Publication Date

November 1, 2000

Perspectives Section


History and Archives Well Served in Fiscal 2001 Appropriations Bills

In contrast to previous years, Congress opted this year not to make a mad dash to the appropriation finish line but rather decided to move at a relaxed though frustrating pace. At first, it was believed that Congress would take the various appropriation bills, gather them in a huge omnibus bill, and drop it on President Clinton’s desk in the closing days of the congressional session. However, the Republican leadership shifted away from that approach to a so-called minibus strategy—to attempt to pass a series of smaller packages of spending bills and thus hopefully avoid a huge confrontation with the White House.

On September 20, in their first attempt to employ the new strategy, Senate Republicans hoped to pass a $32.8 billion spending bill that linked funding for the Legislative Branch appropriations (including the Library of Congress), the Treasury Department (including the National Archives and Records Administration), and the U.S. Postal Service. To use the words of one Capitol Hill insider, the strategy “crashed and burned”—not so much because of disagreements with the White House, but rather, as a result of a failure to resolve contentious issues within the Republicans’ own ranks.

In an embarrassing 69-28 defeat for the Republican leadership, the Senate refused to move the “minibus” bill. In spite of the passionate speeches by Republicans in support of the legislative package before the vote, many legislators turned squeamish about voting for the bill because of the inclusion of a controversial Congressional salary pay increase, a measure to provide a pay raise to the IRS, and an item that repealed the federal excise tax on telephones. In the end, 26 Republicans joined 43 Democrats to vote down the measure.

The budget impasse had potentially serious political ramifications. Incumbents, most eager to hit the campaign trail, found themselves trapped in Washington. Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) predicted that there would be “a post-election session.” As it turned out, Congress failed to reach agreement on a majority of appropriation bills by the scheduled October 6 adjournment and consequently passed a series of “continuing resolutions”—temporary stopgap spending measures that enabled the government to operate beyond the end of the fiscal year (September 30).

Notwithstanding the procedural convolutions that Congress engaged in when passing legislation to meet the government’s fiscal needs, in the end, the historical and archival community appear to have come out winners in the fiscal 2001 budget cycle.


Interior Department and Related Agencies

The Interior Department and Related Agencies appropriations bill (H.R. 4578)-the bill that included funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), and the National Park Service (NPS) including the Historic Preservation Fund and the Smithsonian Institution-moved slowly through the Congressional mill. Legislators finally worked out the differences between their respective bills after a several day conference in mid-September. Some of the differences between the House $14.6 billion bill and the Senate’s cut of a $15.5 billion were difficult to resolve.

Controversy and disagreement between the conferees focused especially on the funding level for the NEA. Some House GOP leaders were adamant that the NEA should not receive the increase that was adopted in the Senate measure. On the other hand, some Senators were equally determined that there ought to be an increase. Eventually, the dispute was settled when on the first day the conferees met, the House conferees agreed to the Senate increase of $7 million (bringing the NEA budget to $105 million) with the caveat that a separate account would be created for the new money and that funds would be used only for the agency’s “Challenge America” initiative. This is the first increase in the NEA budget since 1995.

After several more days in conference, on September 29, House and Senate conferees agreed on an $18.8 billion budget package that wrapped the fiscal2001 Interior appropriation bill (HR 4578) with a substitute measure for a controversial land conservation bill (Conservation and Reinvestment Act of 2000—the so-called CARA bill—HR. 701/S. 2567) thus assuring that—barring no unanticipated surprises—President Clinton would sign the legislation. The bill passed the House by a vote of 348-69 and was adopted by the Senate by a vote of 83-13. The president signed the legislation (P.L. 106-291) on October 11.

In addition to providing significant new funds for land conservation and historic preservation, the fiscal 2001 Interior appropriation allocates to the National Endowment for the Humanities some $120.26 million ($5 million more than fiscal 2000) with the $5 million in additional funds being allocated as follows: $1.5 million for state humanities councils, $1 million to the public programs division, $800,000 to regional humanities centers, $1 million for the research programs division, $500,000 for administrative support, and $200,000 for the challenge grant program.

The Interior Department appropriation also allocates to the museum portion of the Institute of Museum and Library Services a total of $24.907 million (up $600,000 from fiscal 2000), the Smithsonian Institution some $454 million ($16.7 million over fiscal 2000), and the National Park Service Operations account will receive a $1.4 billion earmark (some $25 million more than fiscal 2000). The Historic Preservation Fund is approved for $79.35 million; this includes funding at the Senate-bill-passed level$ 44.35 million ($12 million for the states, $3 million for the tribal preservation programs, $44.35 million for other HPF programs) plus conferees added an additional $35 million during the House-Senate conference to support the president’s Save America’s Treasures Program. When signed into law by the president, one of the longest and most contentious appropriation battles of the fiscal year came to a close.

Labor Health and Human Services, and Education

The Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Bill (H.R. 4577 and S. 2553) included funding for education and library programs funded through the Institute of Museum and Library Services as well as Senator Robert Byrd’s (D-W.V.) earmark of $50 million for the secretary of education “to award grants to develop, implement, and strengthen programs to teach American history (not social societies) as a separate subject within school curricula.” Thanks to the quick action by the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians, and the National Coordinating Committee for the Promotion of History, our community’s support for the amendment was quickly communicated to lawmakers just hours before conferees were scheduled to meet. The conferees adopted the language, but for weeks the conference report was subjected to legislative maneuvering—the timing of its release was “a political decision,” according to one staffer. At this writing, Congress has not taken up the conference report and the ultimate fate of the amendment remains in limbo.

Treasury Department: National Archives

The real winner this year in the annual appropriations battle is the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Funding for the agency is provided in the Treasury, Postal Service, the General Government appropriation bill (H.R. 4871; S. 2900, which was wrapped into H.R. 4985). House and Senate conferees reached an agreement that provided NARA with sufficient funding to cover all the National Archives fixed costs; in addition, there is funding to transfer President Clinton’s papers to the Clinton Library in Little Rock, Arkansas, money to accelerate the processing of veterans’ records, and some start up monies for the electronic records project. A sum of $88 million was also set aside for the proposed renovation of Archives I, which was part of the president’s budget proposal. In fiscal 2001 NARA will receive $209.39 million for National Archives “operations” and base level funding of $4.95 million for “repairs and restoration.” The Conference Report has cleared Congress on October 12 and the president is expected to sign the bill in the near future.

Legislative Branch Appropriations: Library of Congress

The Legislative Branch appropriations bill (H.R. 4516 and S. 2603)—legislation that provides funding for the Library of Congress, the Government Printing Office, the Superintendent of Documents, and the federal Depository Library Program—is elected to net the library a total budget of $448.5 million. This represents a $21 million increase from the library’s fiscal 2000 budget and is well above the original House and Senate recommendations. Of singular importance to the historical and archival community is the funding provided for the Digital Futures Project, which was approved for $7.89 million—the House-recommended level plus an additional $300,000 for “technology” that was recommended in the Senate version. The bill passed both houses of Congress and is expected to be signed into law soon.

All in all, it was a tough battle this year over governmental appropriations. But in the end, given that this was an election year, and that there was a strong desire (especially by the Republican leadership that controlled Congress) for fiscal austerity, the historical/ archival profession did remarkably well.

NPS “Discovery 2000” Conference Report

From September 11 to 15 some 1,350 representatives from the NPS and nonprofit and advocacy groups met in St. Louis to tackle several issues pertaining to the future direction of the NPS. The hope was that the meeting entitled “Discovery 2000: The National Park Service General Conference”—the first major management conference in 12 years—would signal a fundamental change in attitude and image for the service. At the meeting, agency officials declared that visitor services would no longer be the agency’s top concern. Instead, protecting and preserving America’s natural and cultural resources would take top billing.

The conference was organized along four program tracks: cultural resources, natural resources, education, and leadership. Clearly, the conference was designed to develop a vision of the NPS’s 21st-century role in the life of the nation and to inspire and invigorate the service, its partners, and the public about this vision. Based on feedback from conference participants, the lofty goals appear to have been largely met.

Early on, a glitzy 18-minute film produced by the Harpers Ferry Interpretive Design Center inspired the participants to think about the challenges of the future. The first day of the conference (perhaps suggestive of the new emphasis of the relative importance of historic and cultural resources to the NPS) focused nearly exclusively on issues relating to cultural resource stewardship. Participants could choose from some 35 sessions that addressed topics relating to preservation policy and technology, cultural resource interpretation, urban revitalization, the importance of historical context, memory and history at historic sites, as well as sessions that dealt with archeology and collections management.

The track on cultural resources was highlighted by a keynote address by historian John Hope Franklin, professor emeritus of history at Duke University and the newly appointed chair of the NPS advisory board. Franklin’s comments focused on history as a contributor to the civic good. He emphasized the usefulness of the study of history and declared that the preservation of historic sites makes a better society. Franklin’s comments may be accessed at

Cold War Theme Study Legislation Introduced

On September 6, Representative Joel Hefley (R-Colo.) introduced H.R. 5114—legislation requiring the secretary of the interior to conduct a National Landmark theme study to identify historic sites and resources and to recommend alternatives for commemorating and interpreting the Cold War. The bill was referred to the House Committee on Resources but did not receive a hearing in this session. The representative plans to reintroduce similar legislation early in the next congressional session.

Assuming this legislation passes during the next Congress as presently drafted, the secretary of the interior (operating through the NPS) would inventory sites and resources associated with the Cold War. In preparing the study, NPS historians would be required to review studies completed by the Department of Defense, surveys conducted by state historic preservation offices, and to review other studies currently underway. In preparing the theme study, the secretary would also be required to consult with the public and “scholarly and other interested organizations and individuals.”

The thrust of the study currently focuses on defense- and strategic-related sites, though, in all likelihood, the next version of this bill will expand the scope of the study to include civilian-related and other nonmilitary sites associated with the Cold War. Once the study is finished, the legislation mandates that an interpretive handbook be published based on the study’s findings. The bill authorizes $200,000 to be appropriated to carry out the provisions of the Act.

World War II Memorial Gets Final Approval

On September 21, Washington D.C.’s National Capital Planning Commission voted 7-5 to approve the final design for the controversial World War II memorial that supporters hope to see constructed between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Memorial on the National Mall. The meeting lasted 10 hours and more than a hundred witnesses, including veterans, representatives of civic and preservation groups, and residents, voiced their opinions. After the vote, opponents vowed to attempt through court action to stop the project from moving forward. They filed suit in a U.S. District Court on October 2, charging that administration officials had violated aspects of various environmental and historic preservation laws.

The WW II memorial site was approved in 1995, but major objections only surfaced in 1997 when the design was unveiled. Most recently, the president’s Advisory Council on Historic Preservation castigated the controversial project in a letter to Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt. The council stated that construction of the memorial on the site contemplated “has serious and unresolved adverse effects on the preeminent historic character of the National Mall.” The panel called the design (a sunken replica of the existing Rainbow Pool surrounded by a plaza and 56 columns) incompatible with its historic setting and a violation of the open feeling of the Mall. In his reply to the advisory council, Babbitt defended his views, responded to the objections, and vowed to move forward with the project. It is estimated that the $100 million project will take some two-and-a-half years to complete. Supporters hope to break ground on Veteran’s Day, 2000, and dedicate the memorial on Memorial Day, 2003.

Smithsonian’s American History Museum Receives $80 Million Donation

Kenneth E. Behring, a 72-year-old west coast developer, will donate $80 million to the National Museum of American History to refurbish the museum. The donation is the largest single individual gift the Smithsonian has ever received and represents one of the biggest donations a single person has ever given to any American museum. Smithsonian officials will acknowledge the contribution through the addition of the words “Behring Center” on the front of the building.

End of Congress Legislative Wrap-Up

The NCC attempts to track legislation of interest to historians, archivists, and the related professional disciplines. In addition to monitoring the appropriations bills reported on above, there are dozens of bills that are introduced each Congress that may, in some way or another, affect our community. Since at this writing Congress has yet to adjourn, the next NCC Advocacy Update will include a summary of bills of interest to the historical / archival community passed during this last session of the 106th Congress.

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

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