1. FY 2020 Federal Budget

On December 20, President Trump signed into law two bills (Public Laws 116-93 and 116-94) which fund the federal government for the remainder of fiscal year 2020. Congress had already passed funding bills for some federal agencies by the start of the fiscal year on October 1, 2019.

Click here to access a chart showing how programs of interest to our community fared. It includes the budget for FY20 and compares it with FY19 and President Trump’s original FY 20 budget request. Click here to see a second chart that provides funding trends over the past three fiscal years to give some historical perspective.

When viewed from that time frame, the numbers show a general upward trend, with the exception of the National Archives. Across the board, history, archival and education programs were either level funded or received small increases. This should be considered a major victory, since the president had proposed eliminating the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and other programs.

Here are the highlights:

  • The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) received $359 million for operating expenses (OE), a $14 million reduction from FY 19. Two years ago, NARA’s OE budget was $385 million. NCH will be focusing its advocacy efforts in 2020 on reversing this trend. $22 million of NARA’s OE budget is earmarked for a project to increase digitization capabilities at Archives II. $2 million is designated to fund the Civil Rights Cold Case Review Board which has languished because of a lack of funding.
  • The National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), which the president had targeted for elimination, received a $500,000 increase up to $6.5 million.
  • The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) received $162.5 million, a $7.5 million increase from the FY 19 level of $155 million. The Trump administration had sought to eliminate the NEH in its FY 20 request to Congress.
  • K-12 history and civics programs at the Department of Education: Despite President Trump’s threat to eliminate them, federal K-12 history and civics programs were level funded. The Presidential and Congressional Academies for American History and Civics received $1.8 million and the American History and Civics grants program received $3 million, for a total of $4.8 million.
  • The Title VI/Fulbright-Hays International Education programs received modest increases. Title VI (domestic programs) was increased from $65 million to $68 million. Fulbright-Hays (overseas programs) was increased by $1 million, up to $8 million. Together the programs received $76 million. While $4 million is not a significant amount, it does mark the first time these programs have received any increase in almost a decade. Both programs had been targeted for elimination by the administration.
  • The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) received a $10 million funding boost up to $252 million. Library Programs were increased by $6.2 million ($195.4 million total) and Museum Programs by $3.8 million ($38.5 million total). This is another agency the president had targeted for elimination.
  • The National Park Services’ Historic Preservation Fund will receive $118.6 million this fiscal year, a $16 million increase over FY 19. Within this amount $52.6 million is provided for grants to States and $13.7 million is provided for grants to Tribes. The bill also includes $18 million for competitive grants to document, interpret, and preserve historical sites associated with the Civil Rights Movement. The bill includes $10 million for competitive grants to Historically Black Colleges and Universities and $16 million for the Save America’s Treasures competitive grant program for the preservation of nationally significant sites, structures, and artifacts. The bill includes $21.9 million for the Heritage Partnership Program and provides $7.5 million for preservation grants to revitalize historic properties of national, State, and local significance in order to restore, protect, and foster economic development of rural villages and downtown areas. The American Battlefield Protection Program received a $3 million increase up to a level of $13 million. The Interior bill allocates $3.3 million to the US Semiquincentennial Commission which is finalizing its report to the president making recommendations on commemorating the United States 250th anniversary in 2026.
  • The Library of Congress received a $28.9 million increase up to $725 million for FY 20.
  • The Smithsonian Institution received a $4 million increase up to $1.047 billion. There was a shift of priorities with the Salaries and Expenses budget increased by $53.7 million ($793.6 million total) and a reduction of $49.8 million (253.7 million total) in the Facilities Capital budget.
  • The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars received $14 million, a $2 million increase from last year.

2. National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) Reauthorization

On June 12, the House Oversight and Reform Committee cleared a bill (HR 2978) to reauthorize the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). The legislation authorizes $15 million annually for the NHPRC from FY 20 to FY 25. The NHPRC’s most recent authorization expired at the end of FY 2009, and was at a level of $10 million. Funding can be provided to an agency without an authorization, however having an authorized level makes it easier to advocate for a set amount every budget cycle. The House has not yet considered the legislation and a comparable bill has not been introduced in the Senate.

3. OMB/NARA Issue New Mandate on the Use of Electronic Records

In July, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and NARA jointly issued a memorandum providing guidance on managing Federal records. In a major policy change, the memo mandates that all Federal agencies must transfer permanent records to NARA in electronic formats after December 31, 2022. In other words, NARA will no longer accept paper records as of that date. This change will obviously have far-reaching impacts on all users of the National Archives. To see the memo, click here.

4. National Assessment of K-12 History and Civics Education

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), in partnership with the U.S. Department of Education (ED), has awarded a $650,000 cooperative agreement to the civics education group iCivics to lead a coalition of experts in assessing the state of, and best practices in, the teaching of American history, civics, and government in K-12 education.

Educating for American Democracy: A Roadmap for Excellence in History and Civics Education for All Learners brings together more than 100 leading academics and practitioners in education, civics, history, and political science for convenings at Louisiana State University and Arizona State University to evaluate the current state of history and civics curricula across the country.

This roadmap and accompanying report on the convenings’ findings will be released prior to a national forum in September 2020 in Washington, D.C., co-hosted by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History and the National Archives and Records Administration Foundation. The National Coalition for History is serving on the steering committee for the effort. NCH is being represented on the panel by Lawrence Paska, the executive director of the National Council on the Social Studies.

5. Civil Rights Cold Case Collection Act

In January 2019, President Trump signed into law the “Civil Rights Cold Case Records Collection Act of 2018 (Public Law 115-426). It authorizes the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to create a collection of unsolved civil rights case files. In addition, the law establishes a Civil Rights Cold Case Review Board to determine which records can be released to the public.

The law delineates the appointment process for five individuals to serve on the review board, sets timelines for appointments, names groups qualified to recommend appointments, and the qualifications required for members of the review board. It designates the American Historical Association, Organization of American Historians, Society of American Archivists and American Bar Association as groups to be consulted in the nomination process. This past spring, NCH facilitated the submission of potential nominees to the White House on behalf of AHA, OAH and SAA. The appointments and convening of the panel have been held up because no funding was provided in the FY 19 budget. However, the FY 20 NARA budget includes $2 million to fund the board’s work. The expectation is now that funding has been provided appointments to the board will follow.

6. NCH Involvement in Effort to Plan the Nation’s 250th Anniversary Celebration

In July 2016, Congress passed legislation (Public Law 114-196) establishing the U.S. Semiquincentennial Commission to begin planning for the nation’s 250th anniversary in 2026. The 33-member body is comprised of 8 Members of Congress, 16 private citizens, and 9 federal officials. One academic historian and two political scientists are included among the private citizen appointees. The Department of the Interior selected the American Battlefield Trust as the nonprofit organization that will serve as secretariat and administrator of the Commission. The Commission has met multiple times this year and is in the final stages of preparing its report to the president which is due by the end of 2019. The FY 20 Interior Appropriations bill allocates $3.3 million to the commission.

NCH has been playing an active role as a resource to the Commission. The American Battlefield Trust is a long-time member of NCH and many NCH organizations are assisting their efforts. NCH is a member of a USA 250 steering committee convened by the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) that is providing advice to the commission.

7. Congressional History Caucus

We currently have 37 members in the House caucus. The caucus must be recertified with each new Congress. Unfortunately, the caucus was not re-formed until this summer. More information on the History Caucus can be found at http://historycoalition.org/congressional-history-caucus.

8. Disposition of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for Detainee Records

On December 11, 2019, the Archivist of the United States approved a request for disposition authority from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for Detainee Records. This schedule was originally proposed to NARA on October 26, 2015. NARA published notice of the pending schedule in the Federal Register on July 14, 2017.

In 2017, ICE requested that NARA approve a records retention schedule that would have allowed them to destroy detainee records in 11 categories including solitary confinement, assault, sexual abuse and deaths while in custody. NARA initially recommended the approval of ICE’s request, which sparked outrage during the public comment period with a broad range of opponents arguing the records clearly had permanent historical value. NARA agreed to suspend its initial recommendation and to review the records retention schedule with ICE to determine what if any records could be destroyed.

This year, NARA provided a second period for public comment on the ICE proposed records schedule. Most who commented on individual items objected to records related to detainee deaths and sexual assault and abuse cases having temporary status. In response, NARA recommended one set of Death Review Files, those created by the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), for permanent retention. NARA did not change its recommendation that records related to allegations of sexual assault and abuses have a temporary disposition, but did increase the recommended retention period to 25 years.

9. Obama Presidential Library

In February, an article in the New York Times highlighting a new “virtual model” for the Barack Obama Presidential Library triggered a host of new questions concerning accessibility, preservation and storage of presidential records by the National Archives. In response, the National Archives and the Obama Foundation posted more detailed information on their websites to address issues raised in the article.

In May 2017, the National Archives and the Obama Foundation announced a new plan to make President Obama’s presidential library all digital. Few details were provided at the time save for a press release from NARA and a brief mention of the library in the announcement of the plans for the Obama Presidential Center by the Obama Foundation. NCH has been in contact with the Obama Foundation to express our concerns that none of the major historical organizations which make up the coalition were consulted in advance of the decision not to build a traditional physical library.

On May 16, Columbia University and the Obama Foundation announced that the Columbia Center for Oral History Research has been selected to produce the official oral history of Barack Obama’s presidency. Starting this summer and over the next five years, the Obama Presidency Oral History Project will conduct interviews with some 400 people, including senior leaders and policy makers within the administration, as well as elected officials, campaign staff, journalists, and other key figures—Republican and Democrat—outside the White House.

10. Reauthorization of the Title VI/Fulbright-Hays Programs

NCH has been involved in an advocacy effort led by the Coalition for International Education to reauthorize these programs at the Department of Education. The “Advancing International and Foreign Language Education Act” (HR 2562) would robustly support foreign language and international education programs at colleges and universities. The legislation would authorize funding for Title VI programs at $125 million in FY20 and index the amount to inflation for each of the successive four fiscal years. By comparison this fiscal year these programs only received $76 million.