Senate Panel Issues Report on New NHPRC Grants Law

In October, Congress enacted into law, the “Presidential Historical Records Preservation Act of 2008” (PL 110-404, S. 3477) to promote funding to preserve, digitize, and provide online access to documents of historical significance that may not have received funding in the past. This week, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee issued a report (S. Rept. 110-525) making it clear it that the new programs created under the law should not supersede existing categories of grants in competing for National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) funds.

The committee report states NHPRC should have the discretion to determine what eligible programs are given priority out of existing funds. The Committee also supported providing the fully authorized amount of $10 million in annual appropriations for the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC).

The National Coalition for History opposed the original version “Presidential Historical Records Act” and in a letter to the Committee called for many of these same changes that were made in the bill before it was enacted and in the final report language. NCH argued that the new grants initiatives would put further strain on the already severely limited financial and human resources that the NHPRC has at its disposal. In addition, NCH argued that unlike NHPRC’s existing authorization statute, the bill as introduced removed the discretion of the Archivist and the Commission in making grants to non-federal entities in possession of presidential documents with historical value.

The law creates two new NHPRC grant programs.

The first would provide funding to institutions to preserve documents associated with presidents who do not have presidential libraries under the existing National Archives Presidential Library system. The National Archives and Records Administration currently manages and maintains 12 Presidential libraries (from President Hoover to President Clinton). However, there are many historically significant documents associated with presidents that preceded President Hoover which are not maintained by federally owned archival depositories.

The new law sets stringent requirements for entities seeking grant money under the new “Grants for Presidential Centers of Historical Excellence” program. Activities conducted under the grant process would have to be included in the National Archives annual budget filings.

Under the new law, the NHPRC could award grants on a competitive basis to public-private partnerships to enhance preservation and public access to historical presidential records that are owned by private libraries. Institutions applying for funds under this process must be either not-for-profit or owned by a state or local government. Entities competing for grants under the law would be required to receive matching grants from non-federal sources; ensure a plan is in place to preserve and provide public access to the historical documents; provide a facility that is capable of appropriately preserving the documents; and provide free public access to the documents.

The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs requires the NHPRC to issue a report identifying current entities that fit the requirements and would be able to apply for grants.

Under the second program, the National Archives could create an electronically searchable database of historic records of servitude, emancipation, and post-Civil War reconstruction contained within federal agencies for genealogical and historical research and to assist in the preservation of these records. The bill gives the NHPRC the authority to provide grants to states, colleges and universities and genealogical associations to preserve records and establish databases of local records of such information.

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