May 20, 2009

The Honorable José E. Serrano
Subcommittee on Financial Services
& General Government
Committee on Appropriations
U.S. House of Representatives
B-300 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Mr. Chairman:

The National Coalition for History (NCH) is a consortium of over 60 organizations that advocates and educates on federal legislative and regulatory issues affecting historians, archivists, political scientists, teachers, and other stakeholders. As researchers and conservators of American history and culture we care deeply about the programs and activities of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). Thank you for the opportunity to submit our views on the agency’s proposed fiscal year (FY) 2010 budget.

We want to thank you Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Emerson, and all of the members of the subcommittee for their strong support of NARA’s budget in FY 2009. Despite tight budget constraints, you were able to provide NARA with increased funding. We especially want to express our appreciation for the extra funding that you specifically included for the second consecutive fiscal year to hire additional archival staff.

Congress continues to face enormous fiscal challenges in crafting the federal budget for fiscal year 2010. However, we are encouraged that NARA would see a $7.6 million increase in funding under President’s Obama’s proposed FY 2010 budget. The overall funding level of $466 million reflects the Administration’s strong commitment to NARA’s mission as steward of our Nation’s documentary heritage. However, there are specific priorities that we feel must be addressed at NARA.

National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC)

We appreciate the Subcommittee’s strong support for the NHPRC in the FY 2009 budget. Your actions not only saved the NHPRC from elimination, but also provided $9.25 million for grants, a $1.75 million increase from FY 2008. This is the closest the NHPRC has come since FY 2004 to receiving its fully authorized amount of $10 million.

While we are grateful that the Obama Administration has recommended funding the NHPRC grants programs at the $10 million level, this macro number does not tell the whole story.

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 traditional core programs of the NHPRC 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.

In 2008, Congress enacted the ‘‘Presidential Historical Records Preservation Act of 2008” (Public Law 110-404). In addition to authorizing the Archivist to enter into contractual agreements to put the Founding Fathers Papers projects on-line, the law creates two new grant programs that could potentially compete for already scarce NHPRC funds.

The law authorized “Grants for Presidential Centers of Historical Excellence” to facilitate the preservation of historical records related to any former president who does not have an archival depository administered by NARA under the Presidential Libraries Act. The law also authorizes the creation of a national database for records of servitude, emancipation, and post-Civil War Reconstruction and allows the NHPRC to make grants to preserve these records.

Given all of these additional responsibilities placed on the NHPRC, we feel that the priorities put forth by the Administration amount to nothing more than performing triage on a grossly overburdened agency. It is certainly within the prerogative of the Administration to suggest how the $10 million be spent. However, the final decision rests with the Congress which appropriates the funds and makes its priorities known through bill language and committee reports.

The NHPRC is a 15-member body chaired by the Archivist of the United States that is comprised of representatives of the three branches of the Federal Government. In addition, the NHPRC includes six members representing professional associations of archivists, historians, documentary editors, and records administrators who are chosen based on their extensive expertise in their respective fields.

Congress created the NHPRC, and its predecessor the National Historical Publications Commission, in 1934 to make precisely the kind of resource allocation decisions the Administration proposes in its FY 2010 budget request. 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 NHPRC’s $10 million annual authorization is expiring this fiscal year, and this amount has not been increased since FY 1997. Even with an authorization, the NHPRC has constantly been threatened and inflation has seriously eroded its funding level in constant dollars. We urge the Administration and the Congress to support the passage of legislation (H.R. 1556) introduced earlier this year by Representative William Lacy Clay, Jr., to reauthorize the NHPRC at an annual level of $20 million for fiscal years 2010 – 2014.

Operating Expenses

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.

The FY ’10 budget operating expenses program budget includes $1 million to hire an additional 12 Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) archival staff. We are happy to see that the President’s request continues the initiative your subcommittee began two fiscal years ago to provide NARA with additional funding to hire new staff and to ensure that research hours at NARA facilities are maintained.

For FY 2010, the Budget requests $4.2 million and 27 FTE to implement two new mandates assigned to NARA’s portfolio.

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). We are happy to see that the battles that were fought with the Bush administration over funding the office and locating it within NARA are finally over.

In May 2008, President Bush issued a memorandum to the Heads of Departments and Agencies on the Designation and Sharing of Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI), directing that a CUI framework be implemented within the Executive branch within five years and designating NARA as the executive agent. The OE budget includes $1.9 million and 9 FTE to staff and operate the CUI Office. We hope that the Archivist will play a key role within the administration in the development of the forthcoming government-wide Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) policy. The addition of the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) and the CUI offices at NARA, as provided for in the President’s FY 2010 budget, will strengthen the Archivist’s authority in ensuring appropriate open access to public information.

We are very disappointed that the Obama administration did not include funding to establish and staff a National Declassification Center at NARA. The Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB), in its 2008 Report “Improving Declassification,” recommended the creation of such a center to the President. The establishment of a centralized location for this purpose within the federal government would streamline and expedite the declassification process and serve to reduce the enormous backlog of materials awaiting declassification.

During the 2008 presidential campaign in his “Blueprint for Change—Obama and Biden’s Plan for America,” President Obama committed himself to the creation of a National Declassification Center. We urge him to follow through on this campaign promise.

Electronic Records Archives (ERA)

The long-delayed Electronic Records Archives (ERA) is an essential tool for the NARA of today and tomorrow. Mandatory use of the ERA by all federal agencies is currently scheduled to begin in January 2011. Without this system NARA will be unable to manage the exponentially expanding volume of electronic records. Effective management of federal records will improve the performance of our government, save tax dollars, and ensure current and future generations will have access to our nation’s history.

We believe that the Electronic Records Archive program merits the $18.5 million in increased funding proposed by the President in his FY 2010 budget. However, we continue to share the concerns that members of this Subcommittee and the Government Accountability Office have expressed about the ERA program remaining on schedule and budget. This program is vital not just to NARA but also to the entire federal government and the historical and archival communities. We are confident that this Subcommittee will continue its vigorous oversight of the ERA program. One of the major challenges facing a new Archivist of the United States will be to ensure that the ERA comes fully on-line as currently scheduled in January 2011,when use of the system will be mandatory for all agencies

We are concerned that, despite NARA’s past assurances to the contrary, the Bush administration’s electronic records will not be fully ingested until this autumn. Along with many in Congress, NCH expressed concerns throughout 2008 that the hastily-constructed Executive Office of the President (EOP) system that NARA had built parallel to the ERA might not be capable of rapidly ingesting all of the Bush electronic records beginning on January 20, 2009. We hope that Congress will continue to monitor this situation and hold NARA accountable for completing this project expeditiously.

Repairs and Restoration

The bill provides $27.5 million for repairs and restoration. 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 is pleased to that the President’s budget request continues to fund the much needed repairs at the FDR Library, the oldest in the presidential library system.

Congress last year made a strong statement that the costs associated with the construction and maintenance of presidential libraries have been spiraling out of control. Congress enacted a law (P.L. 110-404) increasing the endowment percentage requirement for presidential library foundations for the cost of land, construction, and installing equipment at these facilities from 40% to 60%. Unfortunately, we have seen earmarks for the maintenance of specific presidential libraries tacked on to NARA’s annual appropriation at the expense of NARA’s core mission. NARA must now provide Congress annually with a ten-year capital improvement plan for the Presidential Library System. NARA should ensure this plan is based on demonstrated needs, not outside political pressure.

Thank you again for the opportunity to present our views on these issues of vital concern to the historical and archival communities.