NCH Asks Congress to Increase Funding for NARA & NHPRC

On April 30, 2008, the National Coalition for History (NCH) submitted testimony to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government on the fiscal year 2009 budgets for the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). NCH urged that the NHPRC be funded at the fully authorized level of $10 million, plus an additional $2 million for administrative costs. NCH also called for any funding needed to recover millions of lost White House e-mails to be taken out of the budget of the Executive Office of the President and not NARA. To read the entire statement click on the “Read the Full Article” button at the end of this paragraph.

STATEMENT FOR THE RECORD ON THE PROPOSED FY 2009 BUDGETS FOR THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES & RECORDS ADMINISTRATION (NARA) AND THE NATIONAL HISTORICAL PUBLICATIONS & RECORDS COMMISSION (NHPRC)

Lee White
Executive Director
NATIONAL COALITION FOR HISTORY
400 A Street S.E.
Washington D.C. 20003
(202) 544-2422 Ext # 116

April 30, 2008

The Honorable Jose E. Serrano
Chairman
Subcommittee Financial Services
& General Government
Committee on Appropriations
U.S. House of Representatives
B-300 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Mr. Chairman:

The National Coalition for History (NCH) is a consortium of over 60 organizations that advocates on federal legislative and regulatory issues affecting historians, archivists, teachers, researchers, and other stakeholders. As researchers and conservators of American history and culture we care deeply about the programs and activities of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Thank you for the opportunity to submit our views on NARA’s proposed fiscal year (FY) 2009 budget.

First, we want to thank you Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Regula and all of the members of the subcommittee for their strong support of NARA’s budget in FY 2008. We especially want to acknowledge the extra funding you included to restore the research room hours that had been cut by NARA in 2006 and for the money that was provided to hire additional archival staff. And we were pleased that despite the tight budget parameters last year, you were able to provide NARA with increased funding.

We understand that Congress continues to face enormous fiscal challenges in crafting the federal budget for fiscal year 2009. While we are encouraged that NARA would again receive increased funding under the President’s proposed FY 2009, we feel the budget is inadequate in some areas with regard to specific priorities that need to be addressed at NARA. Without adequate funding to address these needs, NARA may once again find itself forced to cut research hours or public programs. We hope that this Subcommittee will provide adequate funding to ensure that NARA does not have to perform triage on its own programs.

Below are the National Coalition for History’s specific concerns with the proposed FY 2009 budget for the National Archives and Records Administration:

1. National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC): For the fourth consecutive year, the President has proposed zero funding for the NHPRC. We strongly oppose this irresponsible recommendation and request the Subcommittee provide FY 2009 funding at the fully authorized level – $10 million for the NHPRC national grants program and an additional $2 million for staffing and related program administration.

We appreciate the Subcommittee’s strong support for the NHPRC in last year’s budget. You not only saved the NHPRC from elimination, but also provided $7.5 million for grants, a $2 million increase from the previous fiscal year. However, the NHPRC has not received its fully authorized amount of $10 million since FY 2004. In the following three fiscal years the NHPRC only received only half that amount, or approximately $5 million per-fiscal year.

The NHPRC leverages every federal dollar with private sector contributions at a level approaching 50%. As a consequence, the Commission has been able to fund a wide variety of programs by combining private sector funds with a small federal investment. However, the annual uncertainty over the survival of the NHPRC and an unpredictable funding level makes it difficult to attract private capital. NHPRC grants are the linchpins for the funding structure of most projects. Loss of the NHPRC’s funding will have a domino effect causing funding from other sources to be withdrawn or reduced.

Without critical NHPRC funding, award-winning biographies of American presidents and the founding fathers from such noted historians as David McCullough, James Patterson, Joseph Ellis, and others might never have been written.

At a recent hearing in the Senate, David McCullough called for a doubling of funding for the Founding Fathers projects that receive NHPRC support. Mr. McCullough said “you can tell a lot about a society by how it spends its money. Here is our chance, and it’s long overdue, to show what we care about, what we value, and what we’re proud to pay for.”

In order to ensure that the important work of the NHPRC continues, we urge the Subcommittee to support a FY 2009 funding level of no less than $10 million for the NHPRC grants program, and an additional $2 million for staffing and related program administration.

2. Presidential Transition and Missing White House E-mails: As you know, there has been on-going controversy, and litigation, over millions of White House e-mails that are either missing or have been destroyed. In addition, evidence has emerged that numerous White House employees used the Republican National Committee’s e-mail system to conduct official government business outside of the White House computer system, thus circumventing the Presidential Records Act.

At three recent hearings before various House committees, Archivist Allen Weinstein and other senior staff of the National Archives and Records Administration have failed to give a definitive answer as to how both these issues will be resolved prior to the end of President Bush’s term in January 2009.

In a hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on February 26, 2008, we learned that the White House had not responded to multiple requests from NARA requesting information about the missing e-mails. At that hearing Archivist Weinstein said the White House had been “sensitized” and that progress was now being made, but no details were provided as to where the situation stood.

At the April 1, 2008, hearing before this Subcommittee, Archivist Weinstein once again declined to provide details on the status of the situation saying that some progress had been made, but that there still had not been a complete accounting of the missing e-mails. Dr. Weinstein said that further details about a recovery plan would be forthcoming after an upcoming meeting with the White House. To our knowledge, to date the results of those negotiations have still not been made public.

As recently as April 23, 2008, at a hearing before the Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census and National Archives, NARA General Counsel Gary M. Stern said that there had been greater cooperation by the White House in working on the presidential transition, but again no details were provided as to the status of the missing e-mails or recovery costs.

On February 26, 2008, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing on the missing White House e-mails. At that hearing, Ms. Theresa Payton, the Chief Information Officer (CIO) of the Office of Administration (OA) in the Executive Office of the President (EOP) was asked the following question by the Committee’s Ranking Republican Member Thomas M. Davis about the cost of recovering the missing e-mails from the disaster backup tapes of the White House servers.

Mr. DAVIS OF VIRGINIA. Well, can you give me a ballpark number if we had to go to the backup (tapes)? Assume for a minute we can’t recover the originals of this. To get what the Committee wanted to, if we had to go to backup, can you give me a ballpark?

MS. PAYTON. And I believe–and I am working off of memory here–but I believe we had said if we restored every single day from the original analysis, it was going to be somewhere in the ballpark of $15 million or more.

The end of President Bush’s term is now less than nine months away, but we have yet to see a firm recovery plan emerge from these meetings between the White House and NARA. If these hundreds of days of e-mails are truly missing, and not destroyed, the question becomes where is the $15 million or more estimated by Ms. Payton to recover these White House records going to come from?

Our concern here is obvious. The fear is that NARA will be forced to find the funds from elsewhere in its budget to recover the e-mails, leading to cuts in other vital programs and/or public services. Our other fear is that after President Bush leaves office in January, the urgency to spend this large amount of money to recover these vital historical records may wane and they may never be recovered.

When a similar situation concerning missing e-mails occurred at the end of the Clinton administration, the White House’s Office of Administration was forced by Congress to absorb the cost of recovery. Since this Subcommittee has jurisdiction over the budget of the White House’s Office of Administration, we strongly urge you to follow the Clinton administration precedent and mandate that whatever funds are necessary to recover the missing e-mails come out of the OA’s budget and not that of NARA.

We also urge you to include report language mandating that a recovery plan, including specific deadlines and costs, be provided to the Appropriation Committees as soon as possible after an appropriations bill or continuing resolution is enacted later this year. Congress must ensure that the White House is held accountable for this situation before January 20, 2009, the day the responsibility for these records, as they may exist on backup tapes, devolves on NARA. Under no circumstances should the National Archives be forced to bear the financial burden for the mismanagement of the Bush administration in failing to carry out its legal responsibilities to preserve these vital presidential records.

3. Funding for Hiring Additional Archival Staff: We were pleased to see that the President’s request includes an additional $1.6 million to add 15 archivist positions to the Presidential Library system. The recent controversy over the release of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s papers from her time as First Lady brought to public attention the need for additional archival staff to address the enormous backlog of materials that need to be processed not only at the presidential libraries but also throughout NARA. If appropriated, these additional funds, along with the $800,000 in funding this Subcommittee added last fiscal year to hire additional archivists, will begin to address the problem of under-staffing at NARA.

Unfortunately, the reality is that NARA’s archival staffing level has remained stagnant for many years while the number of records that need to be processed has continued to grow exponentially as the use of electronic records has proliferated. While it is unrealistic to think that the staff shortage will be solved in a single fiscal year, we are encouraged by the fact that that the problem has been recognized and is being incrementally addressed. We hope that additional funding will be provided over the next few years to continue to remedy NARA’s archival staff shortage.

4. Repairs & Restoration: We are disappointed to see the dramatic $20 million cut in NARA’s FY 2009 proposed budget for Repairs and Restoration down to a level of $9.2 million. Report language to the FY 2008 appropriation for NARA states:

NARA is directed to update its comprehensive capital needs assessment for its entire infrastructure of presidential libraries and records facilities. The fiscal year 2008 President’s Budget provided funding for ongoing repairs only to records facilities, leaving presidential libraries-some of which are in major disrepair-sorely in need of support and at risk for flooding and other potential dangers. The Appropriations Committees urge that the fiscal year 2009 President’s Budget include funding for both records facilities and presidential libraries.

Despite this clear mandate from the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, the Administration has chosen to cut funding for the restoration of facilities already in the Presidential Library system while at the same time expending funds elsewhere in NARA’s budget to prepare for the George W. Bush Presidential Library.

A perfect example of the maintenance needs faced by some presidential libraries is the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, New York. The FDR Presidential Library was the first, and is the oldest, in the presidential library system. Much of the library’s infrastructure such as heating and air conditioning, as well as fire safety and security systems are dangerously out-moded and violate industry standards for the preservation of archival materials. The electrical wiring dates back to the library’s opening in 1941, the basement often floods due to an ancient septic system and the roof and flashing leak.

We urge this Subcommittee to disregard these proposed cuts in NARA’s Repairs and Restoration budget and to provide adequate funding to restore the presidential libraries that are already in NARA’s system.

5. Office of Government Information Services (OGIS): Late last year, President Bush signed into law the “Open Government Act of 2007” (Public Law 110-175). The law requires the establishment of an Office of Government Information Services within the National Archives and Records Administration. Within that office a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) ombudsman is to be appointed to review agency policies and procedures, audit agency performance, recommend policy changes, and mediate disputes between FOIA requestors and agencies.

Unfortunately, when President Bush sent his proposed FY ’09 budget to Congress, no funding was included for the establishment of the OGIS at NARA. Instead, the President proposed language to move OGIS to the Department of Justice, and to repeal the language in the Open the Government Act placing OGIS at the National Archives.

Congress’s intent on this was clear when it passed the law and the White House should not be allowed to capriciously remove this statutory responsibility from NARA. There is an inherent conflict of interest in placing the OGIS at the Department of Justice. We urge you to provide the funding necessary to establish the OGIS at NARA

6. “Snapshot” of Federal Agency Websites: In the weeks since the Subcommittee’s NARA appropriations hearing on April 1st, a situation has arisen that we feel merits your attention. NARA recently announced a decision to not capture and preserve a “snapshot” of government web pages at the end of the current Administration as it previously did in 2001 and 2005. Federal websites are federal records and, therefore, must be treated as such and preserved appropriately. NARA also captured House and Senate public web sites as they existed prior to December 11, 2006, at the end of the 109th Congress (2006). A precedent, thus, has been clearly established for this important method of preserving a moment in our country’s history.

In recent weeks, NARA has issued two memorandums stating the reasons for this decision:

  • Lack of resources;
  • There is no requirement that agencies perform a snapshot if NARA does not do so;
  • Existing, private entities such as the Internet Archive (www.archive.org) already record federal web pages; and
  • NARA does not consider such a project to possess enough historical value to warrant conducting and preserving a government-wide web snapshot.

The work of organizations like the Internet Archive, while valuable, does not supplant the responsibility of our national government to protect and document its own history. Depending on private, non-profit organizations to preserve our Nation’s digital history poses serious future risks. A NARA snapshot of federal agency web sites at the end of an Administration is as critically important as the snapshots of the White House and Congressional web sites, both of which NARA has said it will perform at the end of this year.

A snapshot of federal web pages is, indeed, of great historical value. They provide the public with an image and understanding of the government at a particular point in time that can be then compared and contrasted with other such images over Administrations. As Congress and Federal agencies continue to perform more of their work online, proactive and detailed digital archiving is essential for public awareness and government accountability.

While NARA claimed a lack of resources as part of the rationale for not performing this snapshot, the agency did not provide a cost estimate. As a result, we cannot request a specific figure for you to fund for this effort. Nonetheless, we urge you to require NARA to continue its web-harvesting program by archiving a snapshot of all federal web pages at the end of the current presidential term. Not capturing federal web sites now may mean losing millions of pages created during the Bush administration. Allowing such a loss is contrary to the core mission of the National Archives and Records Administration.

7. Electronic Records Archive (ERA): We feel that the Electronic Records Archive program merits the increased funding proposed by the President in his FY 2009 budget. However, we share the concerns that members of this Subcommittee have expressed about the ERA program remaining on schedule and budget. This program is vital not just to NARA but also to the entire federal government and the historical and archival communities. We were encouraged by the testimony provided by Dr. Weinstein and his senior staff that payment is now being tied to the contractor meeting specific performance milestones. We are confident that this Subcommittee will continue its vigorous oversight of the ERA program and ensure that it comes on-line later this year.

Again, thank you for the opportunity to provide this testimony regarding NARA’s budget for FY 2009, and for your past strong support for its mission of preserving our Nation’s history.

Sincerely,

Lee White
Executive Director
National Coalition for History

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