Publication Date

October 1, 2005

Results of Investigation into the Humanities Endowment

Over the last two years this column has periodically reported on a pending investigation by the Inspector General of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) involving Julia C. Bondanella, a former employee of the endowment. The NEH was seeking federal prosecution of Bondanella for allegedly revealing information about pending grant applications, and for making public her views regarding the agency's use of "flagging" ("flagging" is the process by which topics that are considered to be controversial in nature—such as race, gender, and sexuality—are identified in advance and thereby given closer scrutiny during peer and agency review). Bondanella, now a professor of French and Italian at Indiana University at Bloomington, alleged the NEH investigation was "retaliation" against her for speaking truthfully. In late August, the Department of Justice announced it was declining the NEH's request to prosecute Bondanella. At the same time, in a separate finding, a Government Accounting Office (GAO) investigation into Bondanella's and other complainants' accusations against the NEH determined the complaints to be "unsubstantiated."

Bondanella joined the NEH in 2001 and left about a year later after she concluded that politics, not merit, was being used as a primary factor in the agency's grant review process. She emphasized this point in a news article critical of the NEH that appeared in theChronicle of Higher Education in January 2004. The NEH responded by threatening Bondanella with civil and criminal penalties for improperly disclosing information about the agency. If found guilty, Bondanella faced major fines and up to one year in prison. Sheldon Bernstein, the NEH’s inspector general, investigated the agency’s allegations and requested that the President’s Council on Integrity and Efficiency (PCIE) investigate whether the NEH had “retaliated” against Bondanella.

The PCIE's investigation also involved a consideration of an even more serious complaint filed by FraudNet, a web site set up by the GAO to report agency abuses of taxpayer money, in which it had been alleged that the NEH had misused funds when it created an office for its "We the People" project (a presidential initiative aimed to advance the public's understanding of American history and culture). The complaint also alleged that funds were improperly used to pay for luncheon meetings held by Lynne Munson, the NEH's deputy chairman. The PCIE determined the allegations against the NEH were "unsubstantiated."

With respect to the NEH practice of "flagging," Bernstein found that while the practice has become more commonplace, it does not have a substantial effect on the outcome of the awards made by the endowment.

Shakeups at the NEH: Cole to Stay but Other Senior Officials to Depart

On July 18 the White House submitted to the Senate the nomination of Bruce Cole for another four-year term as chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Cole's current term, which began in 2001, expires at the end of 2005.

However, assuming Cole is reconfirmed, two of his top aides—his current deputy, Lynn Munson, and his senior counselor and congressional affairs officer, Cherie Harder—won't be there to assist him. Harder has left to become one of six policy advisors to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.). And at this writing, Munson has not landed a job, though NEH insiders report she has "several irons in the fire." Tom Mallon, a former member of the NEH Council who was recently appointed by Cole as director of the Preservation Programs Division, has been named acting deputy chair.

Texas Sites Vie for Bush Library

President George Bush won't be completing his term of office for a few years, but nevertheless, a search committee led by Don Evans, former secretary of commerce, and Marvin Bush, the president's brother, are examining sites throughout Texas in an effort to find the home for the future Bush Presidential Library.

Formal bidding has not yet begun but several Texas universities, including Southern Methodist University, Texas A&M, and Baylor University, as well as the city of Arlington, Texas, have all cobbled together proposals and have begun lobbying to sway the committee to select their respective location for the library. The library is expected to cost as much as $200 million to construct and, like other presidential libraries, is expected to attract the interest of not just scholars but local officials who predict the library will bring in millions of dollars in annual tourism revenue.

A decision on the site may well be reached later this year. The city of Arlington feels it has an advantage over the competing universities. It has also been rumored that the Bush family will make Arlington their home after the president has completed his second term. In its effort to win the bid for the library the city joined forces with the Dallas Cowboys, the Texas Rangers, and the University of Texas at Arlington. City officials hope that their relationship with the president (which goes back to his days when he was part owner of the Texas Rangers), as well as the prime 30-acre location in the city's entertainment district will all work in its favor.

Officials at Texas A&M University believe that their College Station site has something that the city of Arlington cannot offer—the opportunity to host a father-and-son presidential library. The only other such presidential library is located in Massachusetts and is devoted to presidents John and John Quincy Adams. Baylor University has been lobbying for the library even before President Bush was elected to office. The campus features more than 100 acres of land that it is willing to donate for library purposes.

Academics have yet to officially weigh in, though in informal meetings with high-level White House officials representatives of the National Coalition for History have suggested that the selected site should be associated with a university-based research library or educational institution.

— BC

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