FISCAL YEAR 2011 ANNUAL REPORT–THE NATIONAL COALITION FOR HISTORY
(Prepared by Lee White, Executive Director, December 30, 2011)
Efforts to reduce the federal deficit drove the congressional appropriations process in 2012. With the Republicans controlling the House of Representatives and the Democratic majority in the Senate, the Congress spent most of the year in gridlock over funding and tax issues. In years past, the National Coalition for History’s (NCH) main focus was advocating for increased funding for federal programs that affect the historical and archival communities. During the fiscal year (FY) 2012 congressional budget process, NCH’s advocacy efforts were necessarily focused on preventing severe cuts or elimination of programs.
The 2012 NCH Work Plan, which was submitted separately to the Policy Board, details the proposed road ahead for the Coalition. This report summarizes NCH’s activities and highlights the major accomplishments in 2011.
1. Federal Appropriations
The 2011 Work Plan directed that appropriations and reauthorization issues should be a primary focus of the NCH’s advocacy efforts.
Before adjourning in December, the 112th Congress passed an omnibus spending bill for FY ‘12 that runs until September 30, 2012. The bill encompassed nine of the twelve annual appropriations bills and all of the programs of interest to the historical and archival communities.
Of major interest, the Teaching American History Grants program at the U.S. Department of Education has been terminated. However, the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) was saved from elimination (see below).
The cuts or level funding for programs of concern to our members must be viewed in the context of the efforts to reduce the federal budget deficit. Some solace should be taken in the fact that, with the exception of Teaching American History Grants, the federal agencies and programs for which we advocate in most cases sustained cuts that were far less onerous than expected. NCH and its constituent organizations were actively involved in advocacy efforts and mobilized their respective members to contact Congress on numerous occasions. Staff members at federal agencies have credited these efforts with preventing deeper cuts or elimination of programs.
For example, although funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities was cut by $9 million, the $146 million it received was actually the level requested by the Obama administration. Historic preservation programs at the National Park Service received a small increase and museum programs at the Institute of Museum and Library Services were cut by only $500,000.
At the request of the American Historical Association, NCH became involved in advocacy efforts to preserve funding for the U.S. Department of Education’s International Education and Foreign Language Studies (IEFLS) programs, including HEA-Title VI and Fulbright-Hays programs, which form the vital infrastructure of the federal government’s investment in the international service pipeline. The Fulbright-Hays programs are of particular importance to historians because of the resources they provide for research and education relating to foreign languages and cultures.
Although these programs sustained major cuts in FY ’11, NCH was involved in a successful effort to preserve level funding for these programs in FY ‘12.
2. Federal Funding of K-12 History Education
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) was last authorized in 2001 during the Bush administration under the rubric of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The NCLB’s authorization expired in 2008. In 2011, efforts to pass an ESEA reform bill moved forward in both the House and Senate. However, there were serious ideological differences between the two approaches and it seems unlikely that a bipartisan solution will be reached to pass a bill in 2012.
On October 20, 2011, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP) completed its markup of the reauthorization of the ESEA. The bill includes an amendment, offered by Sen. Robert Casey, D-Pa., that would create a “well-rounded” education fund. School districts could use the money to fund programs in history, civics education, social studies and eight other subject areas. This is similar to what the White House proposed in 2010 in “A Blueprint for Reform,” the administration’s plan for reauthorizing the ESEA.
While this is by no means an ideal solution, given the current emphasis on deficit reduction and the drive to push decisions on education spending to the localities, it does ensure that federal funds will still be available for history education and professional development, albeit at a much lower level. We will continue to advocate for restoration of the TAH grants program in a final ESEA bill. But with neither Congress nor the White House willing to keep TAH on the table, we alternatively need to exert effective pressure in favor of the Harkin/Enzi ESEA bill that is actually in play, which includes the “well-rounded” education language. Chairman Harkin has stated that he intends to bring the ESEA bill to the Senate floor in 2012.
There is no comparable, comprehensive ESEA reauthorization bill in the House. Instead a number of piecemeal bills addressing specific sections of the ESEA have been introduced. In May 2011, the House Education and Workforce Committee passed H.R. 1891, the “Setting New Priorities in Education Act”, which would eliminate 43 programs at the Department of Education including TAH grants.
Throughout 2011, the National Coalition for History worked closely with history, educational and civics organizations in seeking to preserve TAH as an independent program. We also worked to ensure that history received a dedicated level of funding in any “well-rounded” education program that might be developed as an alternative to TAH. The Executive Director met with the staffs of nearly 20 members of the House Education and the Workforce Committee to push for the “well-rounded” education proposal.
We renewed our relationship with the National Council for History Education which rejoined the History Coalition.
3. National Historical Publications and Records Commission
The National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) will receive $5 million under the 2012 omnibus appropriations bill. The House Appropriations Committee had proposed cutting funding for the NHPRC to $1 million. The National Coalition for History, the Association for Documentary Editing, the Society of American Archivists, and the Council of State Archivists lobbied hard for the adoption of the $5 million figure. Despite the $2 million cut from FY 11, this can be considered a victory.
4. Presidential Records
NCH has been working for many years to ensure passage of a Presidential Records Act (PRA) reform bill. President Obama issued a new Presidential Records Executive Order (EO) on his first day in office, replacing the overly restrictive Bush administration EO. Unfortunately, efforts to codify changes in the PRA remain stalled in Congress.
On November 17, 2011, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee approved, by voice vote, H.R. 3071, the “Presidential Records Act Amendments of 2011.” The version as adopted embodied a manager’s amendment offered by Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., which added federal records management provisions to the original bill (which addressed only presidential records). Although H.R. 3071 received overwhelming support in Committee, the bill has yet to be scheduled for floor action in the House and no comparable legislation has been introduced in the Senate.
The National Coalition for History continues to play an important advocacy role with federal agencies. 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 National Museum of American History, the Historian of the State Department, the Director of the Teaching American History Grants office at the Department of Education, and other key officials in the federal historical and archival bureaucracies.
1. Processing, Preservation and Declassification of Federal and Presidential Records
NCH collaborated with other stakeholder groups in working to reduce over-classification of government records, increase public access to unclassified records, speed the declassification process, and establish standards for the preservation and retrieval of federal and presidential electronic records.
On November 28, 2011, President Obama issued a memorandum to the heads of executive departments and agencies on Managing Government Records. The National Archives and the Office of Management and Budget will eventually be issuing a Records Management Directive to agencies that will provide specific steps to reform records management policies and practices.
The National Archives, under the leadership of Archivist of the United States David Ferriero, has been aggressive in urging agencies to take their records management responsibilities more seriously, although NARA still lacks the legal authority to compel compliance with federal records laws. NCH will continue to advocate for passage of legislation to establish meaningful records preservation standards and aggressively ensure federal agency compliance.
NCH input continues to be sought out by NARA’s National Declassification Center, and the directors of the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS), and Office of Presidential Libraries at the National Archives.
In 2011, NCH continued to advise and monitor the activities of the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB), the State Department’s Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation, the Advisory Committee on the Records of Congress, the Advisory Committee on the Electronic Records Archive, and the Advisory Committee on Presidential Library-Foundations.
2. Open Government Initiatives
Throughout 2011, NCH has been involved in collaborative efforts with stakeholders on a number of open government issues. These include:
A. A letter to House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa in support of the “Presidential Records Act Amendments of 2011” (H.R. 3071). This bill provides a framework for the assertion of privilege by a former president and clarifies the rights and obligations of the incumbent president and the Archivist of the United States in dealing with such claims.
B. A letter to the White House urging the establishment of a Presidential Advisory Committee on Open Government under the Federal Advisory Committee Act of 1972 as a key objective in the initial U.S. Open Government Action Plan that was released in September.
C. A letter to House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa urging consideration of the “Faster FOIA Act” (H.R.1564), which would establish the Commission on Freedom of Information Act Processing Delays. The Senate unanimously passed the legislation (S. 1466), co-authored by Senators Leahy (D-VT) and Cornyn (R-TX), earlier this year.
D. A letter to House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa in support of the “Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act” (H.R. 1974). The bill requires that any report required by statute to be issued to Congress and releasable under the Freedom of Information Act be posted on a website managed by the US Government Printing Office.
E. A letter to the members of the House and Senate Legislative Appropriations Subcommittees urging them to allow the Congressional Research Service (CRS) the option of allocating funds to make its reports publicly available. Prior legislative branch appropriations language prohibits CRS from expending funds to make its products publicly available.
Similar letters were sent to House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa and Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joseph Lieberman urging the reintroduction and consideration of legislation to authorize and promote the public distribution of reports that are published by the CRS.
3. Preservation Issues
During the past few years, NCH has participated in efforts—at the request of our member organization the Civil War Trust (CWT)—to oppose encroachments on significant Civil War battlefields. This year, two high-profile preservation battles were decided in our favor.
Proposed Casino at Gettysburg Battlefield: The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board rejected a proposal to license a casino located one-half mile from the Gettysburg National Military Park. In addition to a joint letter from NCH, the American Historical Association, National Coalition for History, National Council on Public History, Organization of American Historians, Society for Military History, and Southern Historical Association sent a separate joint letter of opposition to the gaming board. NCH assisted the Civil War Trust in identifying more than 275 Civil War historians who signed on to a letter to the gaming board in opposition to the casino.
Wal-Mart Wilderness Battlefield Controversy:
Beginning in 2008, NCH was involved with the Civil War Trust to prevent Wal-Mart from building a “superstore” on land adjacent to the Wilderness Civil War Battlefield in Fredericksburg, Virginia. NCH provided the CWT with a list of more than 250 Civil War scholars who sent a letter to Wal-Mart opposing the building of the store. NCH also joined a Wilderness Battlefield Preservation Coalition. In 2009, the Orange County Board of Supervisors voted to allow Wal-Mart to construct the facility. Due to legal action and continued opposition from the historical and preservation communities, however, in January Wal-Mart abandoned its plans to build the facility.
EDUCATION AND OUTREACH
1. Conferences and Presentations
This year I attended—and in some cases participated in panel discussions at—the annual meetings of the American Historical Association, Organization of American Historians, Society for History in the Federal Government, and the Southern Historical Association.
I made a presentation on legislative advocacy during the National Humanities Alliance’s Advocacy Day event in March. Humanities advocates visited Capitol Hill distributed issue briefs and state grant data, and asked members of Congress to support increased funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities, National Historical Publications and Records Commission, and Title VI/Fulbright Hays International Education programs.
2. Publications and Action Alerts
Throughout the year NCH continued to provide the historical and archival communities with its electronic newsletter, NCH Washington Update. Subscriptions to NCH Washington Update have increased to nearly 2,100. Traffic at the NCH website reached nearly 1,000,000 hits in 2011, up nearly 400,000 from last 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.
NCH columns in constituent member publications continue to reach a broad but targeted audience of historians (30,000), museum professionals (10,000), and archivists (46,000) through the publications of its constituent organizations.
The National Coalition for History ended its fiscal year with $182,000 in income and $177,400 in expenses. At the end of the fiscal year NCH had cash-on-hand in the amount of $175,000.