Publication Date

September 1, 1995

NEH Update

With the new Republican leadership targeting the endowments for sharp cuts, efforts to secure reauthorization of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and adequate funding in fiscal 1996 have become monumental tasks. A large coalition of organizations has been working for months to alert all members of Congress to the important role that the NEH plays in education and in fostering humanities scholarship. Efforts to support the NEH have moved forward on four separate tracks: House appropriations, House reauthorization, Senate appropriations, and Senate reauthorization. Final decisions may not be made until late September when conference committees reconcile the differences between House and Senate bills. On July 18 the House of Representatives passed the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriation Bill for fiscal 1996. The bill calls for $99.494 million for the NEH with a three-year phase out for the agency. Language in the bill earmarks an additional $5 million for state programs, which means that they would receive $23 million, which is $5 million below their current level of $28 million. During the House debate on the NEH appropriation, Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) introduced an amendment to eliminate funding in fiscal 1996. In a show of strong bipartisan support for the NEH, the House of Representatives defeated the amendment, with 277 voting against the amendment and only 148 supporting it.

The Senate Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee meeting on July 26 recommended $114.5 million for the NEH in fiscal 1996, which is a 33 percent cut for the NEH compared to the 42 percent cut passed by the House. Although the subcommittee initially called for $99.5 million for the NEH, the same amount that the House had designated, Sen. Dale Bumpers (D-Ark.) introduced an amendment calling for a $15 million increase for the NEH. The amendment passed on a voice vote with no nays. Besides Bumpers, three other senators—Leahy (D-Vt.), Burns (R-Mont.), and Cochran (R-Miss.) —spoke in favor of the amendment. As we go to press, the Senate has not yet voted on the Interior appropriations bill, which includes the NEH. On the reauthorization front, both the House and the Senate authorization committees have recommended bills. On May 10 the House Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee endorsed H.R.1557, which calls for cuts of 20 percent in 1996, 20 percent in 1997, 20 percent in 1998, and elimination in 1999, as well as for the transfer of 80 percent of both NEH and NEA funds to the states in each fiscal year.

On July 19 the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee endorsed by a vote of 12 to 4 a revised version of S. 856, a bill to reauthorize the NEH, the NEA, and the Institute of Museum Services for the next four years. In opening remarks Sens. Kassebaum (R-Kans.), Jeffords (R-Vt.), Kennedy (D-Mass.), and Pell (D-R.I.) all stressed the importance of these agencies and emphasized that the revised S. 856 was a bipartisan compromise bill worthy of support. Two of the major provisions of this bill are (1) a reduction of 5 percent a year for the next four years in the authorized funding ceilings, and (2) the provision that 30 percent of NEH funding go for state programs—the earlier version had called for 25 percent. The current level at the NEH is 20 percent for state programs.

The committee defeated an amendment introduced by Sen. Spencer Abraham (R-Mich.) that called for the privatization of the NEH over a five-year period. An amendment introduced by Sens. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) and John Ashcroft (R-Mo.), which called for a 50 percent reduction of the NEH over the next five years, instead of the 25 percent reduction specified in S.856, was defeated. The only amendment that passed was one introduced by Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), which authorized a $150,000 study by the NEH and the NEA to determine the viability of creating a private endowment.

Historians Oppose Extension of Copyright

On July 13 the Subcommittee on Courts and Intellectual Property of the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing to consider H.R. 989, a bill to extend by 20 years the duration of copyright. The concern of historians and archivists about the effect of this legislation on the scholarly use of old unpublished material was a very small footnote in the hearing. The major impetus for this legislation comes from the fact that the copyright law for the European Union member states, who are among the greatest users of our copyrighted works, is now the life of the author plus 70 years. The current period for copyright protection in the United States is the life of the creator plus 50 years. Thus there is a desire to bring United States copyright law into conformity with that of the European Union. Strong support for the bill also comes from composers, their heirs, and the music industry. Many of the great musical works of George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, and Oscar Hammerstein II will be entering the public domain—some already have—if the legislation is not passed. The heirs of these composers will lose their royalty income. However, opposition to the legislation also comes from those sympathetic to the composers, who claimed that music publishers—the owners of the copyright in many cases—and not the composers stand to gain from H.R. 989.

Amid the debate over the commercial ramifications of H.R. 989 and how its passage could have a positive effect on the U.S. trade balance, there was a brief discussion of the section of the bill dealing with unpublished material and its use in scholarly research. Register of Copyright Marybeth Peters, who supported much of the bill, stated that the Copyright Office does not endorse the proposed extension for unpublished material. She noted that in the 1976 Copyright Act, all unpublished works in existence before January 1, 1978, even letters and diaries dating back to the 18th century, were automatically given copyright protection until December 31, 2002. Pointing out the difficulty of finding heirs of very old unpublished material to grant permission for use, she stressed the negative effect this legislation would have on the Library of Congress's development of its digital library, which will make many historic photos, letters, and manuscripts in its collection available to the American public. Michael Les Benedict, professor of history at Ohio State University and president-elect of the Society for the History of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, prepared on behalf of the NCC, a written statement that was given to members of the subcommittee prior to the hearing. Benedict's testimony noted the negative impact that H.R. 989 could have on historical research and urged the subcommittee to reject the proposed language, which would replace the expiration date of December 31, 2002, with that of December 31, 2012, for copyright in works created but not published or copyrighted before January 1, 1978.

Carlin Confirmed as U.S. Archivist

John Carlin, the former governor of Kansas, was confirmed as United States Archivist by the Senate on May 25. In less than 20 days, President Clinton announced the nomination of Carlin; the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee held a confirmation hearing; the committee met and unanimously recommended him to the full Senate; and the Senate approved the nomination. The Senate voted to confirm Carlin on a unanimous consent vote that included the confirmation of a long list of nominees.

The 17 organizations that opposed Carlin were successful in elevating an awareness of the issues at stake in this nomination. C-SPAN, National Public Radio, and the national press had features and editorials that explored the problems associated with a nominee who was long on political qualifications and short on professional expertise. Senators John Glenn (D-Ohio) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.) asked at the confirmation hearing a number of very tough and thoughtful questions that put Carlin on record regarding the need to be insulated from President Clinton, a friend whose presidential campaign he headed in Kansas, on Carlin's need to work with his critics, and on the importance of avoiding the kind of mismanagement problems—which were the subject of a 1992 Senate report—that occurred at the National Archives under former U.S. Archivist Don Wilson.

Funding for the National Archives and the NHPRC

The House has recommended a budget bill that includes numbers very close to the president's budget request for the National Archives and the grants program of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). The National Archives is slated to received about 1 percent less that the requested amount of $195.291 million. The amount earmarked for NHPRC grants is $4 million. This is $750,000 less than is currently available for competitive NHPRC grants.

The Senate has increased funding for both the National Archives and NHPRC grants. The Senate Treasury, Postal Service, and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee met on July 25 and recommended $199.63 million for the National Archives, an increase of approximately $6 million over the House amount, and $5 million, an increase of $1 million over the House figure, for the grants program of the NHPRC. Sen. Bob Kerrey (D Nebr.) introduced an amendment providing $4.5 million in additional funding for the National Archives. This money is earmarked for several electronic records projects, with $2.7 million for the development of an electronic finding aid that would link the finding aids of the presidential, regional, and Washington archives; $800,000 for the development of the National Archives's World Wide Web initiative; and $1.1 million to digitize key documents for use in classrooms and over the Internet. The bill also provides $1.5 million in repairs and alterations to Archives I and the regional archives buildings.

Senate Hearing on Smithsonian

In May the Senate Rules Committee held two days of hearings to consider the Smithsonian Institution's future management practices and its plans for avoiding controversies such as the one that surrounded the Enola Gay exhibit. Chair Ted Stevens (R-Ala.) said in his introductory remarks that the hearings “will provide the Smithsonian with the public forum necessary to explain what went wrong with their management practices, and what steps have been taken to correct the revisionist and ‘politically correct’ bias that was contained in the original script.”

Edward Linenthal, professor of religion and American culture at the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh and a member of the Advisory Committee on the Enola Gay exhibit, in testimony before the committee, stressed scholars' obligation to provide a comprehensive and balanced rendering of the past and discussed the tension that often occurs between the commemorative voice and the historical voice. Linenthal discussed efforts to revise the script but also talked about how the media coverage of the issue had been "distressingly irresponsible." He concluded by stating that "unlike totalitarian countries, we never want to give fuel to the impulse to sanitize history, to turn away from engaging our past in all its complexity. … Surely we can find ways to both honor the commemorative voice and respect the historical voice as we continue to create public history exhibits designed to inspire and challenge."

State Department Historical Advisory Committee

Professor Warren Kimball, chair of the State Department Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation, recently announced that it appears that access will be denied to key CIA documents that were to be included in an upcoming Foreign Relations of the United States volume dealing with policies in Japan over 30 years ago. Although there has been no formal notification, the committee expects a negative response from the appeals panel to their request for the declassification of CIA documents from the Kennedy administration pertaining to covert CIA operations to support conservative politicians in Japan in the 1950s and 1960s. The Advisory Committee plans to take a strong stand indicating that publication of a volume on Japan that omits these documents would result in distorted and inaccurate history.

Moynihan Holds Hearings on Declassification

The State Department authorization bill (P.L. 103-236) signed into law last year included a section that created a bipartisan Commission on Protecting and Reducing Secrecy. Headed by Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.), the commission will have two years to examine the implications of classification and declassification policies and make recommendations on how to reduce the volume of classified information and to strengthen the protection of legitimately classified information. The 12-member panel includes not only members of Congress but also individuals, including journalist Ellen Hume and CIA director John M. Deutch. Since May the Moynihan commission has held monthly hearings to gather information on current classification declassification policy and to identify the goals the commission hopes to accomplish in the next two years.

Gerald George Named Executive Director of the NHPRC

At a meeting on June 22 the National Historical Publications and Records Commission appointed Gerald George to serve as its executive director. George served as executive director of the NHPRC for four years prior to his resignation in October 1994. The commission voted to reappoint "its immediate past executive director to this position and asks that he resume his duties at the earliest possible date."

Folklife Center in Danger

On June 22 the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1854, the Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill, which provided zero funding for the American Folklife Center, located in the Library of Congress. Established in 1976, the center grew out of the Archive of Folk Song, which was founded in 1928 to preserve the raw materials of American folk songs. The center now holds an impressive collection of folk songs, folklore, and cultural artifacts, with over 1.5 million sound recordings, photos, manuscripts, and artifacts. The Senate, however, voted on July 20 to fund the Folklife Center at its current level. A Joint House-Senate Conference Committee will determine the fiscal 1996 funding level for the center.

— is the director of the National Coordinating Committee for the Promotion of History.

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