NCH Testimony on NARA & NHPRC Proposed FY ’10 Budgets

The National Coalition for History (NCH) recently submitted testimony to the Senate and House Appropriations Subcommittees on Financial Services and General Government on the fiscal year (FY) 2010 budgets for the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC).

Under the Obama administration’s FY 2010 budget request, funding for the National Archives & Records Administration (NARA) would be increased by over $7 million to $466 million. While NCH supported the increased funding level, the testimony suggested that Congress reconsider some of the priorities proposed by the Administration in its budget request.

Foremost among these concerns the White House’s proposed allocation of funding for the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC).

The NCH supported the Administration proposed funding level of $10 million for the NHPRC and expressed appreciation for the fact that the annual battle to stave off the elimination of the NHPRC will not have to be fought again this year.

However NARA’s “2010 Performance Budget—Congressional Justification” recommends apportioning the $10 million in funding amongst three program areas. The Founding Fathers Online initiative would receive $4.5 million. The NHPRC’s existing program of publishing historical records of key individuals and movements in documentary editions would receive $2 million. In addition, the archives preservation, access, and digitization grants that go mainly to assist states in their archival programs would receive $3.5 million.

The result is that 45 percent of the NHPRC’s budget would go to the Founding Fathers initiative, in reality meaning less funding for the NHPRC’s traditional core programs. NCH argued that the Congress created the NHPRC to make precisely the kind of resource allocation decisions the Administration proposes in its FY 2010 budget request. NCH believes Congress should leave these funding decisions to those with the professional expertise to determine priorities, not to bureaucrats at the Office of Management and Budget who sought throughout the Bush administration to eliminate the program altogether.

The President’s FY 2010 request includes $339.8 million for NARA’s operating expenses budget. This reflects a $12.5 million increase over FY 2009. This includes $1 million to hire an additional 12 Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) archival staff. NCH expressed appreciation that the President’s request provides NARA with additional funding to hire new staff and to ensure that research hours at NARA facilities are maintained.

The Budget requests $1.4 million and 6 FTE to staff and operate NARA’s Office of Government Information Services (OGIS). The OGIS will serve as the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) ombudsman for the federal government as authorized by the OPEN Government Act of 2007 (Public Law 110-175). The Bush administration did not request funding for the program last year and proposed placing the OGIS at the Department of Justice, which NCH strongly opposed.

NCH expressed disappointment that the Obama administration did not include funding to establish and staff a National Declassification Center at NARA.

The long-delayed Electronic Records Archives (ERA) is currently undergoing a staged rollout. Mandatory use of the ERA by all federal agencies is currently scheduled to begin in January 2011. NCH supported the $18.5 million in increased funding proposed by the President in his FY 2010 budget for the ERA, up to a level of $85.5 million.

The Budget proposes $27.5 million for repairs and restoration of NARA facilities. This amount includes $17.5 million for necessary expenses related to the repair and renovation of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library in Hyde Park, NY, which NARA has listed as its top capital improvement priority. The remaining $10 million will be used to fund repairs and restorations to 16 NARA-owned facilities. NCH supported the President’s budget request for continued funding for much needed repairs at the FDR Library, the oldest in the presidential library system.