NCC Advocacy Update, May 2000

Page Putnam Miller | May 1, 2000

Supreme Court Rejects Petition on Electronic Records

On March 6 the Supreme Court rejected the November 4, 1999, petition of Public Citizen. The petition, which was joined by the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians, the National Security Archive, the American Library Association, the Center for National Security Studies, and several researchers, requested review of a recent appeals court ruling that upheld National Archives' regulations that allow agencies to routinely destroy word processing and electronic mail records of historic value if an electronic, paper, or microform copy has been made. Because the Supreme Court accepts only about 3 percent of the petitions that it receives, the denial was not unexpected. The plaintiffs continue to be very concerned about this issue and are exploring other strategies for urging the preservation of electronic records.

Nazi War Criminal Records Working Group and Panel

A year ago President Clinton issued Executive Order 13110 that established the Nazi War Criminal Records Interagency Working Group. The order charged this group with locating, identifying, inventorying, recommending for declassification, and making available all classified Nazi war criminal records, subject to specified restrictions. As a part of this initiative, the working group has appointed a seven-member panel consisting of university professors, historians, and experts on Nazi Germany to advise them. Noted historian Gerhard Weinberg, professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, will serve as the chair of this historical advisory panel. Michael Kurtz, assistant archivist at the National Archives and the chair of the Interagency Working Group, applauded the appointment of the distinguished panel and said that he looked forward to working with the panel.

NEH Chair Testifies on Fiscal 2001 Budget

On March 23 William Ferris, the chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities, testified before the Subcommittee on Interior of the House Appropriations Committee. Representative Ralph Regula (R-Ohio), the chair of the subcommittee, presided. Also in attendance were Representatives David Obey (D-Wisc.), ranking minority member on the House Appropriations Committee; Joe Skeen (R-N.M.); George Nethercutt (R-Wash.); Norman Dicks (D-Wash.), ranking minority member; James Moran (D-Va.); Robert (Bud) Cramer (D-Ala.); and Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.). The one-hour hearing was a virtual lovefest as each of the eight representatives present joined in extolling the programs or NEH and praising Ferris's leadership. This hearing definitely illustrated strong bipartisan support for NEH.

In his opening statement Ferris stressed the ways in which the almost 40 percent cut in NEH's budget in 1996 had deprived Americans of many quality films and exhibits, and noted the opportunities that NEH had to pass up to enhance public education and to provide research assistance to scholars because of the budget cut. In advocating the administration's request for an increase from $115.26 million to $150 million, Ferris said that he recognized the challenges facing the subcommittee in making its budget decisions, but he asserted that NEH was the subcommittee's best investment for giving a significant return on tax dollars to the American people. Frequently during the hearing Ferris spoke of the ways NEH grants provide seed money that give a stamp of approval that then assists projects in gaining private sector support. Since its founding, Ferris said that NEH funding had leveraged $1.59 billion in private and corporate funds.

During the question-and-answer portion of the hearing, there was extended discussion of the ways that NEH can serve rural areas and small communities. Several members asked for more details about the kinds of programs that Ferris said would help the country to guard against "historical amnesia," a concern that historian James McPherson had raised almost a decade ago in testimony before Congress. There were also questions about the new NEH initiative to create regional humanities centers and about NEH's efforts to raise additional funds from corporations and foundations.

One part of the administration's budget proposal that was not discussed at the hearing, but which is of special interest to scholars, is the increase in the stipends for the approximately 170 full-year research fellowships that NEH awards. Since 1990 the stipend for yearlong fellowships has remained at $30,000, an amount that is well below the annual salaries of most applicants. In view of the need to continue to attract serious humanities researchers, the NEH would increase the level in 2001 to $35,000; and if additional funds are available, the following year that amount could be raised to $40,000. There is also a plan to phase in an increase for stipends for the approximately 130 summer fellowships from the current level of $4,000 to $5,000. At the hearing, Ferris emphasized the many NEH fellowships that had provided early research funds for projects that later became prizewinning books. Ferris noted that historian James McPherson (who delivered the 29th Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities on March 27), received an NEH fellowship that supported a portion of his research for the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for History, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era.

New Smithsonian Head Emphasizes Loans and Repairs

On March 8 Lawrence Small, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, testified before the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee on the 2001 budget request. Although Small assumed his duties at the Smithsonian less than two months ago, he spent the four months prior to his installation learning as much as he could about the history and traditions of the Smithsonian. He said the fundamental lesson he learned was that the Smithsonian is a monument to Americans' curiosity about the entire world and particularly to their curiosity about themselves. "No other institution, anywhere," he said "documents America and the American people so comprehensively."

Because Small is "convinced of the incomparable power of the Smithsonian to engage Americans in experiencing their history and their cultural and scientific heritage," he , is advocating that the Smithsonian expand its audiences by loaning its objects. "We should lend objects," he said, "to any museum in the United States that can responsibly receive and care for them." He notes that the Smithsonian has in its collections some 141 million objects and fewer than 2 percent of them can be on display at any one time. A second theme that Small emphasized in his testimony was the "shabby" state of the Smithsonian's physical facilities. "The buildings are emblems of the nation. They should," he said "inspire awe, and they should shine. I am committed to making them shine." Small concluded by stating that the fiscal 2001 budget request was formulated prior to his arrival. While he agreed with the overall priorities, he said he would be seeking approval and support for realigning portions of the base funding.

Archivist Testifies on Fiscal 2001 Budget

The House Subcommittee on Treasury, Postal Service, and General Government of the Appropriations Committee held an hour-long hearing on March 28 to hear the testimony of U. S. Archivist John Carlin on the administration's fiscal 2001 budget request for the National Archives and the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). The president has proposed $308.343 million for the National Archives, a $77.755 million increase over the fiscal 2000 level of $230.588 million, with most of the new money going toward the renovation of the Archives building on the Mall. The request includes $6 million for the grants program of the NHPRC. Representative Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.), the chair of the subcommittee, presided. Also attending were Representatives Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the Ranking Minority member, and David Price (D-N.C.). Kolbe began the hearing by commending Carlin's leadership and emphasizing the important mission of the National Archives.

Discussion of electronic records dominated much of the hearing. In his opening statement, Carlin announced plans for a major new collaboration with the National Science Foundation to create an electronic records archives. "In simplest terms," Carlin explained, "this electronic records archives will be able to preserve any kind of electronic record, free it from the format in which it was created, retain it indefinitely, and enable requesters to read it on computer systems now in use and coming in the future." Carlin also highlighted the collaborative work of the National Archives with the San Diego Supercomputer Center and the Department of Defense.

In the question-and-answer portion of the hearing, Kolbe focused on budget issues asking if the request for $88 million for the renovation could be phased in over several years instead of it all coming in the fiscal 2001 budget. Kolbe also tried to get an estimate of the projected costs for 2002 and beyond of implementing the electronic records projects. Kolbe said that he had heard some mention of the very rough amount of $130 million. Carlin responded by saying that it would be less than $130 million but more than the $88 million granted for the initial research.

Price asked questions about the time table for the electronic records project and about funding for the grants program of the NHPRC. Responding to the question on the time table, Carlin said that the National Archives would begin asking for sizeable amounts of money in fiscal 2002 for the implementation of the electronic records projects, some of which are now in the prototype stage while others are still in the research phase of theoretical concepts. He stressed that he anticipates that the electronic records project will not be fully operational until 2004 or 2005. In describing the stages of development, he said that making the State Department cables of the 1970s accessible electronically would be a priority for 2002. Responding to the question whether an increase in funding for NHPRC grants is warranted in the future, Carlin said that he thought the answer to that would evolve in the next few months.

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

Tags: From the National Coalition for History

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