House Appropriations Panel Holds Hearing on NARA FY ’09 Budget

On April 1, 2008, the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government held a hearing to consider the fiscal year (FY) 2009 budget request for the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein was the lead witness. In his opening statement he summarized the Administration’s budget request for his agency. He noted the President’s FY 2009 request included $327.7 million for operating expenses, an increase of $12.7 million over FY 2008. This includes funding to prepare for the George W. Bush Presidential Library. The proposed increase would include $1.6 million to add 15 archivist positions at the various Presidential libraries.

Another major increase was the nearly $9 million in additional funding for the Electronic Records Archives (ERA) project that is scheduled to come on-line this summer. Of the $67 million requested for the ERA, NARA was requesting that $21.2 million be made available as one-year funding and the remaining $45.7 million be available as two-year funding.

Professor Weinstein stated that the Administration had declined to seek funding for grants for the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC).

Subcommittee Chairman Jose Serrano (D-NY) began the question and answer period by noting that the subcommittee had worked hard to get funding in the FY 2008 budget to restore the research hours that had been cut at NARA’s facilities in 2006. Chairman Serrano had expressed concern that no specific funding was included in FY ’09 request to keep them in place beyond FY 2008. He asked Professor Weinstein if the Archives would have to cut research hours again if new earmarked funding is not provided in the FY 2009 budget. The Archivist said if the FY ’09 budget as proposed by the Bush administration is adopted that the research hours will NOT be affected or cut. The proposed base budget allows for the research hours to remain as they will be when they are restored on April 14.

Chairman Serrano also expressed concern that the FY ’09 proposed budget included no funding for a new Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) ombudsman at NARA, and asked how much additional funding would be needed to create the office. The Archivist responded that NARA couldn’t ask for the money until the office was authorized. Representative Serrano countered that the ombudsman was already authorized under FOIA reform law Congress passed last year. Dr. Weinstein said NARA would have to reach an agreement with the Administration since the White House had proposed housing the FOIA ombudsman at the Department of Justice and not at the Archives. Representative Serrano said that Congressional intent was clear on the placement of the FOIA ombudsman at NARA. He asked if the Archivist felt that having DOJ referee FOIA disputes would present a conflict of interest, but Professor Weinstein declined to comment.

Chairman Serrano next asked about the status of the recovery of hundreds of days of e-mails missing from the White House servers. The chairman noted that at a recent hearing before House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, NARA staff had been quoted in a memo saying they had gotten no cooperation from the White House in dealing with the issue. Representative Serrano asked if the White House had been more cooperative since the hearing. Professor Weinstein said that they had made some progress, but there still had not been a full accounting of the missing e-mails. He said that a meeting had been scheduled among all the relevant stakeholders and that he preferred not to provide an answer until after it had taken place.

Representative Jo Bonner (R-AL) observed that the presidential campaign of Senator Clinton had brought a great deal of attention to the need for transparency surrounding fundraising by foundations of the presidential libraries. He asked the Archivist if he thought donors to the library foundations should be disclosed. Professor Weinstein said he had no objection to the identity of donors being disclosed, but felt it would be more important in the early years of a presidential library’s fundraising, but less so for the older libraries.

In a second round of questioning, Chairman Serrano noted that the rollout date for the Electronic Records Archive had been delayed from last September to June 2008. He asked how confident the Archivist was that there would be no more delays. Professor Weinstein replied that when the difficulties started, NARA didn’t bury the fact and immediately contacted the Government Accountability Office and the agency’s Congressional oversight committees. He noted that the senior management staff in the agency met weekly on the status of the ERA and he was confident they would meet the June rollout deadline.

Assistant Archivist for Information Services Martha Morphy added that NARA had restructured the ERA contract with Lockheed Martin and that the contractor had improved the quality of its staffing. She said payment had been tied to the achievement of specific milestones. She noted that Lockheed Martin has met every one since the new procedures had been implemented. She said the project will come on-line in June and by November NARA will be ready to start accepting Bush administration records. Professor Weinstein said if NARA didn’t meet the deadlines, he would take personal responsibility.

Chairman Serrano then asked about the lengthy amount of time it was taking to complete the publication of the Founding Fathers papers. He urged NARA to speed up the process and increase accessibility of the finished products and noted that language had been included in NARA’s FY ’08 appropriation requesting a status report. Professor Weinstein said that he testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about this in February. He said the report to Congress would be completed by the end of April but that he preferred not to talk about it prematurely while the details were still being worked out.

Ranking Member Ralph Regula noted that the Administration had once again proposed eliminating the National Historical Publications and Records Committee (NHPRC). Representative Regula asked whether the Archivist would support preventing the elimination of the NHPRC if the Appropriations Committee restored funding for it.

Professor Weinstein replied, “From your mouth to God’s ears.”

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