FISCAL YEAR 2009 ANNUAL REPORT–THE NATIONAL COALITION FOR HISTORY
(Prepared by Lee White, Executive Director, December 22, 2009)
2009 was a very successful and busy year for the National Coalition for History on a host of legislative and regulatory issues. Despite the financial crisis, history- and archival-related federal programs either held their own or saw increased funding. However, concerns over the federal deficit will loom heavy over the federal appropriations process in 2010. So it will be even more challenging for the historical and archival communities to make sure that our financial needs are not lost in the cacophony of hundreds of other constituencies advocating for scarce discretionary federal funds.
The 2010 NCH Work Plan, which was submitted separately to the Policy Board, details the road ahead for the Coalition. This report serves as a review of NCH’s 2009 accomplishments
I. PRESIDENTIAL TRANSITION
The historic election of 2008 created new opportunities for the historical and archival communities in Washington in 2009. The resignations of National Endowment for the Humanities Chairman Bruce Cole and Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein meant that a great deal of the National Coalition for History’s time in early 2009 was spent reaching out to the Obama Transition Team with regard to both of these vital positions. Unfortunately, the nominations for both posts were not made by the President until early-fall leaving the two agencies under the interim leadership of career bureaucrats.
1. Archivist of the United States
On December 19, 2008, Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein resigned for health reasons. That day the major archival groups, the National Coalition for History and individual NCH member organizations sent a letter to President-elect Obama’s Transition Team setting forth the qualifications that should be considered in selecting a new Archivist. In January, the Executive Director, along with the leadership of the major archival organizations, met with the Obama Transition Team. A list of qualified candidates was subsequently submitted.
On May 21, 2009, the NCH Executive Director testified at a hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on the challenges and issues facing a new Archivist.
In September, NCH broke the story that David S. Ferriero would be nominated by the President as the new Archivist. NCH was cited by the Washington Post as the first media outlet in the nation to report the Ferriero nomination.
David S. Ferriero was sworn in as Archivist of the United States on November 13, 2009.
2. National Endowment for the Humanities Chair
NCH worked closely with the National Humanities Alliance (NHA) who took the lead role with regard to the appointment of the new NEH Chair. Jim Leach was sworn in as Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities in September.
3. Obama Administration Openness and Transparency Agenda
Soon after the election, the National Coalition for History urged the incoming Obama administration to reverse the secrecy trend of the last eight years and to restore openness in the executive branch. Three separate proposals called on President-elect Obama to restore the presumption of disclosure to the Freedom of Information Act process, reform the classification and declassification processes, and ensure presidential records are handled in accordance with existing law. A diverse coalition of over 60 organizations, coordinated by the National Security Archive, developed the three proposals.
II. LEGISLATIVE ADVOCACY
1. Federal Agency Appropriations
The 2009 Work Plan directed that appropriations and reauthorization issues should be a primary focus of the NCH’s advocacy efforts.
Our nation’s dire financial situation focused federal spending on stimulus-related initiatives and limited the availability of discretionary funds. Nonetheless federal funding for archival, history, and humanities programs increased almost across the board, in some cases significantly.
Before adjourning for the 2008 election, Congress passed a continuing resolution for fiscal year (FY) 2009 that ran until March 2009. Until then federal agencies operated at FY 2008 funding levels. Congress completed action on the FY 2009 appropriations bills in March, five months after the start of the fiscal year.
In May, President Obama released his proposed FY 2010 budget. Congress completed action on the FY 2010 federal budget in December 2009 with the passage of an omnibus spending bill.
a) National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)
In May, NCH submitted testimony to the House and Senate Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittees on NARA and NHPRC’s FY 2010 budget.
The FY 10 omnibus appropriations bill increased funding for NARA by $10 million, or 2.3 percent, to a level of $469 million. In FY 09, NARA’s budget increased by 12 percent over FY 08 to $459 million, up from $411 million. These included increases for the hiring of new archival staff, the maintenance of research hours at NARA facilities, completion of the Electronic Records Archive, funding for repairs at the FDR Presidential Library and the establishment of the Office of Government Information Services to serve as a FOIA ombudsman for the federal government. All of these were priorities cited in testimony NCH submitted to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees.
b) National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC)
In a major victory, the NHPRC received its highest level of funding ever in the fiscal year (FY) 2010 budget. The NHPRC’s budget will increase by $1.75 million from the current fiscal year’s $11.25 million to $13 million in fiscal year (FY) 2010. Most importantly, the NHPRC will receive the entire $13 million in FY 2010 funding for grants. This is a sizeable increase of $3.75 million over the $9.25 million in grant money NHPRC received in FY 2009.
The Administration and the Senate had proposed allocating NHPRC funds to specific projects, thus reducing funding for the NHPRC’s core grant programs. However, due largely to lobbying by NCH, those earmarks were not included in the final conference report passed by Congress. The only designated project is $4.5 million for the initiative to provide online access to the papers of the Founding Fathers.
The NHPRC’s authorization expired on September 30, 2009. Legislation (H.R. 1556) was introduced in the House to reauthorize the NHPRC for 5 years through FY 2104 at an annual level of $20 million. In December, Senator Thomas Carper (D-DE) introduced legislation (S. 2872) to reauthorize the NHPRC for five years. As introduced, the bill would have raised 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. Unfortunately, at a markup before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee the bill was amended to cut the annual authorization for NHPRC back to $10 million per-year for five years.
NCH will continue to advocate for the passage of the House and Senate bills with an annual authorization for the NHPRC at the $20 million level.
c) U.S. Department of Education’s Teaching American History (TAH) grants program
The Department of Education’s FY 2010 budget included $119 million for the Teaching American History Grants program despite efforts by the House Appropriations Committee to cut funding to $100 million. NCH will continue to advocate for $119 million for TAH grants in FY 2011.
d) National Endowment for the Humanities
NCH continued to work in partnership with the National Humanities Alliance and the Federation of State Humanities Councils on FY 2009 and FY 2010 appropriations advocacy efforts for NEH. NEH received a $12.5 million funding increase in FY 2010 up to a level of $167.5 million. NCH worked closely with the National Humanities Alliance on appropriations issues, specifically on a “Dear Colleague” letter to House members supporting increased funding in FY 10 for the NEH. NCH served as a co-sponsor of Humanities Advocacy Day.
e) National Park Service
NCH continued to advocate for increased spending for history-related programs at the National Park Service (NPS). History and preservation programs at the NPS received generally moderate increases across the board in FY 10.
f) “Targeted Amendments” affecting NCH Constituencies: Twice this past year amendments designed to eliminate programs affecting the members of NCH constituent organizations were introduced in Congress. An amendment to the Commerce, Justice, and Science FY 2010 Appropriations bill to eliminate funding for the political science program at the National Science Foundation was introduced, but eventually defeated due to lobbying by NCH, the American Political Science Association and other stakeholders. In addition, an amendment to the transportation bill to eliminate funding for museums was also defeated.
2. Presidential Records:
In November 2001, President George W. Bush issued Executive Order (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.
On January 21, in one of his first official acts, President Obama revoked the Bush administration’s Executive Order 13233. Executive Order 13489 restores the presumption that the incumbent president, not former presidents, or their heirs and designees should have the primary authority to assert claims of executive privilege. The issuance of President Obama’s executive order on presidential records ended an eight-year effort by the historical, archival and political science communities to overturn the Bush executive order.
In January, presidential records reform legislation (H.R. 35) was the first bill passed the House. Similar legislation has cleared the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. However, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) has put a hold on the bill to prevent it from being considered on the floor. NCH continues to press the Senate leadership to bring the bill up for consideration.
3. Processing, Preservation and Declassification of Federal and Presidential Records
In the 111th Congress, legislation has been introduced to reduce the enormous backlog of records that need to be processed and declassified by the National Archives. NCH collaborated with other stakeholder groups in working to ensure passage of legislation reducing over-classification of government records, increasing public access to unclassified records, speeding the declassification process and establishing standards for the preservation and retrieval of federal and presidential electronic records. NCH will continue to press for the passage of legislation to require NARA to establish meaningful records preservation standards and aggressively ensure compliance.
4. Formula Grants for State and Local Archives
This year, the archival community was successful in getting legislation (H.R. 2256) re-introduced to establish the Partnership for the American Historical Record (PAHR) initiative, a state-based formula grant program for archives. NCH has endorsed the bill and issued a legislative alert to those on our mailing list urging them to contact their Members of Congress and ask them to co-sponsor the bill. Comparable legislation has not yet been introduced in the Senate.
II. FEDERAL AGENCY ADVOCACY:
The National Coalition for History continues to play an equally important advocacy role with federal agencies. The NCH has maintained excellent relationships with the Archivist of the United States, the Chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Chief Historian of the National Park Service, the Director of the Smithsonian’s American History Museum and other key officials in the federal historical and archival bureaucracies.
1. Declassification of Federal and Presidential Records:
NCH supports the expedited processing, declassification and release of federal and presidential records.
NCH commented on a NARA draft report to Congress on reforming the presidential library system and improving procedures for the processing, preserving and declassifying presidential records.
In 2009, NCH continued to advise and monitor the meetings of the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB), the State Department’s Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation, and the Advisory Committee on the Records of Congress.
2. Open Government Initiatives:
Upon taking office in January, President Obama issued a memorandum to federal agencies committing his administration to an unprecedented level of openness and transparency. In March, Attorney General Holder issued a directive on the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) that ordered all executive branch departments and agencies to apply a presumption of disclosure when administering the FOIA. In December, the Obama administration released an Open Government Directive to federal agencies establishing stringent guidance and timelines to meet new standards of transparency and public participation.
Throughout 2009, NCH has been involved in collaborative efforts with stakeholders on a number of open government issues. NCH has been a signatory to letters addressing:
- Letters to the Obama Transition Team on selection of a new Archivist of the United States, presidential records reform, restoring presumption of disclosure under FOIA, and reform of the government’s classification system.
- Letter to the Senate urging public access to Congressional Research Service Reports.
- Letter to the Obama Administration urging that the White House Office of Administration be subject to FOIA. The Bush administration had exempted the OA from FOIA.
- Letter to the National Security Advisor urging publication of a draft executive order on declassification in the Federal Register soliciting public comment prior to final issuance.
- Letter to the Acting Archivist of the United States urging an extension of the comment period on a proposed report on the presidential library system.
- Comments to the Administration’s Open Government blog on over-classification and declassification of federal records.
3. WalMart Wilderness Battlefield Controversy:
Beginning in 2008, NCH was involved with the Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT) to prevent WalMart from building a “superstore” on land adjacent to the Wilderness Civil War Battlefield in Fredericksburg, VA. NCH provided the CWPT with a list of over 250 Civil War scholars who sent a letter to WalMart opposing the building of the store. NCH also joined a Wilderness Battlefield Preservation Coalition. Unfortunately, in August the Orange County Board of Supervisors voted to allow WalMart to construct the facility.
III. EDUCATION AND OUTREACH
1. Conferences and Presentations:
This year the Executive Director attended meetings and/or participated in panel discussions at meetings of the American Historical Association, National Council for History Education, Organization of American Historians, Society of American Archivists and National Council on Public History.
The NCH Executive Director made a presentation on legislative advocacy during the National Humanities Alliance’s Lobby Day event in March. Humanities advocates visited Capitol Hill and 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.
2. Publications and Action Alerts:
Throughout the year the NCH continued to provide the historical and archival communities with its electronic newsletter, the NCH Washington Update. Subscriptions to the NCH Washington Update have increased to nearly 2,000 from approximately 1,600 in 2008, and 225 people subscribe via RSS feed. Traffic at the NCH website has increased from 467,000 hits in 2008 to almost 600,000 this year.
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. Anecdotally, we know that the NCH Washington Update reaches a far broader audience than the subscription numbers indicate.
NCH columns continue to reach a broad but targeted audience of historians (30,000), museum professionals (10,000), and archivists (4,000) through the publications of its constituent organizations.