Advocacy

NCH Marks Numerous Achievements in 2014

Lee White, February 2015

In 2014, the National Coalition for History had a highly successful year advocating for federal programs that affect the historical community. Over recent years, in a progressively hostile budget environment, NCH has been able to fend off draconian cuts to most programs of interest to our members. NCH has also continued to transform itself into an organization that is able to respond to situations not just at the federal level but at the state and local levels as well.

NCH improved in our efforts to educate our constituent organizations (and potential members) about our important contributions in the past, and how the coalition will continue to play a vital role in policy making in the future. NCH created an infographic, or “e-brochure,” that was made available to existing and prospective members and completed a re-branding that included a new logo and changes to our social media sites. The brochure is available here: historycoalition.org/brochure/. Development of a new website is also underway with an expected completion date in early 2015.

Below is a summary of NCH’s major accomplishments in 2014.

Enactment of ­Presidential and Federal Records Act Amendments

President Obama signed into law the Presidential and Federal Records Act Amendments of 2014 (PL 113-187). This is a major victory for NCH and the historical community. We have been advocating for the passage of Presidential Records Act (PRA) reform legislation since 2001, when President Bush issued an executive order restricting public access to presidential records.

The new law is designed to expedite the release of presidential records. Former and incumbent presidents will be subject to specific time limitations as they review records for constitutionally based privilege against disclosure.

The law also includes provisions to strengthen the Federal Records Act by ­expanding the definition of federal records to clearly include electronic records. This is the first change to the definition of a federal record since the ­enactment of the act in 1950.

National Women’s History Museum ­Commission Legislation

In November, legislation (S. 398) to create a commission to study the potential creation of a National Women’s History Museum was passed by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. In May, NCH sent a letter to the bill’s sponsor, Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), withholding our support unless changes were made to the original bill. NCH’s concerns were addressed in the amended bill passed by the committee. As a result, NCH sent a letter to Senator Collins in November endorsing S. 398.

Senator Collins added the language we requested: that an individual with “experience as a professional historian with expertise in women’s history” be appointed to the commission. The House passed a similar bill (HR 863) sponsored by Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) last spring without these qualifications.

A strategic decision was made by the Democratic leadership in the Senate to add the National Women’s History Museum commission bill to a “must-pass” defense authorization bill for which amendments were not allowed. Unfortunately, the legislators adopted the language from the House bill, which did not include the language regarding historians that Senator Collins had agreed to. Nonetheless, NCH and the AHA have received assurances that the historical community will be consulted in identifying qualified historians to serve on the commission.

Federal Freedom of ­Information Act (FOIA) Advisory Committee

In June, Archivist of the United States David Ferriero appointed me to serve on a federal advisory panel designed to develop recommendations for how to improve ­implementation of the Freedom of Information Act. NCH is one of only 10 private sector organizations with appointees to the committee. In October, the panel held its second meeting, where it sought to refine the issues on which it will focus over the next 18 months.

Fiscal Year 2015 Federal Funding

On December 16, President Obama signed into law the $1.1 trillion FY2015 Omnibus Appropriations bill that will fund federal government operations through September 2015.

NCH and its constituent organizations ­effectively mobilized their members to contact Congress concerning funding for the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), theNational Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the National Park Service, Title VI/Fulbright-Hays International and Foreign Language Education, and other federal programs. Senior staff members at the affected federal agencies have credited these efforts with preventing deeper cuts or elimination of programs.

One highlight is a modest $500,000 increase for the NHPRC, raising its budget to $5 million. This represents the first increase in the NHPRC’s budget in six fiscal years.

Congressional History Caucus

In 2013, NCH collaborated with Congressmen John Larson (D-CT) and Tom Cole (R-OK), and co-chairs Congressmen Ander Crenshaw (R-FL) and Bill Pascrell (D-NJ), to create a Congressional History Caucus. Its aims are to provide a forum for members of Congress to share their interest in history and to promote an awareness of the subject on Capitol Hill. The House caucus will have to be reestablished in the 114th Congress, so NCH will be mounting an aggressive recruitment campaign this year. NCH will also be working toward ­establishing a Senate History Caucus in 2015.

American Community Survey

In December, NCH submitted a statement to the US Census Bureau urging it to retain Question 12, the Undergraduate Field of Degree, in the American Community Survey. This question provides crucial data about the value of a history degree. For example, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences relies on the data derived from Question 12 to prepare its Humanities Indicators report, which analyzes earnings and occupations of humanities majors.

Adjunct Faculty Loan Fairness Act

In July, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) ­introduced S. 2712, the Adjunct Faculty Loan Fairness Act of 2014. The bill would allow part-time faculty—who are often paid low wages with few benefits—to be eligible to participate in the federal student loan forgiveness program for public servants. NCH sent a letter to Senator Durbin supporting passage of S. 2712 and will seek to recruit cosponsors when the bill is reintroduced in the 114th Congress.

Supporting New AP History Framework

Throughout 2014, the new framework for the College Board’s AP US history curriculum and exam sparked controversy across the country. Conservative opponents maintained that the teaching of “traditional” American history—for example, the contributions of the Founding Fathers and the theme of American exceptionalism—were being deemphasized in the curriculum in favor of so-called “revisionist history,” which allegedly painted America in a negative light.

In September, NCH sent a letter to the state boards of education in eight states (GA, TN, LA, SC, NC, TX, CO, NV) supporting the College Board’s decision to make the AP history course and exam flexible and reflect ongoing developments in scholarship. NCH’s letter to the state boards is referenced on the College Board’s website.

K–12 History Education

In July, NCH submitted a letter to the US Department of Education requesting that history and civics education be considered a priority in allocating funds through the agency’s discretionary grant programs in the same way that STEM education is treated.

In May, rumors spread on the Internet that the Boston Public Schools (BPS) system was eliminating its history and social studies department. NCH sent a letter to the BPS seeking assurances that this was not the case. Shortly thereafter, NCH received a response from BPS Interim Superintendent John ­McDonough confirming that the ­department was not being eliminated.

Recruited Genealogy Groups to Join NCH

In July, NCH welcomed the Records Preservation and Access Committee (RPAC) to the coalition. RPAC is comprised of the National Genealogical Society (NGS), the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS), and the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS). FGS represents hundreds of genealogical societies, and NGS and IAJGS represent over 9,000 genealogists. As some of the most frequent users of archival records, genealogists add a large, politically active ­constituency to NCH.

Lee White is executive director of the National Coalition for History.

© 2015 The National Coalition for History


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