Publication Date

October 1, 2001

Perspectives Section


NHPRC Budget Realities

There is increasing concern over the fiscal 2002 proposed funding levels for the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). The House has passed, and the Senate Appropriations Committee has recommended, different funding levels in their respective versions of the Treasury, Postal Service, and General Government appropriations bill (H.R. 2590). Once the Senate passes its version of the legislation, both will go to conference, probably in the early fall. At that time, House and Senate conferees will reconcile the conflicting provisions in the differing bills.

To its credit, the House voted to appropriate “full funding” to the NHPRC in fiscal 2002: $10 million, the amount the commission has been authorized to receive since 1991. But the House bill earmarks $2.7 million of this amount (about 20 percent of the total appropriation) for only two projects: $1.7 million (some 28 times the typical NHPRC grant) to the Oklahoma Centennial Commission “to assist with memorializing the Oklahoma land run as part of the Oklahoma Centennial celebration” and a second grant of $1 million “to the Boston Public Library for preserving and enhancing its holdings of materials related to John Adams” (the holdings are largely books).

In its version of the appropriation bill, the Senate Appropriations Committee attached no earmarks, but allocated only $6.436 million (the funding level for fiscal 2001), which would increase the amount available to the NHPRC for competitive grants in fiscal 2002 by only about $500,000. Last year (fiscal 2001), NHPRC competitive grant requests were about $18 million-exceeding the NHPRC appropriation by $12 million. Clearly, requests have outpaced the dollar amounts available to grantees and special earmarks do nothing to alleviate the situation.

For better or worse, earmarks are a political reality in our American democratic tradition. In recent years, several directed NHPRC grants have been ordered by Congress. Through the efforts of then New York Senator Alfonse D’ Amato (R-N.Y.), a $4 million grant over two years was secured ($2 million was later rescinded after the senator lost his reelection bid) for an integrated collection management and access system at the Center for Jewish-History in New York City. Recently, Congress has also earmarked a $78,996 grant ($250,000 is authorized but all the funds have yet to be spent) for the “Native Journies” (sic) documentation project at the Heritage Harbor Museum in Providence, Rhode Island; this grant was secured through the efforts of Senators Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.) and Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.). Finally, Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.), who chairs the Treasury Appropriation subcommittee, has secured two grants in recent years: $200,000 for the cataloging of the collections of the Three Tribes Museum in North Dakota (these funds have yet to be spent) and $250,000 to document the Lewis and Clark expedition in North Dakota.

In the past, members of Congress have responded to critics of NHPRC earmarks by stating that such directed grants are the only way to ensure that small projects receive federal funding. However, in practice, when there is a worthwhile project, the NHPRC helped small and first-time applicants to develop fundable proposals and successful projects. In reality, the central purpose of an earmark is to make a member of Congress look good to constituents. But their well-intended actions all too often have inadvertent negative side effects. If they receive a large federal grant, it is sometimes more difficult for a benefiting institution to raise private funds in the future for the same or other projects.

This year, neither of the two NHPRC proposed earmarks are for small institutions. If the House recommendations for directed grants are enacted, fiscal 2002 would be a record-setting year for congressional earmarks that would be made at the expense of competitive grantseeking institutions and could thus prove detrimental to the integrity of the NHPRC.

In fiscal 2001, the NHPRC received requests for help that exceeded the amount appropriated for its competitive grants program by over 200 percent. NHPRC appropriations for competitive grants have hovered at about $6 million for the last three years. In that period, requests for NHPRC assistance-always in excess of its appropriationsincreased by 60 percent. Because of its fiscal 2001 appropriations shortfall, the NHPRC was barely able to maintain the steady core of support it provides to the Founding Fathers and other documentary editions, and only then at a huge cost to all the others, particularly archivists, who turned to the NHPRC for help. The NHPRC had to suspend its highly regarded Fellowship Programs in Archival Management and in Documentary Editing and to impose enormous cuts in its other programs.

For example, the State Historical Records Advisory Boards asked the NHPRC for almost $2 million, but only $985,000 could be awarded. These grants support vital work by state and local government archivists and records keepers that ensures the entitlements of each citizen, provides for the preservation of and increased access to irreplaceable genealogical information, and documents state and local history. In fiscal 2001, much of this work was cut back or suspended entirely in the hope that NHPRC funding would increase in fiscal 2002.

Also, a variety of electronic records projects requests totaled $2.7 million, but only $1.2 million could be awarded. Fiscal 2001 was the first year of the NHPRC’s initiative to broaden the base of archival expertise in the area of electronic records. Requests for that initiative alone more than doubled the amount NHPRC had allocated for it. The NHPRC is a leader in supporting basic and applied electronic records research whose primary purpose is the long-term preservation of and easy access to authentic electronic records.

Perhaps the most dramatic loss was to the NHPRC’s Archival Records Program, which in fiscal 2001 was able to award only $435,712 in response to $4 million in requests. This marked a 99 percent increase in a single year, clear testimony to the fact that all the traditional problems in archives are increasing. Many of the records projects that couldn’t be funded in fiscal 2001 indicate that they intend to resubmit their proposals in fiscal 2002. These requests will be in addition to those from archivists who have been preparing proposals for submission in 2002.

So what can and should be done? Capitol Hill insiders speculate that when the NHPRC budget comes to conference, the conferees will probably settle on the Senate number ($6.436 million) plus money for some, if not all, of the special House recommended earmarks giving the NHPRC a total budget of about $9.136 million. Attempts to get rid of the earmarks entirely and s till seek “full funding” for the agency are not politically realistic, given the powerful stature of those who are behind the earmarks.

However, there is a chance that, with a sufficient number of expressions of concern from their constituents directed to key members of Congress (especially the conferees), it may be possible to: (1) cut back the size of the earmarks and allocate these funds to competitive grants, or, (2) increase the funding level for the agency by accepting that the $2.7 million in earmarks will receive funding (as in the House bill), but add $870,000 for grant funds to the Senate recommendation of $6.436 million, thus providing $10 million (the NHPRC authorized level) to the agency; this would give the NHPRC almost a million dollars more for grants. In either case, the goal is “full funding” for the NHPRC.

Legislation Passed

On August 3, 2001, the last day before Congress began summer recess, the Senate passed three bills of interest to the historical/ archival community: Sen. Daniel K. Akaka’s (D-Hawaii) legislation (S. 329) requiring the secretary of the interior to conduct a theme study on the “Peopling of America”; legislation (S. 1046 and H.R. 2133) establishing a commission to encourage and provide for commemorations of the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education; and a bill (S. 356) establishing a national commission on the Bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase.


“Peopling” Theme Study

The “Peopling” theme study directs the secretary of the interior to foster an understanding of the diversity and contribution of the groups that have “peopled” (migrated, immigrated, or settled) the United States. The bill authorizes appropriations for the National Park Service to produce a National Landmark theme study that would identify and assess regions, areas, trails, districts, communities, sites, buildings, structures, objects, organizations, societies, and cultures that best illustrate and commemorate key events or decisions affecting the peopling of America.

The study would also provide a basis for evaluating and possibly creating new national park units, designating national landmarks, and identifying new listings for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. Once the theme study is completed, the secretary is directed to enter into “cooperative arrangements” with state and local governments, educational institutions, local historical associations, communities, and other appropriate entities, to preserve and interpret key sites and to “maximize opportunities for public education and scholarly research on the peopling of America.”

Rep. Mark E. Souder’s ( R-Ind. ) companion bill ( H.R. 2420)-legislation that was introduced in the House on July 6, 2001-is still pending action by the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Recreation, and Public Lands.

Brown v. Board of Education Commission

The Senate also passed two versions of legislation establishing a commission to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision. The legislation authorizes some $300,000 in fiscal 2002 and 2003 for the commission. The bill provides for a commission that includes agency and congressionally appointed representatives and individuals representing the states that were originally involved in the case. The body is charged to work with the Brown Foundation for Educational Equality, Excellence, and Research in planning and coordinating public education projects and initiatives throughout the nation. The Senate passed its own bill as well as a modified House version. Both bills will be returned to the House for consideration and action.

Louisiana Purchase Commission

Finally, the Senate passed Sen. Mary L. Landrieu’s (D-La.) bill (S. 356) that creates a 20-person commission to plan and develop activities appropriate to commemorate the bicentennial of the purchase of the Louisiana Territory. The bill seeks “to harmonize and balance the important goals of ceremony and celebration with the equally important goals of scholarship and education.”

To this end, the commission is to consult with appropriate federal departments and agencies, tribal governments, as well as schools, colleges, and universities, and other entities. The commission’s report is to include specific recommendations on appropriate com- memorative events, programs, conferences, publications, and other activities that focus on the history of the Louisiana Purchase “and its benefits to the United States and mankind.” The Senate-passed bill will be referred to a House committee; no companion legislation has been introduced in the House.

Legislation Introduced

Senate Version of Cold War Theme Study

On July 27, 2001, Sen. Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) introduced legislation (S. 1257) similar to Rep. Joel Hefley’s bill (H.R. 107), reported on in a previous installment of this column, to require the secretary of the interior to conduct a theme study to identify sites and resources to commemorate and interpret the Cold War. Hearings on H.R. 107 have already taken place and the legislation is expected to see some action in early fall. Sen. Reid’s bill has been referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee for action.

Indonesia FRUS Volume Released

The National Security Archive (NSA), a foreign policy documentation center based at George Washington University, forced the release of a controversial Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) volume on Indonesia after posting it on the Web. The volume was one of two State Department documentary histories that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency reportedly objected to releasing. The two disputed State Department FRUS volumes cover Indonesia, Malaysia, and Philippines in the years 1964-68, and Greece, Turkey, and Cyprus in the same period.

According to State Department records, the documents included in the two volumes were officially declassified in 1998 and 1999. According to an NSA press release, the CIA, as well as officers at the State Department, have prevented the official release of both volumes, which have already been printed and bound by the Government Printing Office. The NSA obtained the Indonesia volume when the GPO shipped copies to various GPO bookstores; the Greece volume is still locked up in GPO warehouses. Several days after the Web posting, the State Department released the bound version of the Indonesia volume.

The volume includes significant new documentation on the Indonesian Army’s campaign against Indonesia’s Communist Party (PKI) during 1965-66. The volume also describes another highly controversial issue-that of U.S. involvement if not complicity in the killings of at least 100,000 communists in Indonesia.

The CIA’s intervention in the State Department publication is only the latest in a series of such controversies, dating back to 1990 when the CIA censored a volume on Iran in the early 1950s to exclude references to the CIA-backed coup that overthrew Mossadegh in 1953. The chair of the State Department historical advisory committee resigned in protest, producing an outcry among academics and journalists. Congress then passed a law in 1991 requiring the State Department volumes to include covert operations as well as overt diplomacy, to provide an accurate historical picture of U.S. foreign policy, 30 years after the events.

WWII Memorial Construction May Move Forward

On August 16, 2001, U.S. District Court Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. dismissed a lawsuit brought by the National Coalition to Save Our Mall and the World War II Veterans to Save the Mall that sought to halt construction of the proposed World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. “The court concludes that defendants’ motion to dismiss must be granted because the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction” stated Kennedy. With the removal of the latest in a long line of obstacles preventing construction, federal officials are hoping to begin construction on August 27. Opponents have not given up the fight yet as they still plan to file an appeal with the D.C. Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals. They intend to request an injunction prohibiting construction until the Court can hear the case.

Report on National Park System Issued

A report has been issued by the National Park System Advisory Board, a congressionally chartered body of 12 citizens appointed by the secretary of the interior to advise on matters relating to the operation and management of the National Park Service (NPS). Historian John Hope Franklin chairs the board. The report recommends that the NPS expand its efforts to become a major part of the nation’s educational system, with a special emphasis on teaching history. The report, which includes the results of a survey of 556 seniors who attend 55 of the nations top universities, is yet the latest study to document the deplorable knowledge of American history by college students. For example, the survey found that only 60 percent of the students surveyed knew when the Civil War took place. The report concluded that the nation is “raising a generation of young Americans who are historically illiterate.” “Rethinking the National Parks for the 21st Century” is posted at

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

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