National Historical Publications & Records Commission Reauthorization

The National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) is the grant-making affiliate of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). NARA protects Federal records of historical value. The NHPRC was created along with the National Archives in 1934, and has had grant-making authorization since 1964.

The NHPRC is the only grant-making organization, public or private, whose exclusive mission is to provide national leadership in promoting the preservation and use of the materials of our nation’s documentary heritage. It accomplishes this mission by making grants to promote the preservation and accessibility of historical records and to publish, in print and/or electronically, the papers of significant figures and themes in American history.

The NHPRC has been characterized as “history’s venture capitalist”—through federal outright and matching grants, it successfully leverages private sector contributions to projects publishing the papers associated with nationally significant individuals and institutions. The NHPRC is currently helping to fund dozens of papers projects, including those of founders Franklin, Jefferson, Washington, Adams, and Madison; projects documenting the ratification of the U.S. Constitution and the First Federal Congress; the correspondence between Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony; and the Papers of Eleanor Roosevelt, George C. Marshall, Thomas A. Edison, Ulysses S. Grant, and Frederick Douglass. It has funded hundreds of projects designed to preserve records of enduring historical value.

In 2008, the Congress passed P.L. 110-404, which added several new grants programs to the mission of the NHRPC, including an important project to put the Founding Father’s papers on-line. The report (S. Rept. 110-525) of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs accompanying the law made it clear that new initiatives should not be undertaken unless the authorized funding level for the NHPRC grants program was raised and additional funds were appropriated.

The NHPRC’s most recent authorization, at an annual level of $10 million, expired at the end of FY 2009. Only twice over the past decade has the NHPRC received that amount and it has been chronically under-funded. While Congress can continue to fund the grants program without an authorization, it makes it more difficult to ensure that the NHPRC is not eliminated and is adequately supported by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees and the White House.

The historical and archival communities feel the NHPRC should be reauthorized at an increased level–$20 million a year for 5 years. This funding level is needed to maintain current programs, and assume the new responsibilities that Congress has placed on the agency. Otherwise the preservation of important historical documentation—the raw materials for future historians—will be jeopardized.