House Passes Woodrow Wilson Library Bill

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.

While the Bush administration took no formal position on H.R. 1664, sources at the National Archives do 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.

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 Committee.