Publication Date

November 1, 1996

NEH Budget for 1997 Remains at 1996 Level

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) will be funded in fiscal 1997 at the fiscal 1996 level of $110 million. Many view this as a victory. Throughout the 1997 appropriation process there were indications that the NEH was in for yet another budget cut. The House of Representatives passed an appropriations bill in July that called for a budget of $104.5 million for the NEH. While the Senate never passed an Interior Appropriations Bill, which includes the budget for the NEH, the draft bill that was under consideration had a fiscal 1997 budget for the NEH of $99.5 million.

The fiscal 1997 budget for the NEH eventually became part of an omnibus funding bill that was negotiated at the highest levels by a few members of Congress and representatives from the White House. It was passed by the House and Senate with little debate and no amendments just in time to provide funds for federal agencies for the new fiscal year that began on October 1. Election-year politics dictated this unusual conclusion to the appropriations process. Everyone wished to avoid a showdown that could involve closing the federal government, and members of Congress were eager to complete their work and get home for full-time campaigning. This scenario gave considerable weight to the views of the White House. In September President Clinton issued a statement outlining areas of concern in the Senate version of the Interior Bill. In his statement he asserted that the cuts to the endowments would "severely jeopardize their ability to provide important cultural, educational, and artistic programs for communities across America." The White House undoubtedly played a major role in increasing NEH funding beyond that proposed by either the House or the Senate.

NHPRC Reauthorization Bill Passes Senate and House

On September 27 the House passed by unanimous consent S. 1577, a bill to reauthorize the grants program of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) for the next four years at a funding ceiling of $10 million for each year. The NHPRC is currently funded at $5 million, and its authorization legislation extended only through fiscal 1997. On July 25 the Senate passed this legislation by unanimous consent. Sens. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.), and Mark Hatfield (R-Ore.) played key roles in securing its pas sage. In the House, Reps. John Mica (R-Fla.) and Karen Thurman (D-Fla.) sponsored the legislation and made supportive floor statements. On October 9 the president signed this legislation into law.

Congress Passes Electronic FOIA Legislation

On September 17 both the House and the Senate passed by unanimous consent identical bills, H.R. 3802 and S. 1090, known as the Electronic Freedom of Information Amendments of 1996. This legislation requires that agencies honor format requests and search for records in electronic format. The bill also increases online access to records and provides "multitrack" (a fast track for uncomplicated requests) and expedited processing in "compelling-need" circumstances. In addition, it includes provisions designed to alleviate the delays in processing requests for government records. Since there are no differences between the House and Senate versions of the legislation, no conference committee was required. The president signed the bill into law on October 2. One reason this legislation could be placed on the Senate “consent calendar," which includes items that do not require roll-call votes, was that it had the strong bipartisan support of Sens. Hank Brown (R-Colo.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).

CIA Revises Policy on FOIA Requests

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has recently made public some changes in its implementation of the CIA Information Act of 1984. This law gave the CIA permission to not conduct searches for Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests if the requested records were in certain categories designated as sensitive. The 1984 law also required the CIA to conduct a review every 10 years of the categories of files that had been off limits to FOIA requests. In the review the CIA was to take into consideration the historical value of and public interest in a particular category of files; the agency was also to evaluate the potential for removing those files from the list exempted from FOIA search and review.

In a May 1995 letter to Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), the chair of the Select Committee on Intelligence, the CIA reported on its extensive 10-year review and its decision to remove from exempted status four file categories. This change thus allows FOIA requests for documents in these files. Three of the four file categories are in the files of the Directorate of Operations. They are the administrative files of the now-defunct Office of Policy Coordination, the files on the inactive National Committee for a Free Europe, and the files of the Asia Foundation projects. Although this decision was made over a year ago, the CIA made no attempt to inform researchers of the changes in the implementation of the law. The fact that several categories of operational files that had previously been off limits were now open for FOIA requests was made public only this summer when the CIA Historical Review Panel requested information on the 10-year review and received copies of the May 1995 letter.

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