Publication Date

September 1, 1997

House Defeats by Large Majority Amendment to Eliminate NEH Funding

On July 15 the House resoundingly defeated an amendment to eliminate funding in fiscal 1998 for the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). The amendment introduced by Representative Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) was defeated by a vote of 328 to 96. One hundred thirty-two Republicans and 195 Democrats voted to defeat the amendment.

Representative Ronald Dellums (D-Calif.) summed up the debate saying that although he opposed the amendment, he felt that Chabot had done the House a service in allowing so many colleagues an opportunity to give eloquent testimony about the valuable work of the NEH. In the debate, which lasted over an hour, 22 members, including 4 Republicans, spoke in opposition to the amendment stressing the many and varied contributions of the NEH. Only 3 members rose in support of the amendment to eliminate funding for the NEH.

Arguing that the NEH benefits a small cultural bureaucracy, Chabot stated that money should not be taken out of the pockets of hardworking Americans to fund junkets for academic elites. NEH supporters responded by noting the many ways in which the ordinary Americans, not the academic elite, benefit from NEH programs. The latter cited the value of specific programs, such as the summer institutes for teachers, documentary films, and many humanities councils' programs that bring humanities programs to rural areas. The 22 supporters stressed that the NEH fosters creativity, teaches us as a nation who we are and what we might become, engages the public in lifelong learning, builds a sense of community, preserves America's history, enhances the soul of America, excels at creating a public-private partnership, nurtures critical thinking skills, and educates citizens about our democratic heritage.

After defeating the Chabot amendment, the House went on to pass the Interior Appropriations Bill, which included $110 million for the fiscal 1998 NEH budget. However, the House appropriations included no money for the National Endowment for the Arts and provided no block grants to the states for funding the arts.

Senate Appropriations Committee Endorses Subcommittee Recommendations for the National Archives and NHPRC

The Senate Appropriations Committee met on July 15 and endorsed the recommendations of the Senate Treasury, Postal Service, and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee for the budgets for fiscal 1998 for the agencies under its jurisdiction.

The Senate Appropriations Committee's markup of its appropriations bill includes $5 million for the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) grants program, a 25 percent increase above the president's request of $4 million. The NHPRC's grants program is currently funded at $5 million. The markup also includes $206.48 million for the fiscal 1998 operating budget for the National Archives. The archives' operating budget is currently $196.96 million and the president had recommended $206.47 million. In a separate line item, the markup designates $10.65 million for the repairs and alterations of the National Archives buildings, including the presidential libraries. This was an increase over the president's request of $6.65 million.

Supreme Court Denies Petition to Review Ruling on National Security Council Records

On May 27 the Supreme Court announced, without comment, its May 22 decision to deny the petition to review the case of Scott Armstrong, Public Citizen, the American Historical Association, the American Library Association, and the National Security Archive v. The Executive Office of the President, the National Security Council, and the National Archives. At issue in this case was whether the Nation, Security Council (NSC) is an “agency” under the Federal Records Act. The appeals court reversed the lower court decision and ruled that the NSC is not an agency and that its records are not federal records subject to the Federal Records Act but instead are presidential records subject to the Presidential Records Act. Unlike agency records, the records management of presidential records is not subject judicial review. Furthermore, a FOI request may not be filed for a presidential record until five years after the president has left office.

NHPRC Commission Unanimously Adopts Revised Strategic Plan

On June 19 the NHPRC met and unanimously adopted a strategic plan that significantly revises the plan that had been adopted last November. The November strategic plan had only two items in the top funding priority: funding for state records and electronic records projects. The revised plan, which will go into effect in 1999 and will determine the commission's allocation of grants, has three top-level funding priorities: assuring widespread access to the eight founding-era documentary editing projects, funding of state records projects, and supporting new opportunities posed by electronic technologies.

The revised plan calls for up to 60 percent of its appropriated funds each year to be devoted to the three top-level funding priorities and at least 40 percent of its appropriated funds for grants for other projects. As stated in the plan, the other category includes "projects to protect and otherwise make accessible historically significant records, to publish documentary editions other than the eight founding-era projects judged to be of critical importance, and to improve the methods, tools, and training of professionals engaged in documentary work."

In Surprise Move, the House Calls for Closing the Woodrow Wilson Center

The House Interior Subcommittee voted on June 17 to reduce funding for the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars by approximately 80 percent, giving the center a budget next year of only $1 million compared to $5.8 million this year, and requiring the center to use its fiscal 1998 funding to close down the program. In recommending this action, chair Ralph Regula (R-Ohio) cited a report on the Center by the Academy of Public Administration that found that the center's program lacked focus. The House Appropriations Interior Bill that passed on July 15 adopted the subcommittee's recommendation of $1 million for the Wilson Center in fiscal 1998.

There have been no congressional hearings on the possible closure of the Woodrow Wilson Center. The subcommittee asked no questions of the Wilson Center's director about the center's program and gave no warning to the center that such an action was pending. Established in 1968, the center has served as an academically oriented research memorial to President Wilson. The center plays an important role in fostering research on issues related to American and international politics by providing fellowships for for advanced study to distinguished scholars and others.

Fourteen Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee signed a "Dissenting Views" statement on the committee's Report on the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill, 1998 (Report 105-163) on the Wilson Center. The dissenting statement opposes the funding level adopted by the House Appropriations Committee. The major concern of the dissenting members was to clarify references to the National Academy of Public Administration's report on the center. The committee drew heavily on the academy's report to make the case that the Wilson Center had lost its public policy function, lacked a clear mission, had a faulty process for choosing scholars, and was not managed well.

The dissenting statement stressed that the National Academy's "review does not provide any quantitative analysis or substantive review of the scholarly outputs of the Center" and that the committee's report draws inappropriate conclusions from the "incomplete assessment" contained in the academy's report. Most important, the dissenting statement emphasized that the academy review suggests that it is highly possible for the Wilson Center to reinvent itself and that the center "merits continued support because it is in a position to play an important role in both the academic and public policy communities." Although the academy's report made a number of recommendations to improve the work and effectiveness of the Wilson Center, the dissenting statement points out that the committee's report "largely ignored these components of the report."

Conference on Fair Use in the Digital Environment Unable to Reach Agreement on Proposed Guidelines

On May 19 the participants in the Conference on Fair Use (CONFU) met to consider the comments that it had received on the December 1996 Interim Report, which contained the draft proposals for fair use guidelines in the areas of digital images, distance learning, and educational multimedia. The comments suggested that there was only limited support for the digital images and the distance learning guidelines. Although there was some strongly expressed support for the educational multimedia guidelines from a number of the organizations, the major organizations that represent users, universities, and libraries did not concur. It was clear from the meeting that the guidelines failed to achieve widespread support from both the copyright and the user communities. This was a point that Bruce Lehman, the assistant secretary of commerce and the Commissioner of Patents and Trademark, made in a speech on May 9 in which he stated his regret that the guidelines had not gained "widespread support."

During this contentious meeting, the Consortium of College and University Media Centers—which had started drafting possible guidelines of multimedia educational use four months prior to the convening of CONFU—stated that they planned to move forward with the dissemination and use of their guidelines with or without CONFU endorsement. They stressed that these guidelines had received strong endorsements and "they had no intention of pulling the guidelines back" Many in the higher educational and library communities expressed strong reservations about the educational multimedia guidelines, however, stating that they restrained fair use by their strict limitations. John Vaughn of the Association of American Universities called for general principles with examples of accepted practices, without rigid limitations that tend to diminish the "fair use" law which relies on judgments for individual cases.

In light of the general disagreement at the meeting, CONFU voted to expand the Executive Committee and to charge it with deciding how best to construct a final report, whether to reopen the digital image and distant learning guidelines to further refinement, and whether a year of testing and experimentation with the proposed guidelines would be useful. The meeting, which was intended to bring closure to this two and a half-year process, ended on a note of considerable frustration and confusion about appropriate next steps. CONFU will hold its next meeting a year from now in May 1998.

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