NCC Advocacy Update, March 1996

Page Putnam Miller | Mar 1, 1996

Update on Funding for Cultural Programs under Latest Continuing Resolution

On January 26, just as the third continuing resolution expired, the Congress passed and the president signed the fourth continuing resolution. Thus another government shutdown was avoided. 5ince the appropriations bills that include the National Archives, the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, and the Library of Congress have been passed, the fiscal 1996 budgets for these agencies were not affected by the continuing resolution. However, for the agencies that come under those seven appropriations bills that have not passed, such as the Interior Appropriations Bill, the terms of the fourth continuing resolution are of great importance.

The fourth continuing resolution covers the period January 27 to March 15. There is a provision in the fourth continuing resolution to fund agencies at a level equivalent to at least 75 percent of last year's levels. However, in special negotiations, congressional leaders decided that the 75 percent floor would not apply to some of the agencies.

Agencies that come under the Interior Appropriations Bill are funded in the fourth continuing resolution at the following levels. The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the National Endowment for the Arts are both funded at $99.5 million, which is a 44 percent reduction for the NEH from its fiscal 1995 budget. The Institute for Museum Services is funded at $21 million, a 25 percent cut from its fiscal 1995 budget, and there is a 5 percent cut from fiscal 1995 levels for the state historic preservation programs, a 15 percent cut from fiscal 1995 levels for the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and a 50 percent cut from last year's level for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The Fulbright program of international scholarly exchanges comes under the Commerce, Justice, State, Judiciary, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill, which also had not passed when the third continuing resolution expired. Since this program is grouped in a line item appropriation with other programs, it is unclear at this time what its precise level under the fourth continuing resolution will be, but it appears likely that it will be in the neighborhood of $100 million, which is a 15 percent cut from its fiscal 1995 level of $118 million. The Department of Education's Fulbright-Hays Program, which focuses on area studies and language, is funded at $4.3 million, a 25 percent cut from the $5.79 million level of last year's budget. (see page 38 of this issue of Perspectives for additional details about the current continuing resolution.)

Plantation Life Exhibition Rejected by Library of Congress Opens at Public Library

On December 18, just two hours after installing Back of the Big House: The Cultural Landscape if the Plantation, the Library of Congress dismantled the exhibition due to employee complaints. However, the Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Library, the main public library of Washington, D.C., showed the exhibition in its entirety during most of January, The only change was in the title of the exhibit, which became The Cultural Landscape of the Plantation, Andrew Venable, the deputy librarian of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Library, stressed that the exhibition needed to be shown, stating, "It's not until those kind of things are exposed or out in the open that one gets an opportunity to heal. It is part of our history. It’s a reality." In a press release, the Martin Luther King, Jr., Library noted that the exhibit “offers an uncommon perspective of plantation life, one from the view point of the slaves,”

Archivist Comments on Access to Nixon Material

To date, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has made available to the public only 63 hours of the approximately 4,000 hours of conversations taped by former U.S. president Richard Nixon. The law requires NARA to review the tapes and Watergate-related material to determine which parts must remain closed because they are private or because they include sensitive national security information and which parts can legally be released to the public. In 1987, when the National Archives completed its review of the tapes and prepared a 25,000-page finding aid, there were indications that the tapes would be opened in 1991. This did not happen. In a 1992 lawsuit, which is currently in court-ordered mediation, historian Stanley Kutler and the group Public Citizen charged Don Wilson, who was then archivist of the United States, with unreasonably delaying access to 4,000 hours of Nixon tapes.

In light of considerable discussion about Oliver Stone's film Nixon, the current U.S. archivist, John Carlin, recently made the following statement on the status of Nixon tapes and Watergate-related material in the custody of NARA: "Dealing with the Nixon tapes and Watergate material is one of my major challenges as archivist, but I want you to know I am committed to our mission of ready access to essential evidence. Therefore, I am looking at all the steps we can take to expedite the review and opening of all releasable Nixon materials. I am involved in a court-ordered mediation to try to resolve conflicting interests and lift the court restriction. I have inherited a situation with little flexibility, but I will do what I can, including continuing to search for a way to free us from the court prohibitions." A number of historians have noted that the many distortions in the Stone movie on Nixon make even more compelling the need to release the tapes and other Watergate-related material.

The GPO Plans for Electronic Depository Library Program

In December the U.s, Government Printing Office (GPO) released a report titled The Electronic Federal Depository Library Program: Transition Plan, FY 1996-FY 1998, The plan states that the GPO "expects that nearly all of the information provided through the Federal Depository Library Program will be electronic by the end of fiscal year 1998:' Currently there are about 1,400 depository libraries, with at least one in every congressional district and many associated with universities. The Federal Depository Library Program, which guarantees public accessibility to federal information at no cost to the user, has been a vital component in the overall federal information policy.

Many in the scholarly and library communities applaud the GPO's commitment to providing government information electronically; however, this report does raise concerns about how the majority of Americans—who still rely on information in a paper format—will gain access to government information during this transition period; how long-term access will be ensured; and how many of the depository libraries will be able to become electronically capable in the period allowed. The plan does state that about 15 titles will continue to be available in paper. This core group includes the Congressional Record, the United States Congressional Serial Set, the Federal Register, the Budget of the United States Government, and Foreign Relation, of the United States, the documentary history series of the State Department.


Page Putnam Miller is the director of the National Coordinating Committee for the Promotion of History.


Tags: From the National Coalition for History


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