Bill to Increase the NHPRC’s Reauthorization is Derailed in the Senate

What was expected to be a non-controversial committee markup of legislation (S. 2872) to reauthorize the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) resulted instead in the elimination of a proposed significant increase in the Commission’s spending level over the next five years.

As introduced by Senator Thomas Carper (D-DE), S. 2872 would have increased the NHPRC’s authorized spending level by $500,000 each year beginning at $13 million in fiscal year (FY) 2010 and ending at $15 million in FY 2014. However, when the bill was brought up for consideration before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, the Ranking Republican Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) balked at the proposed increase.

Senator Collins cited the fact that the NHPRC’s grant funding level had increased over the past four fiscal years from $5.4 million in fiscal year 2007 to $13 million in FY 10. Collins noted that the Bush administration had tried to eliminate the program, and called the proposed increase “fiscally irresponsible.” Senator Carper’s offered to compromise at a flat $13 million increase for five years. However, Senator Collins refused to yield and the bill as adopted keeps the NHPRC authorization level at $10 million from FY 10—FY 14.

Notwithstanding Senator Collins’s distorted use of the facts, the truth is that despite the increased appropriations over the past three fiscal years, the NHPRC has been woefully underfunded for decades. The NHPRC’s authorization level has been $10 million or less since 1991. Only three times in nearly 20 years has the NHPRC received an amount equal to or more than its authorized level. In addition, $4.5 million of NHPRC funding in FY 10 is earmarked for the project to make the papers of the Founding Fathers available on-line. So in reality, the amount that the NHPRC has to fund its traditional grants is actually lower than last year.

The bill as introduced also would have eliminated the current 4 percent cap on the amount of money the archivist may deposit into the Records Center Revolving Fund each year. NARA charges a fee to other federal agencies for storing their records in their regional archives facilities. NARA uses the money mainly for capital costs and renovations to maintain its facilities. Senator Carper stated that cap forced NARA to seek earmarks in appropriations bills for major renovations, and removing the cap would eliminate the need for such earmarks.

Senator Collins once again objected, arguing against removing the cap. She agreed to a compromise with Senator Carper to increase the cap to 10 percent rather than eliminate it. The Committee then agreed to the amended version of the bill by voice vote.

Committee Chairman Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) urges Sens. Collins and Carper to continue to work out their differences before the bill comes to the floor for a vote. So the hope is that the spending level will be increased before consideration by the Senate.

Legislation (H.R. 1556) to reauthorize the NHPRC was introduced in the House by Representative Wm. Lacy Clay (D-MO) earlier this year. That bill would reauthorize the NHPRC at an annual level of $20 million per-fiscal year for five years running from 2010-14.

NCH supports the proposed funding level in H.R. 1556.

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