NCC Advocacy Update

NCC Advocacy Update, April 1994

Page Putnam Miller, April 1994

President's FY'95 Budget Request for History- Related Federal Programs

The Clinton administration requested $200.898 million for the National Archives for FY'95, which is almost a $5 million increase over the $195.482 million 1994 budget. Despite this increase, there will be reductions in 1995 in National Archives' basic operating budget. The increase, plus the reallocation of funds from other programs, will go for the additional $12 million needed in 1995 to meet the $29 million annual cost of Archives II, the new National Archives research facility in College Park, Maryland. The FY'95 budget reflects a $2.4 million reduction in personnel costs and a $1.7 million reduction in administrative costs. These reductions are a part of across-the-board cuts which are related to presidential initiatives for downsizing the federal bureaucracy.

The FY'95 budget will maintain funding for a number of other agencies at about the same levels as this year: the National Endowment for the Humanities at $177.491 million; the State Historic Preservation Offices at $31 million; the National Trust at $7 million; and the Tribal grants at $2 million. The only increase in the historic preservation fund for FY'95 is the addition of $2 million for historic black colleges.

The history-related program taking the biggest hit in the president's budget is the National Historical Publications and Records Commission's (NHPRC) grants program. The president earmarked only $4 million for NHPRC grants. With current funding at $5.25 million, this would represent a 23.8 percent cut in the already strained budget of the NHPRC. The NHPRC plays a key role in preserving this nation's history through grants to archives, colleges and universities, historical organizations, libraries, museums, state and local governments, and other nonprofit organizations to preserve and publish historical documents. Many records that document our history are poorly cared for and deteriorating, while others are minimally accessible because of inadequate finding aids. NHPRC has an outstanding record of making grants to edit and publish historical documents, to develop archival programs, to promote the preservation and use of historical records, and to support a wide range of other activities relating to America's documentary heritage.

Those who are familiar with the important work supported by the NHPRC should contact members of the House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittees to request that they maintain funding levels at $5.25 million, instead of the proposed $4 million. Members of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Treasury, Postal Service, and General Government are Chair Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Peter J. Visclosky (D-Ind.), William H. Natcher (D-Ky.), George W. Darden (D-Ga.), John W. Olver (D-Mass.), Tom Bevill (D-Ala.), Martin O. Sabo (DFL-Minn.), Jim R. Lightfoot (R-Iowa), Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), Ernest J. Istook, Jr. (R-Okla.). The address for these members is U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, DC 20515. Members of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Treasury, Postal Service, and General Government are Chair Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.), Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), Bob Kerrey (D-Nebr.), Christopher S. Bond (R-Mo.), Alfonse M. D'Amato (R-N.Y.). The senators' address is U.S. Senate, Washington, DC 20510.

Still No Word on Clinton Nominee for U.S. Archivist

One year after Don Wilson resigned as U.S. Archivist, Trudy Huskamp Peterson is still acting archivist and the White House has not indicated when a nominee for archivist will be selected. Last summer it appeared that Stanley Katz, president of the American Council of Learned Societies, would be appointed. But concern about possible opposition from a key senator caused the White House to back away from that nomination. The White House subsequently considered several other individuals, including Peterson, who holds a Ph.D. in history, is a former president of the Society of American Archivists, and is recognized for her leadership in the international archival community. Although there is considerable respect and support for Peterson within the Clinton White House, the leadership there seems to be leaning toward an outside candidate. Last fall and then again in January, the Office of White House Personnel interviewed Mary Maples Dunn, president of Smith College and a highly respected historian and college administrator.

Attention in February focused on Robert Hardesty, a consultant to the Lyndon Baines Johnson Foundation and a lecturer and writer, who along with his supporters, accelerated his efforts to seek the nomination. From 1965 to 1969, Hardesty served in the White House as an assistant to President Lyndon B. Johnson and from 1969 to 1972, he worked as a special assistant to the former president. During the 1970s and 1980s he served on several Democratic National Platform Committees and as a campaign consultant, and from 1981 to 1988, Hardesty was president of Southwest Texas State University.

The intent of the National Archives independence legislation was that the archivist be a nonpartisan professional, insulated from the political orientation of a particular administration. Disturbed at the prospect of a Hardesty nomination, the major historical and archival organizations have all gone on record stating that if Robert Hardesty is nominated, they would oppose the nomination. Opposition centers on two interrelated points. One concern is that Hardesty would politicize the National Archives and the other is that he lacks the professional qualifications to make objective, balanced decisions about sensitive issues. According to Edie Hedlin and Anne P. Diffendal, president and executive director, respectively, of the Society of American Archivists, Hardesty "is viewed as an active, partisan Democrat." Furthermore, they noted that he "lacks an advanced degree or other evidence of professional expertise that suggests particular suitability for the Archivist's position."

James B. Gardner, acting executive director of the American Historical Association, made a similar point in a letter to President Clinton stating that Hardesty's "lack of an advanced degree combined with his strong partisan political record means that he fails to meet the qualifications outlined in the legislation." In a joint letter to the White House, Eric Foner and Arnita A. Jones, the president and executive secretary, respectively, of the Organization of American Historians, also opposed the Hardesty nomination and stressed that "if confidence is to be restored in the management of the National Archives during your administration, it is imperative that an independent professional be appointed as its chief executive."

While the professional historical associations have not endorsed any particular candidate, they have indicated to the White House their support for highly qualified, nonpartisan individuals such as Stanley Katz, Trudy Huskamp Peterson, and Mary Maples Dunn. The National Archives faces many serious challenges and the time for the appointment of a respected leader is long overdue.

Declassification

On March 1, the Joint Security Commission, composed of representatives of the CIA and the Department of Defense, issued a 157-page report addressing measures for streamlining procedures for classifying and declassifying information. In charging the commission members with their task last May, Deputy Secretary of Defense William Perry and Director of Central Intelligence James Woolsey called for a new approach to security that is reoriented and based on "reasonable risk management" rather than "near absolute risk avoidance." They noted that the current security system is "fragmented, complex and costly." The report did indeed acknowledge that the current system for declassification does not work. While the report had very specific recommendations for handling the classification of future documents so that they can be declassified more expeditiously, the commission had little constructive guidance for the declassification of the enormous amounts of material over thirty years old that remains in locked file drawers. "Detailed review of these documents is not feasible," the report stated, "and arbitrary bulk or automatic declassification schemes are perceived as risking the loss of information that still requires protection." Thus the report concludes that line-by-line declassification is too expensive and time consuming and, at the same time, that agencies generally are not willing to declassify information without this kind of review. Although the report calls for automatic declassification of most information over twenty-five years old, the commission hopes to speed up the process in the future by applying this principle to the appropriate categorizing of classified information at the time it is created. This would undoubtedly facilitate the future release of information by eliminating the need for line-by-line review. However, even the report's recommendation of the principle of automatic declassification at twenty-five years is clouded by allowing information within several categories, some of which are vaguely stated, to remain closed. Since this is an internal report, it is unclear how it will now be used.

Despite the shortcomings of the commission's report, getting the issue on the table has been important. The encouraging word for historians is that the subject is now being widely discussed. If the executive branch does not want to deal with this issue, congressional leaders have indicated a willingness to tackle the problem.