REPORT OF THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR NATIONAL COALITION FOR HISTORY ACCOMPLISHMENTS FY-2007
(Prepared by Lee White, Executive Director, December 20, 2007)
December 1, 2007, marked my first anniversary as Executive Director of the National Coalition for History (NCH). It is hard to believe that 12 months have passed since my predecessor Bruce Craig spent a month prepping me for what has been the most rewarding year of my professional career.
NCH has accomplished much in the past year. Perhaps the most noticeable change was our redesigned website that debuted last April. Thanks to the generosity of the History Channel, we were able to create a state-of-the-art internet presence. As a result of the blogging ability the site offers, there were literally times this year that I was able to post agency funding levels from a House or Senate appropriations subcommittee markup within an hour of the end of the hearing.
It has been a very busy year on Capitol Hill and with the federal agencies of interest to the historical community. Here is a wrap-up of some of the major stories of 2007.
For the first time in over a decade, the Democrats had full-control of the Congress, and with it came the ability to use congressional committees to impose meaningful oversight on the Bush administration. Unfortunately, partisan bickering reached new heights between the two parties resulting in inevitable gridlock. And, as 2007 draws to a close the inter-party squabbling generated by the presidential campaigns has only made things more complicated.
1. Presidential Records Reform Act & AHA Litigation
Perhaps no issue affecting the historical and archival communities benefited from the ascendancy of the Democrats to power more than the now six year battle that the historical and archival communities have waged to overturn the Bush administration’s Executive Order (EO) 13233. Under the Presidential Records Act, presidential records are legally required to be released to historians and the public 12 years after the end of a presidential administration. In November 2001, President George W. Bush issued EO 13233 giving current and former presidents, their heirs or designees, and former vice presidents broad authority to withhold presidential records or delay their release indefinitely.
As 2007 draws to a close, I am happy to report significant victories on both the legislative and judicial fronts.
On Capitol Hill, a bill (H.R. 1255) to overturn Executive Order 13233 overwhelmingly passed the House by a vote of 333-93 in March. At the time the legislation was considered in the House, the Bush administration issued a threat to veto the bill, but it passed by a veto-proof margin.
Similar legislation cleared the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee by voice vote this past summer. However, when the Democratic leadership sought to bring the bill to the floor on September 24, Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY) objected to consideration of the bill.
NCH led a coalition of organizations that met with the staff of Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to lobby to have the bill brought to the floor despite Bunning’s hold. On December 18, 2007, Senator Bunning did lift his hold. However, when the Democratic leadership sought Republican approval to bring the bill to the floor under unanimous consent, we learned another unnamed Republican had placed a hold on the bill. We will not be able to identify the person until the Senate reconvenes in late-January.
While this is disappointing, we should take heart in the fact that we have been able to force three different Republican senators to lift their holds on the bill, and that the Majority Leader has been willing to take the bill to the floor twice.
The historical and archival communities also scored a major victory in the federal courts.
Less than a month after EO 13233 was issued, a lawsuit was brought by Public Citizen on behalf of itself, the American Historical Association (AHA), National Security Archive (NSA) Organization of American Historians (OAH), Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, American Political Science Association (APSA) and historian Stanley Kutler against the federal government questioning the order’s legality.
After years of filing and counter-filings, on October 1 a federal district court judge gave historians and researchers a partial, but significant victory in the suit. Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly struck down the section of the EO that allows a former president to indefinitely delay the release of records. However, the judge did not rule on the constitutionality of the Executive Order itself, narrowly crafting her decision to address only specific provisions in the order.
Unfortunately, Judge Kollar-Kotelly did not rule on the legality of the sections of the Executive Order allowing heirs and designees of former presidents, and former vice presidents, the authority to control the release of documents, calling them “unripe” since no records have yet been withheld pursuant to those provisions. However, the judge left open the right for the plaintiffs to challenge these provisions in the future.
In late-November, the Administration chose not to appeal the decision.
2. Federal Appropriations
The battle between the congressional Democrats and the White House over providing funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan caused a delay in the final passage of a federal budget for fiscal year 2008. On December 19, 2007, the Congress finally passed the FY ’08 budget, and the President is expected to sign it.
The omnibus funding package incorporated the eleven fiscal year 2008 appropriations bills that had not yet been passed by Congress. What follows are the numbers for programs of interest to the historical and archival communities. In general these programs saw significant increases in funding or were level funded.
- National Archives and Records Administration (NARA): The bill includes $315 million for operating expenses of NARA. This amount reflects a significant $35 million increase over FY ’07 and is $2.1 million more than the Administration’s request. Congress directed that the amount above the request should be targeted first to restore the public research hours that were cut in October 2006, and then to hire more archivist staff. The bill includes $58 million for the Electronic Records Archives project. It also includes $28.6 million for repairs and restoration of Archives’ facilities, an increase of $12.7 million over FY ’07.
- National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC): The NHPRC will receive $9.5 million, with $7.5 million allocated to grants and $2 million for operating expenses. This reflects an overall $2 million increase over last year. The Bush administration had once again sought to eliminate the program. As a result, NHPRC was specially targeted by NCH lobbying efforts, so this is a major victory. In report language, the Appropriations Committees expressed concern about the length of time it was taking to complete the publication of the Founding Fathers historical papers and instructed the Archivist to accelerate the process.
- Teaching American History Grants (Department of Education): The Teaching American History Grants program was funded at a level of $120 million, up slightly from the $119.7 million in FY ’07. However, the Administration had proposed cutting the program to $50 million, so again this is a victory for the historical community.
- National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH): NEH would receive $147 million, a $6 million increase over last year. But after many years of cuts and level funding even this modest increase should be seen as a victory. $132.5 million in funding is allocated to Grants and Administration and $14.5 million for matching grants. Among major programs, Federal and State Partnerships will receive $32.2 million, Preservation and Access $18.6 million, Public Programs $12.9 million, Research Programs $13.2 million, Education Programs $12.8 million, We the People Initiative Grants $15.2 million and the Digital Humanities Initiative $2 million.
- National Park Service: The bill provides $25 million in funding for the Centennial Challenge program. The Centennial Challenge is a ten-year initiative to generate $2 billion in public and private matching grants to prepare for the Park Service’s Centennial celebration in 2016.
The bill includes $7.5 million for the Preserve America program and $15.5 million for the Heritage Partnerships program. The bill also allocates $71.5 million for the historic preservation fund program. Within that account the Save America’s Treasures preservation grants program received $25 million, with $11.2 million in grants to be awarded through the normal competitive process and $13.8 allocated to specifically earmarked projects.
- Smithsonian Institution: Despite the rocky year the Smithsonian experienced in 2007, Congress reaffirmed its commitment by providing major budget increases for the Institution. The bill includes a total of $693 million for the Smithsonian, an increase of $58.2 million over FY ’07 and an increase of $15 million over the Administration’s request. The bill also includes $15 million to establish a Legacy Fund. The new fund is intended to provide a means to address the $2.5 billion backlog of major repair and restoration of the Institution’s facilities that now exist. The Legacy Fund has been designed as a public-private partnership whereby each federal dollar provided must be matched by twice that amount in private contributions before the full $15 million is made available. Assuming that the Smithsonian can raise the $30 million, the Legacy Fund would provide $45 million above the amount already included in the Facilities Capital account that is allocated $107 million in FY ’08.
- Institute of Museum and Library Sciences (IMLS): IMLS would receive $268 million, a $21 million increase over FY ’07.
3. Smithsonian Institution
2007 was perhaps the most tumultuous year in the history of the Smithsonian Institution. On March 26, Roger W. Sant, chairman of the Smithsonian’s Board of Regents Executive Committee announced that Secretary Lawrence M. Small, had resigned. Small was finally brought down by a series of articles published in March in the Washington Post exposing questionable expenses incurred by Smithsonian Secretary. Thus, ended the controversy filled, seven-year reign of the 11th Secretary of the Institution.
Cristian Samper, director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, was named Acting Secretary while the Regents conduct a nationwide search for a permanent replacement.
Later in the year, Deputy Secretary Sheila Burke and the Chief Executive Officer of Smithsonian Business Ventures Gary Beer also resigned under fire.
In the fall the Smithsonian television channel quietly made its debut on satellite provider DirecTV. Ironically, development of the channel was one of the contributing factors to the departures of Small and Beer. It generated a great deal of controversy when the Smithsonian Institution first announced its exclusive deal with the Showtime Networks, Inc. to develop a television network nearly two years ago.
The Smithsonian claims that the fears that access to their holdings by filmmakers would be impacted have proved unfounded. From Jan. 1, 2006 to Aug. 3, 2007, the Smithsonian said it received more than 210 requests to film at the Institution. Of these, only two were declined due to the creation of Smithsonian Networks.
4. Freedom of Information Act Reform Bill
Legislation (S. 2488) to implement the first reforms to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in more than a decade has been sent the President’s desk for signature after Congress passed the Openness Promotes Effectiveness in our National Government Act (OPEN Government Act). The bill cleared Congress in mid-December.
The legislation improve transparency in the Federal Government’s FOIA process by:
- Restoring meaningful deadlines for agency action under FOIA;
- Imposing real consequences on federal agencies for missing FOIA’s 20-day statutory deadline;
- Clarifying that FOIA applies to government records held by outside private contractors;
Establishing a FOIA hotline service for all federal agencies; and
- Creating a FOIA Ombudsman to provide FOIA requestors and federal agencies with a meaningful alternative to costly litigation.
NCH issued a legislative alert urging passage of the FOIA bill and was involved in a broad-based coalition that worked to push passage of the legislation.
5. Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library
On September 24, by voice vote, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1664, a bill that would authorize the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to make pass-through grants towards the establishment of a Woodrow Wilson presidential library in Staunton, Virginia. A private foundation currently owns and manages Wilson’s birthplace, a museum and library in Staunton.
H.R. 1664 only authorizes that Federal funds can be used to make grants to the Wilson library. Separate language in an appropriations bill would be needed to provide the Archives the funds needed to make the grants.
In addition, the legislation sets stringent requirements that must be met before any federal dollars may be appropriated. First, the private entity running the Wilson library must certify that it has raised double the amount of the proposed federal grant from non-Federal sources. Second, the grant is conditioned on the Wilson library coordinating its programs with other Federal and non-Federal historic sites, parks, and museums that are associated with the life of Woodrow Wilson. Finally, the bill prohibits the use of Federal grant funds for the maintenance or operation of the library.
The legislation also makes it clear that the library will not be considered part of the existing Presidential Library System and that the National Archives will have no involvement in the actual operation of the library.
The bill had the unanimous support of the Virginia delegation in the House. Companion legislation (S. 1878) has been introduced by Senator James Webb (D-VA), with the co-sponsorship of Virginia’s senior Senator John Warner (R-VA). The bill has been referred to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs (HSGA) Committee.
While the Bush administration took no position on H.R. 1664, the National Archives has sent a letter to the Senate in opposition to the bill. Archivist Allen Weinstein does not feel that NARA should be used as a pass-through for federal funds to a private entity. Private institutions usually receive funds through specific earmarks in appropriations bills.
NCH has been asked by the Senate HSGA Committee to submit comments on the bill. In the past, the NCH opposed similar legislation since it could set a precedent of funding private presidential sites with NARA funds. However, the Executive Director of the Wilson Presidential Library has asked the NCH to reconsider its position, and the institution has joined NCH. The legislation is on the agenda for consideration by the NCH Board at its January 2008 meeting.
6. Testimony and Regulatory Issues:
- On March 1, 2007, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census, and the National Archives held a hearing to consider presidential records; specifically the impact Executive Order (E.O.) 13233 has had on the disposition of those materials. Representatives from four NCH member organizations testified at the hearing: Steven L. Hensen, Past President of the Society of American Archivists; Dr. Anna K. Nelson representing the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations; Tom Blanton of the National Security Archive; and Dr. Robert Dallek representing the American Historical Association. Also testifying was Scott Nelson of the Public Citizen Litigation Group, the lead counsel in AHA’s lawsuit in federal district court noted above.
- On November 13, 2007, the National Coalition for History (NCH) submitted comments on a proposed regulation issued by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) implementing changes in the management of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) dealing with, among other issues, the handling of presidential records. The section of the proposed regulation dealing with presidential records stated that “incumbent and former presidents have at least 90 days in which to invoke Executive Privilege to deny access to the requested information.” NCH asserted that the section runs counter to the recent decision in American Historical Association v. National Archives and Records Administration, Civ. No. 01-2447 (CKK), Slip op. at 34 (D.D.C. Oct, 1, 2007), which said it was unlawful for NARA to rely on Executive Order 13233, Section 3(b) that allows former presidents an unlimited amount of time to review FOIA requests. The comments also pointed out that the proposed regulatory changes to FOIA ran counter to regulations already issued by NARA to implement the President Records Act that allows the Archivist to disclose any records at his discretion after a former president has had at least 30 calendar days to review them. NCH’s comments mirrored those submitted by its Policy Board member, the National Security Archive.
7. Comings and Goings
- On August 30, the National Park Service (NPS) announced the long-awaited selection of Dr. Robert K. Sutton as Chief Historian of the National Park Service. Dr. Sutton has been Superintendent of the Manassas National Battlefield Park since 1995. Dr. Sutton assumed his new position on October 1, 2007. The Chief Historian position had remained vacant for over two years since the retirement of Dr. Dwight Pitcaithley in June 2005.
At the National Archives and Records Administration, three senior officials announced their departure or retirement and one important vacancy was filled.
- J. William Leonard, Director of the Information Security Oversight Office, who retired from the post at year’s end, agreed to become Senior Counselor to Archivist Allen Weinstein beginning in January 2008.
- On October 1, Executive Director Max J. Evans announced that he would be retiring from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) on January 31, 2008. Mr. Evans, who was appointed in January 2003, will be assuming a new position with the Latter Day Saints Church Historical Department in Salt Lake City, Utah. No timetable has been given for the naming of a replacement.
- In April, John Constance, Director of Congressional Affairs and Communications, departed after serving as the National Archives liaison to Capitol Hill for 14 years. Susan Cooper was named acting director of Congressional Affairs and Communications, and David McMillen assumed responsibilities as acting congressional liaison within the Congressional Affairs and Communications staff.
- Terri Garner was named as the new director of the William J. Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas. From 2005 to the present, Ms. Garner served as Executive Director of the Bangor Museum and Center for History. Garner assumed her duties on November 5, 2007.
II. HISTORY COALITION INITIATIVES
1. NCH Collaborative Efforts
Because of our small size, the National Coalition for History engages in collaborative efforts with other like-minded groups to achieve results on Capitol Hill and with federal agencies.
- In April, the National Coalition for History, the American Historical Association and eighteen other organizations wrote to U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein to express concerns about the possible destruction of records relating to the cases of detainees being held at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The organizations’ letter asked the Attorney General and the Archivist to ensure that a complete set of the records is retained, as a set, in order to ensure an accurate historical and legal record.
- In May, NCH intervened in a dispute over accessibility to records at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). LANL decided it would no longer permit historians and other researchers to have access to its archival records because Los Alamos National Security (LANS), the private contractor that now operates the Lab, said it had “no policy in place” that would allow such access. Alex Wellerstein, a graduate student at Harvard had sought copies of Lab records on the history of nuclear secrecy policy, and he had been led to believe that access to such material would be granted, in accordance with past practice. Instead, Mr. Wellerstein was told that he should pursue his research through the Freedom of Information Act. NCH mobilized other like-minded groups and spoke directly with officials at LANL, which later clarified its access policies.
- The membership of the House Humanities Caucus that was initiated in 2005 grew to more than 79 members in 2007. Under the leadership of Representatives David Price (D-NC) and Phil English (R-PA), the caucus became a vehicle to build Congressional support for increasing the funding levels for the NEH and the NHPRC. The Senate Cultural Caucus chaired by Senators Ted Kennedy (D-MA), Mike Enzi (R-WY) and Norm Coleman (R-MN), now has more than 30 members. Once again, during the National Humanities Alliance annual lobby day event, history coalition representatives played an important role in securing member “sign-ons” to the new caucus.
2. Formula Grant Initiatives:
Two state-based formula federal grant programs continue to mobilize towards the introduction of legislation in Congress. A few years ago an effort was initiated by several history coalition member organizations to create federal formula grants for the museum community. The NCH is a founding member of the “Federal Formula Grant Coalition,” being led by the American Association for State and Local History. It is likely that legislation will be introduced in Congress in 2008.
The archival community continues to work towards the introduction of legislation to establish its Partnership for the American Historical Record (PAHR) initiative, a state-based formula grant program for archives. NCH member organizations the Council of State Archivists and the Society of American Archivists have found a congressional sponsor for their bill and it will likely be introduced in the House in January 2008..
3. Lost/Stolen/Missing Documents Initiative:
Since 2003 the NCH has informally monitored various on-line auction sites for lost, stolen, or missing artifacts and manuscript materials. With a grant of $20,000 provided by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), in 2004, the NCH began systematic monitoring of auction sites. However, with the departure of former-Executive Director Bruce Craig, NCH has not renewed its arrangement with NARA.
4. Federal Records Advisory Boards:
This year, I continued to attend and monitor the activities of the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO), Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB), the State Department’s Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation, the Advisory Committee on the Records of Congress, and the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC).
III. EDUCATION AND OUTREACH
1. Conferences and Presentations:
A major goal that I set for 2007 was strengthening ties with member organizations: To that end, this year I attended meetings and/or participated in panel discussions at meetings of the American Historical Association, Council of State Archivists, Organization of American Historians, Society for Military Historians, Society of American Archivists, Southern Historical Association, Association for Documentary Editing, and National Council on Public History.
I made a presentation on legislative advocacy during the National Humanities Alliance’s Lobby Day event. On Tuesday, March 27, 112 humanities advocates visited more than 150 House and Senate offices representing 26 states and the District of Columbia. These grassroots advocates distributed issue briefs and state grant data, and asked members of Congress to support increased funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities and National Historical Publications and Records Commission.
I was a guest lecturer at an introductory public history course at the George Washington University.
2. Publications and Action Alerts:
Throughout the year the NCH continued to provide the historical and archival communities with the weekly electronic communication, the NCH WASHINGTON UPDATE. Despite the switch of the UPDATE subscription management from H-NET to in-house, direct subscriptions to the UPDATE have increased to approximately around 1,750 direct subscribers. We currently have 102 subscribers to our RSS feed. We continue to have secondary distribution through the SEDIT list of documentary editors, as well as through a direct link from George Mason University’s History News Network web page. Since we now control our membership database it provides us with firm numbers as who our readers are and what institutions receive the update.
NCH columns continue to reach a broad but targeted audience of historians (30,000), museum professionals (10,000), and archivists (4,000) through the newsletters of professional organizations. These include the American Historical Association Perspectives, the Organization of American Historians OAH Newsletter, the Society of American Archivists Archival Outlook, the National Council on Public History Public History News, and the American Association for State and Local History AASLH Dispatch. Articles and news briefs were also reprinted in institutional supporter newsletters and online via the History News Network.
IV. NCH ADMINISTRATION
One of the things I have tried to do in my first year is to move NCH from a “mom & pop” operation to modern business practices. We’ve made a lot of progress, but we still have a ways to go.
1. Website, Congressional Quarterly and CapWiz:
Soon after taking over, I met with Roy Rosenzweig and his staff to outline the parameters of the project, and a contract was signed with the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University to develop our new website. The History Channel agreed to pay for the entire upgrade in return for a sponsorship logo on the site. The new website features include a blog, links to member organizations and government contacts, briefing papers, and .html delivery of the weekly Washington Update.
In January, NCH signed a contract with Congressional Quarterly.com to provide federal legislative and budget tracking at a cost of $10,500. Subsequently, the National Humanities Alliance agreed to share usage of CQ with us, cutting the cost to $5,250 for NCH. CQ has proved invaluable in providing information on the federal budget before it is available publicly. And its bill search and bill tracking ability has freed up a great deal of my time.
The Cap Wiz legislative grassroots-lobbying tool was put to a much greater use than in years past. In March when the House was about to consider the presidential records bill, we were able to generate 1,750 e-mails to Congress in 5 days. CapWiz was also used to generate grassroots lobbying for funding for the NHPRC, National History Day, and NEH. It was also targeted at Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY) in an effort to get him to lift his hold on the presidential records legislation.
2. Combined Federal Campaign:
Once again the National Coalition for History was accepted into the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) for the 2008 work-place fund-raising drive. The history coalition participates in that campaign as a member of the Conservation, Preservation Federation of America (CPCA). NCH received a total of $7,858 in CFC donations last year and halfway through this year we have received $3,900.
In the effort to comply with federal regulations requiring an annual audit, independent auditor Jeff Secker of Secker and Associates P.C. was engaged for the third year in a row to perform the annual audit. In order to facilitate the audit and better maintain the history coalition’s financial records we replaced a part-time bookkeeper with a professional accounting firm at minimal additional cost. NCH submitted an application to the Internal Revenue Service to make the organization’s 501(c)(3)-tax status permanent that is pending.
4. Membership Update:
NCH’s membership stands at 51 organizations, which counts all those groups whose dues are current. We have counted 78 organizations on our membership roster in recent years. Although a number of them have not paid dues for more than a year, they continue to be listed as active members. The vast majority of these are in the contributing member category (< $999 annually). Nonetheless, I plan on redoubling efforts to bring these smaller groups back into the fold in 2008. This coming year, for the first time we have a computerized membership database with updated contact information, which should make it easier to reestablish contact with these smaller groups. I am also going to switch from paper (snail-mail) invoices, to sending electronic invoices directly to the treasurer or relevant contact for the organization. With many of these smaller groups, as the leadership turns over, regular mail tends to get misdirected to the wrong person and the dues are never paid. Membership dues are tracked by our accounting firm, so now I can identify when checks were received from an organization. Instead of billing all NCH members in January as we have in the past, I am going to try billing organizations in the quarter in which their contribution was received in 2007. This will avoid the situation where organizations that paid in the fall get another invoice in January. As a result, many are less likely to renew. The other major reason to do this is to improve the cash flow of NCH. Since a majority of groups pay right after they are invoiced in January, we have a large amount of cash reserves in the first quarter and then by the end of the fiscal year we are left in a precarious financial state. NCH welcomed the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library as a new member this year. We have also received a verbal commitment from the Civil War Preservation Trust to join by the end of the year. We are also awaiting word from a very large non-profit that has an internal request pending before its leadership to join NCH. Also, a number of member organizations raised their contribution levels in 2007: the American Historical Association, the Society for Historians of American Foreign Policy, the Society of American Archivists, the History Channel, the Council of State Archivists, the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference, the Association of American University Presses, the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians, the Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture, and the Center for History & New Media To date, several member organizations have yet to submit their annual donation, have not meet donation targets, or have reduced their annual contribution. We had only one sustaining member ($3,000+) reduce their contribution this year and we lost only two institutional members ($1,000+). These include the National History Center, ABC CLIO, Western History Association, National Council for the Social Studies, American Society for Environmental History, California Council for the Promotion of History, Conference Group for Central European History, Coordinating Council for Women in History, Florida Council for the Social Studies, Forest History Society, German Studies Association, H-NET, Indiana Association of Historians, Institute for Historical Study, the Manuscript Society, National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators, New England Historical Society, Polish American Historical Association, Society for the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era, Society for History Education, Inc., Society for Spanish and Portuguese Historical Studies, the Societies of California, Ohio, Southwest Archivists, and the Southern Association for Women Historians.