NCC Advocacy Update

NCC Advocacy Update, March 1994

Page Putnam Miller, March 1994

Assassinations Records Review Board Nominees Confirmed

On February 10, the Senate voted to confirm the president's five nominees for the Assassinations Records Review Board—Henry Graff, professor emeritus of history at Columbia University; Kermit Hall, dean and professor of history of law at the University of Tulsa; William L. Joyce, librarian at Princeton University; Anna Kasten Nelson, professor of history at American University; and John R. Tunheim, chief deputy attorney general of Minnesota. Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), chair of the Subcommittee on Government Information and Regulation of the Governmental Affairs Committee, chaired the confirmation hearing on February 1 for the president's nominees, all five of whom were present at the hearing. Lieberman's opening statement emphasized the importance of Public Law 102-526, the Assassination Materials Disclosure Act of 1992, for ensuring that federal agencies cooperate in making these unique records available to the public. He stressed the role of the review board in determining what constitutes an assassination record and noted that the intent of the law was for the board to operate from a strong presumption that favors full disclosure. Lieberman then recognized two senators, Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) and David Boren (D-Okla.), who introduced Tunheim and Hall, nominees from their respective states. It was particularly fitting that Sen. Boren could attend the hearing, for he and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) were the two primary sponsors of this legislation.

Following introductions, Lieberman offered the nominees an opportunity to make brief statements. All recognized the challenge of the task before them and accepted the responsibilities of carrying out the mandate of this law and of renewing confidence in the federal government by providing access to previously closed federal records.

Lieberman asked the five nominees three questions. First, he asked if they were comfortable with the legislation's presumption in favor of disclosure. All responded affirmatively. Second, he asked if they thought there should be an advisory committee or a special vehicle for receiving views from the public and the research community. The nominees recognized that dialogue with researchers would be important and agreed to explore the best ways to achieve this. Third, he reminded the nominees that they would have access to unique information and asked if they would be willing to refrain from using any information that they were privy to until that information had been made public. All agreed to this request of confidentiality.

In a strong closing statement, Lieberman reminded the nominees that the review board has significant powers to subpoena witnesses, hold hearings, and grant immunity in seeking the discovery and disclosure of pertinent records. He said that he hoped that they would not hesitate to use these powers but would use them wisely. Lieberman concluded by expressing to the nominees his confidence that "you are the right people for the job."

New Legislation to Provide Funding for Professional Training for History Teachers

On January 25, Representative Tom Sawyer (D-Ohio) introduced H.R. 3730, a bill to establish a professional development program for teachers in the core academic disciplines. For several years, the Dwight D. Eisenhower Professional Development Program has been providing funding to support and upgrade opportunities for math and science teachers to strengthen their competencies and incorporate new knowledge into their courses. Sawyer's bill would target more federal resources on training teachers and would expand the Eisenhower program to include history as well as the other core disciplines. "Teachers need to have access," Sawyer asserted, "to the kind of professional development opportunities that will help them make the information students learn—and the way they learn it— exciting, accurate, and meaningful." The proposal is designed to support a wide range of teacher enrichment programs with most of the money going to states and school districts but a small percentage being slated for national activities such as clearinghouse initiatives and the development of networks for the creation of professional development institutes.

Sawyer said the new Eisenhower Professional Development Program will be considered as an amendment to this year's reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, H.R. 6, the federal framework for the nation's education policy. The House Subcommittee on Elementary, Secondary, and Vocational Education, chaired by Rep. Dale Kildee (D-Mich.), will begin work soon on this larger piece of legislation. Rep. Sawyer reports that the Clinton administration supports his initiative and has worked closely with him in its development.

By broadening the scope of professional development beyond math and science to the other core disciplines, this legislation could significantly increase the opportunities for history teachers to enhance their subject area mastery and their teaching skills.

Government Information Locator Service

During the last two months, the NCC has participated in hearings and working groups to promote the establishment of an agency-based Government Information Locator Service (GILS). The purpose of GILS is to help the public locate and access public information throughout the U.S. government. The Office of Management and Budget, along with the Information Policy Committee of the Information Infrastructure Task Force, is collaborating on the development of a conceptual design document for GILS.

Many aspects of how GILS will be developed and maintained are still under discussion. Thus at this initial stage, the NCC has had the opportunity to raise questions about how GILS will be tied to the agencies and the National Archives' records management activities and to an understanding of the life cycle of records, that is, how records are created, used, and, if determined historically significant, preserved. In the age of electronic records, it is particularly important to determine, at the time of their creation, whether records will or will not require preservation. Since the National Archives works with agencies in developing records retention and disposition schedules, the NCC has urged that the National Archives be a part of the early identification of information available through GILS. A close relationship between the National Archives and GILS would facilitate the work of both agencies and the National Archives in establishing their inventory of records.

The conversations about GILS raise again distinctions between government information and federal records. At first, GILS will concentrate on information products and services. However, there is an expectation that GILS will eventually move into the area of identifying all federal information systems that are unrestricted.