The National Coalition for History (NCH) has submitted testimony to the Senate Appropriations Committee on the Administration’s proposed fiscal year (FY) 2021 budget for the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). NCH criticized the proposed $2.1 million reduction in Operating Expenses (OE) for FY 21, down to a level of $356.9 million. NCH asked the committee to increase NARA’s OE budget by 10 percent, up to a level of $395 million.
NCH supported an increase of $500,000 for the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) grants program bringing the agency’s funding up to a level of $7 million in FY 21. This program has repeatedly been targeted for elimination by the Administration.
- In inflation-adjusted dollars, NARA’s OE budget has been stagnant for more than a decade. Current funding levels are not adequate to serve legitimate public needs for accessibility and government accountability.
- During the past decade, NARA has taken on the added responsibility of managing the government’s classification system through its Information Security Oversight Office. It has added a Freedom of Information Act ombudsman, the Office of Government Information Services. It has added a National Declassification Center to expedite the release of classified records to researchers and the public. Its Chief Records Officer provides guidance to assist federal agencies in meeting their responsibilities to manage paper and electronic records. NARA’s OE budget has not kept pace with these additional responsibilities it has been given.
- In 2019, NARA and OMB announced that the agency will no longer accept paper records from federal agencies as of December 31, 2022. We are concerned that with diminished resources NARA will not be prepared to make this transition without serious disruptions.
Specific Funding Requests
Improving Veterans’ Access to Their Military Records
NCH supported $16 million in NARA’s budget request to improve veterans’ access to records necessary to obtain their benefits and to provide military separation documents to all veterans and their families at no cost. This initiative would also expedite response time by allowing veterans to submit electronic requests for their records.
Digitization Initiative at Archives II
The budget request allows NARA to carry over $9.2 million from $22 million appropriated in FY 20 to accelerate the processing and release of large volumes of government information through mass digitization of records. In FY 20 NARA was given $22 million in funding to prepare and equip space at Archives II in College Park, Maryland, to house the digitization initiative. The $9.2 million will enable NARA to outfit the renovated space with the necessary equipment.
Civil Rights Cold Case Initiative
NCH opposes the Administration’s decision to terminate funding for the Civil Rights Cold Case Initiative. This program received $2 million in initial funding in FY 20.