NCH Testimony on FY15 Proposed Budget for the National Archives & Records Administration

THE PRESIDENT’S PROPOSED FY 2015 BUDGETS FOR THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES AND RECORDS ADMINISTRATION (NARA) AND THE NATIONAL HISTORICAL PUBLICATIONS AND RECORDS COMMISSION (NHPRC)

Submitted by the National Coalition for History
to the Subcommittee on Financial Services & General Government
Lee White, Executive Director
202-544-2422, x-116
lwhite@historycoalition.org

May 2, 2014

The Honorable Tom Udall
Chairman
Subcommittee on Financial Services
& General Government
Committee on Appropriations
United States Senate
Dirksen Senate Office Building
Room 113
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Mr. Chairman:

The National Coalition for History (NCH) is a consortium of more than 50 organizations that advocates and educates on federal legislative and regulatory issues affecting historians, archivists, political scientists, teachers, students, and other stakeholders.

Summary:

The Obama Administration has recommended funding the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in fiscal year 2015, at a level of $377 million, a $9.5 million reduction from the FY 14 level of $386.5 million. Although we understand the need for fiscal austerity, we are concerned that the programs that NARA refers to as “citizen services” appear to be bearing a disproportionate share of the proposed cuts.

We are pleased to see that the administration is proposing an increase for the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) grants program—albeit a modest $500,000— bringing the agency’s funding up to a level of $5 million in fiscal year (FY) 2015. This program has seen its budget reduced dramatically in recent years. NCH urges the subcommittee to support funding the NHPRC at the $5 million level.

Thank you for the opportunity to submit our views on the National Archives and Records Administration’s (NARA’s) proposed fiscal year (FY) 2015 budget. As researchers and conservators of American history and culture we care deeply about the programs and activities of the National Archives and the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC).

National Archives and Records Administration

We understand that Congress continues to face enormous fiscal challenges in crafting the federal budget for FY 15. Although we’ve come to expect cuts as a result of these tight budget parameters, we are disappointed that the President has chosen to target programs at the National Archives that facilitate public access to the agency’s holdings and provide citizens with the historical context to appreciate and understand our democratic heritage.

NARA’s FY 15 Budget Justification to Congress, dated March 10, 2014, defines “citizen services” as providing “public access to and engagement with permanently valuable Federal government records by the researcher community and the general public at public research rooms, on-line at www.archives.gov/, and through innovative tools and technology to support collaboration with the public.”

Unfortunately, the proposed reductions in NARA’s budget include “reducing hours of operation at archival facilities” and, in the case of Alaska, closing the state’s only NARA facility in Anchorage. NARA also proposes to reduce funding for services that “promote civic literacy,” such as ending some online and physical museum exhibits and reducing spending on public education programs.

The National Coalition for History regrets the proposed closure of NARA’s Anchorage location and objects in principle to the closing of any archival facility that provides valuable services to the community. Although it is true that more records are becoming accessible to researchers online, it is nonetheless unfortunate that NARA has been forced to make a difficult decision such as this. We understand that NARA is working to address the concerns of historians, archivists, and researchers in Alaska, and we hope that the Archivist of the United States fulfills his stated promise to digitize materials in the Anchorage facility to ensure continued access to the records that will no longer be available in person.

The fate of the Anchorage facility is a manifestation of a more endemic problem.
The larger issue is the failure of both the White House and Congress to provide the agency with the funds it needs to fulfill its most basic function—providing citizens with access to the public records housed in NARA facilities.

The budget request for NARA in FY 15 is $10 million less than in FY 14. From FY 11 to FY 13, the agency’s overall budget was reduced from $416 million to $371 million. In fact, the FY 15 request ($376.7 million) in constant dollars is well below the appropriation the agency received in FY 2002 ($397.9 million). No government agency can absorb such significant decreases in funding without concomitant decreases in public services.

We repeatedly hear the adage that NARA, like all federal agencies, must learn to do more with less. But the reality is that the National Archives has, in fact, been doing more with less since it gained its independence from the General Services Administration in 1985. According to NARA’s 1985 annual report, the agency had 3,096 permanent and temporary employees that year. In FY 13, NARA had 3,172 permanent and temporary employees. That is a net gain of only 76 employees over 28 years. Since 1985, however, NARA has added five presidential libraries (for Carter, Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Clinton and George W. Bush). And NARA will soon be absorbing the major costs associated with the development of a new presidential library when President Obama leaves office in 2017. It has taken on the added responsibility of setting policy for, and oversight of, the government’s classification system—covering 71 federal agencies—through its Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO). It has added a Freedom of Information Act ombudsman, the Office of Government Information Services. It has added a National Declassification Center to expedite the release of classified records to researchers and the public. And it has had to meet an enormous technological challenge, after the use of the internet became pervasive, to develop and implement an Electronic Records Archive to address the proliferation of electronic records. At the same time NARA was also dealing with an exponential increase in the number of traditional archival records it had to process.

For too long Congress and the administrations of both parties have, unfortunately, come to treat NARA as a housekeeping agency—one that makes sure the Charters of Freedom are safe, that processes records, and that stores records in an orderly fashion so that a perceived limited universe of stakeholders can access them.

NARA’s Open Government Plan 2012-2014 includes this mission statement: “The National Archives serves American democracy by safeguarding and preserving the records of our Government, ensuring that people can discover, use, and learn from this documentary heritage. We ensure continuing access to the essential documentation of the rights of American citizens and the actions of their government. We support democracy, promote civic education, and facilitate historical understanding of our national experience.”

The National Coalition for History urges Congress to provide the National Archives and Records Administration with the additional funding it needs to enable it to meet its core mission. Providing the American public with access to the records we need to hold our government accountable is a basic right that we have as citizens. It is not a luxury that can be swept aside in the name of budget austerity.

National Historical Publications and Records Commission

The NHPRC enables the National Archives to provide leadership through grants that support exploration of major archival issues, such as preservation of electronic records, disaster preparedness, and coordination and communication among archivists nationwide. The agency also provides grants for the creation of documentary collections (books and electronic) of the papers of nationally significant individuals and institutions. As an example, it has funded an ongoing project to make the papers of the Founding Fathers available for free online. The NHPRC currently is developing new grant-making guidelines to facilitate the digitization of the projects it funds.

NHPRC grants leverage state, local, institutional, foundation, and other private funding by requiring 50 percent cost sharing—that is, every federal dollar invested is matched by a dollar from another source. NHPRC grants serve as the linchpin of many projects’ funding structures; without federal dollars, even long-standing projects could be terminated.

The Obama Administration has recommended funding the NHPRC grants program at a level of $5 million, a $500,000 increase from the $4.5 million it received in FY 14. This is the first time in five years that the NHPRC has not been targeted for cuts by the administration; its budget was slashed from $13 million in FY 10 to $7 million in FY 11 to its most recent low point of $4.5 million last year. As a result, while the number of applications has increased, the number of awards has dropped from 120 in FY 10 to 76 in FY 13.

For years the NHPRC has been threatened with elimination, and inflation has seriously eroded its funding level in constant dollars. For example, the $5 million in funding the administration is proposing in FY 15 is the same amount the commission received in FY 1990 and is only $1 million more than the appropriation it received in FY 1979.

Even with $5 million in funding, the NHPRC will be hard pressed to support its ongoing programs and implement its new digital initiatives. We urge Congress to support the administration’s request for increased funding for the NHPRC.

Thank you for the opportunity to submit these comments.