(Prepared by Lee White, Executive Director, December 22, 2008)

As is usually the case in a presidential election year, especially one with a lame-duck president in the White House, congressional action on many major issues was left uncompleted. Much of what Congress did this year was done with an eye on laying the groundwork for the 111th Session that begins in January. Nonetheless 2008 was a very busy year for the National Coalition for History on a host of legislative, regulatory and legal issues.

The historic election of 2008 creates new opportunities for the historical and archival communities in 2009 in Washington. The unexpected early resignations of NEH Chairman Bruce Cole and Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein mean that a great deal of the National Coalition for History’s time in early 2009 will be spent on confirmation hearings after President-elect Obama nominates his candidates for those vacancies. We have already been reaching out to the Obama Transition Team with regard to both of these vital positions.

The financial crisis will loom heavy over the federal appropriations process next year. Congress has been operating under a continuing resolution since October 1, 2008. The president-elect has already made it known that his economic stimulus package will be focused on creating jobs through infrastructure revitalization, energy independence and other initiatives. So it will be even more challenging for the historical and archival communities to make sure that our financial needs are not lost in the cacophony of hundreds of other constituencies advocating for scarce federal discretionary funds.

The 2009 NCH Work Plan submitted separately to the Policy Board details the road ahead for the Coalition. This report serves as a review of what NCH accomplished in 2008.


As noted above, the specter of the election meant Congress left many major issues unresolved, most notably a failure to enact a fiscal year 2009 federal budget. Despite the fact the Democrats controlled both Houses of Congress, their slim 51-49 majority in the Senate made it difficult to pass legislation. On a number of issues of interest to our community, important legislation sailed through the House only to die in the Senate.

1. Presidential Records

Unfortunately, the optimism I felt at the end of 2007 about the prospects for the passage of legislation to revoke the Bush administration’s Executive Order (EO) 13233 on presidential records proved unfounded. In November 2001, President George W. Bush issued EO 13233 giving current and former presidents, their heirs or designees, and former vice presidents broad authority to withhold presidential records or delay their release indefinitely.

A bill (H.R. 1255) to overturn Executive Order 13233 overwhelmingly passed the House by a vote of 333-93 in March 2007. At the time the legislation was considered in the House, the Bush administration issued a threat to veto the bill, but it passed by a veto-proof margin.

Similar legislation cleared the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee by voice vote in the summer of 2007. However, three separate Republican senators consecutively put holds on the bill and it ultimately never came to the Senate floor for a vote.

The good news is that during the campaign, President-elect Obama committed himself to revoking Executive Order 13233. NCH and other groups are already working with House and Senate staff to draft and pass legislation to strengthen the Presidential Records Act to ensure it is not left to the whim of future president’s to unilaterally determine when and under what circumstances records will be released to the public.

(NOTE: For additional information about this issue see references in Regulatory Issues and NCH Collaborations below)

2. Federal Appropriations

In 2009, for the first time since 1994, the Democrats will control both the White House and the Congress. In 2008, aside from defense appropriations, the Congress did not enact any individual appropriations bills. Before leaving for the election, Congress passed a continuing resolution that runs until March 2009 and until then federal agencies will be operating at FY 2008 funding levels. Because of increases in federal salaries and overhead costs, this means in real terms federal agencies sustained cuts of 3% or more. The new Congress is expected to address the FY 2009 appropriations bills in time for President Obama to sign them when he assumes office on January 20, 2009.

Given the massive budget deficits that will be generated by the expected economic stimulus package, funding for discretionary federal spending programs is expected to be extremely tight in the FY ’10 budget. While one might assume that Democrats ideologically would be more sympathetic to spending for history, humanities and archival programs, such expectations must be tempered by the reality of the dire financial situation our nation currently faces.

Appropriations and reauthorization issues will remain a primary focus of the NCH’s advocacy efforts.

  • National Archives and NHPRC (Financial Services & General Government Appropriations Subcommittees): On July 10, 2008, the Senate Appropriations Committee cleared the Financial Services and General Government (FSGG) fiscal year 2009 appropriations bill that includes funding for the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). NARA received $441.6 million, a significant $41.6 million increase over the FY ’08 enacted amount. The NHPRC would receive $8.5 million for grants and $2 million for administrative expenses.

    On June 25, 2008, the House Appropriations Committee cleared its version of the Financial Services and General Government fiscal year 2009 bill. NARA received $423.8 million, a $23.6 million increase over the FY ’08 enacted amount. And the NHPRC not only staved off elimination, but also received its fully authorized amount of $10 million (plus $2 million for administrative costs) for the first time in five years.

    Both bills provide approximately the same amounts for Operating Expenses ($330 Million) and the Electronic Records Archive ($67 million). The major differences are in priorities and earmarks within the Repairs and Restoration budget.

    On April 30, 2008, the National Coalition for History sent testimony for the record to the House and Senate Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittees supporting increased funding for NARA and the NHPRC.

  • Education (Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittees): In the FY ’09 draft House and Senate Labor, HHS, Education budgets, the Teaching American History (TAH) grants program would receive a funding level of approximately $120 million BB the amount appropriated to the program over the past six fiscal years.

    The NCH will advocate to ensure that $120 million continues to be appropriated to the Department of Education for the Teaching American History program.

    In the 111th Congress Senator Robert C. Byrd (D-WV), the originator of the TAH program, will relinquish the chair the Senate Appropriations Committee because of his declining health. While Senator Byrd will no doubt continue to be a strong advocate for the TAH program, the reality is that the historical community needs to identify new champions for program to ensure its long-term viability.

  • National Endowment for the Humanities (Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittees): The FY ’09 budget for the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) never got beyond the subcommittee stage in the House and no numbers came out of the Senate.
  • National Park Service (Interior and Related Agencies): As with the NEH, FY ’09 numbers for the National Park Service and its various history and preservation programs did not emerge during the budget process in 2008.

3. NARA & NHPRC Oversight Hearing

On May 14, 2008, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services and International Security held an oversight hearing on the programs of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). This was the first NARA oversight hearing in recent memory. Dr. Martin J. Sherwin, University Professor of History at George Mason University, and winner of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Biography, represented the National Coalition for History at the hearing.

Two other NCH member organizations also testified at the hearing: Tom Blanton, Director of the National Security Archive, and Dr. James Henderson, former Maine state archivist representing the Society of American Archivists.

4. Presidential Historical Records Preservation Law (PL 110-404)

In October, Congress enacted into law, the “Presidential Historical Records Preservation Act of 2008” (PL 110-404, S. 3477) to promote funding to preserve, digitize, and provide online access to documents of historical significance that may not have received funding in the past. In December, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee issued a report making it clear it that the new programs created under the law should not supersede existing categories of grants in competing for National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) funds. The committee report states NHPRC should have the discretion to determine what eligible programs are given priority out of existing funds.

The National Coalition for History opposed the original version “Presidential Historical Records Act” and in a letter to the Committee called for many of these same changes that were made in the bill before it was enacted and in the final report language.

The law creates two new NHPRC grant programs. The first would provide funding to institutions to preserve documents associated with presidents who do not have presidential libraries under the existing National Archives Presidential Library system. Under the second program, the National Archives could create an electronically searchable database of historic records of servitude, emancipation, and post-Civil War reconstruction.

5. “Founding Fathers” Papers

On February 7, 2008, the Senate Judiciary Committee convened a hearing to discuss the length of time it was taking for the completion of the compilation and annotation of the papers of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, John Adams and two projects encompassing the period prior to and during the presidency of Thomas Jefferson, as well as his post-presidency. Also at issue was the limited public accessibility to the finished products, especially via the Internet.

On May 6, 2008, Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein submitted a report to Congress, entitled “The Founders Online.” To take advantage of existing online publication efforts of completed volumes and to accelerate the online publication of unfinished volumes, NARA proposed engaging a sole service provider to undertake transcription and document encoding for all Founding Father papers that have not yet been edited.

On November 18, 2008, the NHPRC announced a $250,000 grant award to the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities on behalf of Documents Compass for a pilot project to transcribe and encode for online and print publication documents on behalf of documentary editing projects from the Founding Era of the nation.

The “Presidential Historical Records Preservation Act of 2008” noted above, gives he Archivist of the United States the Archivist the authority to appoint an advisory committee to review the progress of the Founding Fathers projects funded by the NHPRC. The advisory committee may also, in consultation with the Founding Fathers projects, set appropriate completion goals.

6. “Electronic Communications Preservation Act” (H.R. 5811)

On July 9, 2008, the House of Representatives passed the “Electronic Communications Preservation Act” (H.R. 5811). The bill would direct the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to establish standards for the capture, management, preservation and electronic retrieval of federal agency and White House e-mail communications. The bill did not see action in the Senate.

At an April 23, 2008, hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, in prepared testimony submitted for the record, NCH’s representative Dr. Anna Nelson supported the legislation.

On June 13, NCH sent a letter to House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman supporting an amended version of HR 5811.

7. “Partnership for the American Historical Record” (H.R. 6056)

This year, the archival community was successful in getting legislation (H.R. 6056) introduced to establish its Partnership for the American Historical Record (PAHR) initiative, a state-based formula grant program for archives. NCH has endorsed the bill and sent out a legislative alert urging those on our mailing list to contact their legislators to co-sponsor the bill. The legislation did not see action this year, but it will likely be reintroduced in the 111th Congress.


1. President-elect Obama’s Transition Team

The unexpected resignations of NEH Chairman Bruce Cole and Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein mean that a great deal of the National Coalition for History’s time in early 2009 will be spent on confirmation hearings after President-elect Obama nominates his candidates for those positions.

On December 19, 2008, the major archival groups, the National Coalition for History and some individual NCH members sent a letter to President-elect Obama’s Transition Team setting forth the qualifications that should be considered in selecting a new AUS.

Soon after the election, the National Coalition for History urged the incoming Obama administration to reverse the secrecy trend of the last eight years and to restore openness in the executive branch. Three separate proposals called on President-elect Obama to restore efficiency and openness to the Freedom of Information Act process, reform the classification system to reduce over-classification and facilitate greater declassification, and ensure presidential records are handled in accordance with existing law and Congress’ intent.

A diverse coalition of groups over 60 organizations, convened by the National Security Archive, developed the three proposals.

2. Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB)

In early 2008, the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) released its first report to the President providing recommendations for improving the Federal government’s declassification system. The Board examined 15 issues and made 49 separate recommendations to improve the current declassification system.

Among other issues, the Board recommended a more comprehensive approach to declassification within the Federal government, including the establishment of a National Declassification Center. It called for prioritizing the government’s declassification efforts to ensure a greater focus on “historically significant” records, especially presidential records, with greater involvement of historians and historical advisory panels in setting these priorities.

Throughout 2008, the PIDB held a number of public meetings seeking input on how best to implement the findings in its report.

A number of NCH member groups testified at these hearings. Witnesses included Dr. Richard Breitman and Dr. Arnita Jones (AHA), Tom Blanton (National Security Archive), and Dr. Brian Martin (History Associates).

3. Presidential Records

On September 5, 2008, the Center for American Progress Action sent a letter from thirty prominent historians to the leadership of the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate urging reform of the Presidential Records Act. The American Historical Association, Organization of American Historians and the National Coalition for History also endorsed the letter.

4. Federal Records Advisory Boards

This year, the Executive Director continued to monitor the activities of the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO), Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB), the State Department’s Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation, the Advisory Committee on the Records of Congress, and the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC).

At its December meeting, Wm. Roger Louis, the chairman of the State Department’s Historical Advisory Committee warned that the future of the Department’s “Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS)” series, which is the official record of U.S. foreign policy, is in jeopardy due to mismanagement by the Office of the Historian. Underscoring his concerns, he announced his resignation from the Committee. As a result of the on-going controversy, the NCH will be actively monitoring the activities of the Historical Advisory Committee in 2009.


NCH Collaborative Efforts

Because of our small size, the National Coalition for History often engages in collaborative efforts with pro-government transparency groups to achieve results on Capitol Hill and with federal agencies.

1. Historians and Archivists Litigation v. Vice President Cheney

On September 8, 2008, the Citizen’s for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) along with two eminent historians and three organizations of historians and archivists filed a complaint against Vice President Cheney, the Office of the Vice President (OVP), the Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein, and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), challenging their exclusion of a vast majority of Vice President Cheney’s papers from the Presidential Records Act (PRA) and the obligation to preserve them for the American public.

Joining CREW in the lawsuit were the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians, the Society of American Archivists and historians Stanley Kutler and Martin Sherwin. The petitioners argued that without judicial intervention on January 20, 2009, the vast majority of Vice President Cheney’s records will not be transferred to NARA for eventual release to the public, but instead will remain under the vice president’s custody and control.

On September 20, 2008, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly issued a preliminary injunction ordering the office of vice president Dick Cheney to preserve all records related to his office and the performance of his duties.

Officials representing the National Archives and the OVP have been deposed by CREW. As this is written the case is still pending.

2. Protecting Wilderness Civil War Battlefield from Encroachment by Wal-Mart

In 2008, Wal-Mart, Stores, Inc. announced plans to build a 145,000-square-foot “Wal-Mart Supercenter” in Orange County, Virginia, a quarter-mile from the Wilderness Battlefield National Park. In October, the National Coalition for History joined a Wilderness Battlefield Coalition that had been formed to fight the development. The coalition was organized by NCH member organization the Civil War Preservation Trust.

On December 11, in a letter to Wal-Mart President and CEO Lee Scott, 253 historians from throughout the country urged the retail giant to reconsider plans to build the proposed store adjacent to the Wilderness Battlefield. NCH provided the Wilderness Coalition with a list of military and Civil War historians that ultimately endorsed the letter.

3. Smithsonian Institution Transparency

In January 2008, the National Coalition for History, and other organizations met with staff for members of Congress on the Smithsonian Institution’s Board of Regents to urge the revision of Directive 807, a policy that would, among other things, broaden the Smithsonian’s ability to withhold certain business and financial information from the public.

Soon thereafter NCH and thirty other signatories sent a letter to the Smithsonian stating “the guardian of our Nation’s treasures…a great institution funded largely by taxpayer dollars to house, maintain, study, and exhibit so many diverse elements comprising our national heritage,” should set an example of transparency.


1. Conferences and Presentations:

This year the Executive Director attended meetings and/or participated in panel discussions at meetings of the American Historical Association, Council of State Archivists, Organization of American Historians, Society of American Archivists and National Council on Public History.

The NCH Executive Director made a presentation on legislative advocacy during the National Humanities Alliance’s Lobby Day event. On March 4, 94 humanities advocates visited more than 127 House and Senate offices representing 23 states and the District of Columbia. These grassroots advocates distributed issue briefs and state grant data, and asked members of Congress to support increased funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities and National Historical Publications and Records Commission.

2. Publications and Action Alerts:

Throughout the year the NCH continued to provide the historical and archival communities with the weekly electronic communication, the NCH WASHINGTON UPDATE. The website’s blogging capability has proved invaluable. For example, when Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein resigned in December, the news was sent out as an alert to Washington Update subscribers minutes after the news was released.

Direct subscriptions to the UPDATE have increased to approximately 1,870 up from 1,750 direct subscribers last year. We currently have 160 subscribers to our RSS feed, up significantly from 102 subscribers at the end of last year. We continue to have secondary distribution through the SEDIT list of documentary editors, as well as through a direct link from George Mason University’s History News Network web page. Anecdotally, we know that the UPDATE reaches a far broader audience than the subscription numbers indicate.

NCH columns continue to reach a broad but targeted audience of historians (30,000), museum professionals (10,000), and archivists (4,000) through the newsletters of professional organizations. These include the American Historical Association Perspectives, the Organization of American Historians OAH Newsletter, the Society of American Archivists Archival Outlook, the National Council on Public History Public History News, and the American Association for State and Local History AASLH Dispatch. Articles and news briefs were also reprinted in institutional supporter newsletters and online via the History News Network.


1. Website, Congressional Quarterly and CapWiz:

The NCH Website was completely redesigned in 2007 thanks to a significant contribution from the History Channel. It is administered by the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. In 2009 we will be in the third of a five-year contract with them to administer the site. Changes were made to the website this year to make it more user friendly and allow us to highlight breaking news, testimony and regulatory comments made by NCH on the front page of the site.

NCH subscribes to Congressional to provide federal legislative and budget tracking at a cost of $11,000. The National Humanities Alliance shares usage CQ with us, cutting the cost to $5,500 for NCH. CQ has proved invaluable in providing information on the federal budget before it is available publicly. And its bill search and bill tracking ability has freed up a great deal of the Executive Director’s time.

The Cap Wiz legislative on-line lobbying tool was not at all effective in generating grassroots support for NCH issues in 2008. Given the anticipated difficult budget year in 2009, in consultation with Chair Arnita Jones, a decision was made to terminate NCH’s annual purchase of CapWiz that was shared with the National Humanities Alliance and the Federation of State Humanities Councils. The current contract expires on December 31, 2008. Our use of the system was minimal (we only generated 300 e-mails in all of 2008). Given these paltry numbers, the annual $4,000 cost could not be justified.

2. Combined Federal Campaign:

Unfortunately, this year NCH failed to qualify for the 2010 Combined Federal Campaign (CFC). In recent years, the government has set more rigid qualification standards. NCH failed to qualify because it was not “doing business” in 15 states as required by the CFC. Distributing materials, like the NCH newsletter, does not meet this requirement. This literally means that the Executive Director must have physically made presentations in 15 different states over the past three years to qualify and we fell three states short.

Since we already qualified for the 2009 campaign, we should continue to receive income through the middle of the year. But we will not receive any income through the second half of 2009 and the first six months of 2010. So we need to account for this lost revenue. We plan to reapply next year for the 2011 CFC.

NCH received a total of $7,263 in CFC donations last year and halfway through this year we have received $3,100.

3. Audit:

One of the requirements to qualify for the CFC is an annual audit. When it became obvious that we would not qualify, NCH did not perform an audit in 2008. As a result, the $6K budgeted for that in the 2008 budget was not spent. Again, this money not spent skews the bottom line in NCH’s favor.

At the time it appeared we would perform the audit, price quotes we received were well above the $6,000 we had budgeted. We do plan to have a two-year audit of 2007 and 2008 performed in 2009. However, we should anticipate “sticker shock” in seeking proposals for the audit. We have conservatively budgeted $12,000 for the audit, but it may be more. While we do need an audit performed, it should be noted that spending $10,000 on an annual audit to qualify for what usually results in $7,000 in income from the CFC is not cost-effective. We may want to consider a two-year audit schedule.

NCH’s application to the Internal Revenue Service to make the organization’s 501(c)(3)-tax status permanent was approved.

4. Membership Update:

NCH’s membership stands at 51 organizations (the exact same number as 2007), which includes all those groups whose dues are current. To date we have received $178,200 in member dues in FY ’08 compared with $183,00 all of last year.

We have counted 78 organizations on our membership roster in recent years. Although a number of them have not paid dues for more than a year, they continue to be listed as active members. The vast majority of these are in the contributing member category (< $1,000 annually). Those groups that have not paid in 2007 and 2008 are going to be put into a suspended status so that we don’t factor them into our 2009 income projections. NCH welcomed the Civil War Preservation Trust as our only new member this year. Perhaps most disconcerting is the fact that our annual internet appeal through the NCH Washington Update only generated a paltry $465 in contributions in 2008. It might help if individual member organizations could include a plea for donations in their own publications and I plan to include one in the various columns I write for member groups.