by Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence Small and the Smithsonian Board of Regents. By connecting the Smithsonian name to the museum’s mission(” American art”) officials believe that more Americans will be able to recognize how the museum connects to American culture and history. The museum has also changed its web site address to.

Report on Government Secrecy Released

Secrecy in International and Domestic Policy Making: The Case for More Sunshine” surveys the pervasive secrecy in international institutions (such as the World Trade Organization and the International Olympic Committee) and examines the failure of various “Sunshine Acts” (two laws crafted over 25 years ago that require open business meetings of all collegially headed federal boards and commissions) with respect to several U.S. government agencies such as the Federal Reserve Board. The report, issued by senators Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), recommends numerous revisions to the Sunshine Acts. The report is posted on the Federation of American Scientists, Project on Government Secrecy web site.

More Nixon Tapes Released

On October 26, 2000, the National Archives and Records Administration released another 420 hours (some 4,140 conversations) of White House tape recordings from the Nixon Presidency from August to December 1971. The tapes cover a wide range of domestic and foreign topics, including discussions relating to the president’s February 1972 trip to the People’s Republic of China. A free finding aid is available from NARA. For more information, call (301) 713-6950.

Air and Space Museum Breaks Ground

On October 25, 2000, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum held a groundbreaking ceremony at Dulles International Airport—the planned 176-acre new home for 200 aircraft and 100 space relics that have been in storage for the past 25 years. The 710,000 square-foot, $238 million facility will open December 17, 2003, the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers’ historic first flight. The facility will be the size of two-and-a-half football fields and 10 stories high. Smithsonian officials estimate that once completed the facility will be visited by 3 to 4 million annual visitors.

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

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