Publication Date

April 1, 1988

Perspectives Section


National Park Service Hearing

The House Subcommittee on National Parks and Public Lands of the Interior and Insular Affairs Committee, which has oversight responsibility for the National Park Service, held a hearing on February 23, 1988 to consider many of the broad implications of the Administration’s FY’89 budget request for the Park Service. Although the director of the National Park Service, William Penn Mott, stressed the strong commitment of the Park Service to the protection of natural and cultural resources, the Representatives’ questions, however, indicated that the limited budget request did not provide the necessary resources to meet the director’s stated objectives. Of particular concern to the members of Congress was recent legislation, intended to channel income from entrance fees into resource protection, had been used to offset operational expenses.

Testifying on behalf of the historical organizations, I concentrated on the important place of historical research in the total National Park Service program and on the inadequacy of funding for this crucial function. Recent assessment reports prepared by the National Park Service indicate that far too little is known about the historic resources in these parks. These reports conclude that 48 percent of the 36,689 historic sites in the National Park System are poorly documented, that 35 percent of the 15,267 structures are poorly documented, and 51 percent of the 2.5 million objects in the Park’s collections are fair to poorly documented. Many parks, however, have never had adequate funding or staff for historical research, and thus they have limited knowledge of the very resources the park was established to commemorate.

Federal Depository Library Program

Technological changes are raising some very basic questions about the future of the Federal Depository Library Program. Established by Congress to provide federal government information, with no charge to the public, the Federal Depository Library Program extends to 1,400 libraries across the country. The program is operated in conjunction with the Government Printing Office (GPO), which has traditionally distributed federal reports and information in paper and microform formats. Increasingly, however, federal information is being published through electronic means, making it essential for the public to have access to information in this format. The Public Printer, Ralph Kennickell, notified Congress in December that he will “seek proposals from interested vendors in the information services industry … for dissemination of government publications to depository libraries … at little or no cost to the government, possibly because of the development or enhancement of the vendor’s commercial interests.”

In the 1988 budget, Congress denied the Public Printer’s request for an additional $800,000 to develop pilot projects for testing electronic formats in depository libraries. Thus Kennickell is using existing resources to try to begin immediate dissemination of government information in electronic formats to depository libraries. These developments, however, raise questions about the procedures that the GPO will follow in testing various options for disseminating electronic information. It appears that the GPO plans to test only one of several alternatives. Of more serious concern is the long-term implication of the costs that will result from privatizing the delivery of federal electronic information. At this point the private sector is under no obligation to make government information available to the public at an affordable price, nor keep it easily accessible.

NHPRC Hearing

On February 17 the House Subcommittee on Government Information, Justice, and Agriculture of the Government Operations Committee held a public hearing on H.R. 3933, the National Historical Publications and Record Commission Amendments of 1988. H.R. 3933 authorizes appropriations at a level of $5 million for fiscal years 1989 and 1990, $8 million for FY 1991 and 1992, and $10 million for FY 1993. Thus the House bill differs in funding levels from S. 1856, which calls for $10 million for the next five years. Representative Jack Brooks (D-TX), the sponsor of H.R. 3933, appeared before the committee to express his strong support for the NHPRC’s work. He noted that along with Representative Glenn English (D-OK), the Chair of the Subcommittee, he is joined in introducing this bill by the ranking minority members of the full committee and the Government Information Subcommittee, Congressman Frank Horton (R-NY) and Al McCandless (R-CA). Brooks concluded his remarks by stating that he hopes to see swift action on his reauthorization legislation.

The three witnesses testifying on H.R. 3933 were Dr. Don Wilson, Archivist of the United States; Dr. Frank Burke, Executive Director of the NHPRC; and Charlene Bickford, speaking on behalf of the NCC. All three witnesses urged a funding level of $10 million annually for the next five years. Bickford spoke of the far reaching impact of NHPRC-supported publications and records projects. Since the inception of the grants program, Bickford noted the NHPRC has provided leadership for first, a revolution in the publication of documentary sources and then, since 1974, a movement to preserve primary sources relating to our history and culture.

In addition to discussing the NHPRC grants program, the members of the subcommittee questioned the Archivist about the role of the National Archives in implementing the Presidential Records Act and the steps taken to carry out the recommendation by the Iran-Contra Committee that the Archivist be consulted to ensure compliance with the Act. Wilson said he could not comment directly on matters relating to Iran-Contra since it is still under investigation but that the National Archives felt that some “very effective” procedures for ensuring full documentation were in place. In answer to questions about preserving electronic records, he pointed out that while the National Archives is doing extensive research on this problem “we may need additional resources to work with agencies to ensure they fully understand the applicability of the Federal Records Act to such records and to ensure their proper management throughout their life cycle, including their authorized disposition.”

Administration’s FY’89 Budget Requests

The Administration has recommended for the National Endowment for the Humanities funding in FY’89 at precisely the FY 1988 level, $140,435 million. Incorporated within this level funding approach are a few changes from the current budget. Slight reductions are proposed in the areas of education programs, fellowships and seminars, state programs, general programs, the Office of Preservation, and challenge funds. Treasury funds and research programs budgets would remain at the same level of funding, while administrative funds would increase by 4 percent.

The National Archives is slated for a small increase from $116 million in FY’88 to $117,862 million in FY’89. While this budget includes some new money for the Reagan Library, the opening of a significant part of the Vietnam records, and various special administrative costs, the net result of this budget for the National Archives is level operational funds.

The President’s budget has once again recommended zero funding for the grants program of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the Historic Preservation Fund’s matching grants to the States.

Abandoned Shipwreck Act

In December the Senate passed S. 858, the Abandoned Shipwreck Act, which has been jointly referred to the House Merchant Marine and the Interior Committees. On February 24 the House Interior Committee approved the bill but no action has yet been taken by the Merchant Marine Committee. The archaeological community has given strong support to S. 858, which would give states clear title to historic shipwrecks in state submerged lands. The intent of the legislation is that states should manage these resources so that everyone can benefit from them. In the absence of federal law clarifying jurisdiction over historic shipwrecks embedded in state submerged land, litigation over the authority to manage shipwrecks has cost states millions of dollars.

Page Putnam Miller
Page Putnam Miller

University of South Carolina