On June 7, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census and the National Archives held a hearing to consider ways to strengthen the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). Subcommittee Chairman Wm. Lacy Clay has introduced legislation (H.R. 1556) to reauthorize the NHPRC at a $20 million level through fiscal year 2014.
Even before any witnesses testified, Republicans on the subcommittee chose to take a very hard line against any increase in the authorization level and also argued that the National Archives (NARA) needed the money going to the NHPRC to deal with federal records. The NHPRC’s appropriation had been made a target when House Minority Whip Eric Cantor put it on the “YouCut” list.
Throughout the hearing acting-Republican Ranking Member Jason Chaffetz attempted to discredit the witnesses and the importance of the grants program. He claimed that doubling the NHPRC authorization by $10 million would seriously exacerbate the federal deficit and duplicate existing programs at the National Endowment for the Humanities.
The first speaker was Representative John Larson (D-CT), who is the Speaker of the House’s representative on the NHPRC. Larson noted that he had co-sponsored H.R. 1556 and that “if the Commission had funded every eligible and qualified project in 2009, over $22 million would have been awarded.” Larson went on to note 90% of the NHPRC’s funding creates or saves jobs.
The third panel consisted of historian Michael Beschloss; Dr. Ira Berlin (representing the American Historical Association); Dr. Steven Hahn (Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania); Dr. Pete Daniel (representing the Organization of American Historians); Karen Jefferson, records manager at the Atlanta University Center, Robert W. Woodruff Library.
The final panel included Dr. Peter Gottleib (representing the Society of American Archivists); Ms. Barbara Franco (representing the American Association for State and Local History); Ms. Kay Lanning Minchew (representing the National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators); Ms. Susan Holbrook Perdue (representing the Association for Documentary Editing) and Ms. Barbara Teague (representing the Council of State Archivists).
All of the witnesses on the final two panels expressed their strong support for the NHPRC and for increasing the annual authorization to $20 million. Each witness demonstrated how NHPRC funds had assisted their constituencies in preserving, researching and interpreting historical records.
In addition, Dr. Gottleib, Ms. Teague and Ms. Minchew supported the creation of a new program for pass-through grants to states to assist in meeting their record-keeping responsibilities. The state program would also be authorized at the $20 million level. Legislation to create a “Partnership for the American Historical Record” (PAHR) program has been introduced in the House (H.R. 2256) and Senate (S. 3227). The PAHR legislation would establish a new federal program of formula grants to the states and territories to support archives and the preservation of historical records at the state and local level.