NATIONAL COALITION FOR HISTORY 2014 ANNUAL REPORT
(Prepared by Lee White, Executive Director, December 29, 2014)
In 2014, the National Coalition for History (NCH) continued to take the lead in advocating for funding for federal programs that affect historians, archivists, educators and other stakeholders. In a progressively hostile budget environment over recent years, NCH has been able to fend off draconian cuts to most programs of interest to our members.
NCH and its constituent organizations effectively mobilized their members to contact Congress concerning funding for the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), National Park Service, Title VI/Fulbright-Hays International Education and Foreign Language, and other federal programs. Senior staffs at the affected federal agencies have credited these efforts with preventing deeper cuts or elimination of programs.
Since President George W. Bush issued an executive order in 2001 restricting access to presidential records, NCH has been advocating for changes to the way these records are handled. This year President Obama signed into law the “Presidential and Federal Records Act,” which imposes strict timeframes for incumbent and former-presidents to review records prior to their release. NCH was at the center of efforts to craft legislation to create a commission to study the potential creation of a National Women’s History Museum. NCH’s Executive Director was appointed to a federal Freedom of Information Act Advisory Committee.
The Coalition has continued to transform itself into an organization able to respond to situations not just at the federal level but at the state and local levels as well. For example, this year NCH was quick to respond to a controversy in the states over the College Board’s new AP History framework and a local issue in Boston surrounding keeping history and civics as a separate part of the public school curriculum.
NCH has also improved at educating our constituent organizations (and potential members) about its important contributions in the past, and how it will continue to play a vital role in policymaking in the future. NCH created an infographic or “e-brochure” that was made available to existing and prospective members and completed a re-branding that included a new logo and changes to our social media sites. Development of a new website is underway with an expected completion date in early 2015.
Major Accomplishments in 2014
This report summarizes NCH’s activities and highlights major accomplishments this year and reviews the organization’s performance in achieving the goals developed by the Policy Board in January 2014.
1. Presidential Records and Federal Record Act Enactment:
President Obama signed into law the Presidential and Federal Records Act Amendments of 2014 (PL 113-187). This is a major victory for NCH and the historical community. We have been advocating for the passage of Presidential Records Act (PRA) reform legislation since 2001 when President Bush issued an executive order restricting public access to presidential records.
Routinely, when the Archivist of the United States gave notice of his intent to release presidential records, former presidents requested extensions to review them. These requests have been routinely granted by the incumbent, indefinitely delaying the release of the records. The new law will end that practice. The former and incumbent presidents will be subject to specific time limitations as they review records for constitutionally based privilege against disclosure. The current and former president will have an initial 60 days to review the records and will be allowed one 30-day extension.
PL 113- 187 also includes provisions to strengthen the Federal Records Act by expanding the definition of federal records to clearly include electronic records. This is the first change to the definition of a federal record since the enactment of the act in 1950. It grants the Archivist of the United States final determination as to what constitutes a federal record. The law authorizes the early transfer of permanent electronic federal and presidential records to the National Archives.
2. National Women’s History Museum Commission Legislation:
In November, legislation (S. 398) to create a commission to study the potential creation of a National Women’s History Museum was passed by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. In May, NCH sent a letter to the bill’s sponsor, Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), withholding our support unless changes were made to the original bill. NCH’s concerns were addressed in the amended bill passed by the committee. As a result, NCH sent a letter to Sen. Collins in November endorsing S. 398. https://historycoalition.org/advocacy/live-pages/nch-letter-endorsing-s-398-national-womens-history-museum-commission-act/
Senator Collins added the language we requested that an individual with “experience as a professional historian with expertise in women’s history” be appointed to the commission. The House passed a similar bill (HR 863) sponsored by Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) last spring without these qualifications.
A strategic decision was made by the Democratic leadership in the Senate to add the National Women’s History Commission bill to a “must-pass” Defense Authorization bill where amendments were not allowed. Unfortunately, the legislators adopted the language from the House bill, which did not include the language regarding historians Senator Collins had agreed to. Nonetheless, NCH and AHA have received assurances from the two leading sponsors that the historical community will be consulted in identifying qualified historians to serve on the commission.
3. Federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Advisory Committee:
In June, Archivist of the United States David Ferriero appointed me to serve on a federal advisory panel designed to develop recommendations on how to improve implementation of the FOIA. NCH is one of only ten private sector appointees to the committee. The panel held its second meeting in October where it sought to refine the issues on which it will focus over the next 18 months. To learn more about the FOIA Advisory Committee go to: https://ogis.archives.gov/foia-advisory-committee.htm
On December 8, legislation to reform the Freedom of Information Act passed the Senate by unanimous consent. S. 2520, sought to reduce the often broad interpretation of FOIA’s exemptions by federal agencies. Although a similar bill passed by the House of Representatives earlier this year, time ran out on the session before the House could consider the amended Senate bill. Despite this setback, it is expected the bill will pass in the 114th Congress. NCH signed on to a letter with over 70 other organizations urging the passage of S. 2520.
4. Fiscal Year 2015 Federal Funding:
On December 16, President Obama signed into law the $1.1 trillion FY2015 Omnibus Appropriations bill that will fund federal government operations through September 2015.
One highlight is a modest $500,000 increase for the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), raising its budget to $5 million. This represents the first increase in the NHPRC’s budget in six fiscal years. NEH is level funded at $146 million.
An addendum to this report shows FY 15 funding levels for federal programs of interest to NCH members. In addition, the chart includes funding levels back to FY 12 to provide perspective on how these programs have fared in recent years. Please note FY 13 is an outlier since that was the year the 5% across-the-board cuts were implemented under the budget sequester.
5. Congressional History Caucus:
In 2013, NCH collaborated with Congressmen John Larson (D-CT) and Tom Cole (R-OK), and appointed co-chairs, Congressmen Ander Crenshaw (R-FL) and Bill Pascrell (DNJ), to create a Congressional History Caucus. Its aims are to provide a forum for members of Congress to share their interest in history and to promote an awareness of the subject on Capitol Hill. NCH’s leadership felt it was important for the historical community to be perceived as a resource by Congress instead of just another constituency seeking funding. This effort includes establishing relationships between Members of Congress and historians in their district.
The House caucus will have to be reestablished when the 114th Congress convenes in January. The caucus only garnered 15 members in 2014, so NCH will be mounting an aggressive recruitment campaign in 2015. We recently met with Congressman Larson’s staff to discuss ways to increase interest and membership. NCH will also be working towards establishing a Senate History Caucus in 2015.
6. American Community Survey:
AHA has requested NCH to submit a statement to the U.S. Census Bureau urging them to retain the Undergraduate Field of Degree question in the American Community Survey. NCH is in the process of preparing our comments.
7. Adjunct Faculty Loan Fairness Act:
In July, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced S. 2712, the “the “Adjunct Faculty Loan Fairness Act of 2014.” The bill would allow part-time faculty – who are often paid low wages with few benefits – to be eligible to participate in the federal student loan forgiveness program for public servants. NCH sent a letter to Senator Durbin supporting passage of S. 2712 and will seek to recruit cosponsors when the bill is reintroduced in the 114th Congress. https://historycoalition.org/wp-content/uploads//2014/10/NCH-letter-S-2712-Adjunct-Faculty-Fairness.pdf
8. Supporting New AP History Framework:
Throughout 2014, the new framework for the College Boardʼs AP U.S. History exam sparked controversy across the country. Conservative opponents maintained that the teaching of “traditional” American history, e.g. the contributions of the Founding Fathers, and the theme of American exceptionalism, were being deemphasized in the curriculum in favor of so-called “revisionist history” which allegedly painted America in a negative light.
In September, NCH sent a letter (https://historycoalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/NCH-AP-History-letter.pdf) to the State Boards of Education in eight states (GA, TN, LA, SC, NC, TX, CO, NV) supporting the College Boardʼs decision to make the AP History course and exam flexible and reflect ongoing developments in scholarship. Other than Tennessee, NCH did not receive any formal responses from the letters that were sent. The issue continues to be considered by state education boards. NCH’s letter to the state boards is referenced on the College Board’s website.
9. Making History and Civics Funding Priorities at the US Department of
In July, NCH submitted a letter to the US Department of Education requesting History and Civics Education be considered a priority in allocating funds through the agency’s discretionary grant programs in the same way that STEM education is treated. NCH never received a formal response from the Department of Education and there was no additional funding for history programs included in the FY 15 Omnibus appropriations bill that was enacted by Congress. https://historycoalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/NCH-DOEd-Priorities-7-17-14-final.pdf
10. Boston Public Schools Controversy:
In May, rumors spread on the internet that the Boston Public Schools (BPS) system was eliminating its History and Social Studies department. NCH sent a letter to the BPS seeking assurances that this was not the case. Shortly thereafter NCH received a response from BPS Interim Superintendent John McDonough confirming the department was not being eliminated.
11. Recruited Genealogy Groups to Join NCH:
In July, NCH welcomed the Records Preservation and Access Committee (RPAC) to the coalition this summer. RPAC is comprised of the National Genealogical Society (NGS), the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS), and the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS). FGS represents hundreds of genealogical societies and NGS and IAJGS represent over 9,000 genealogists. As one of the most frequent users of archival records, genealogists add a large politically active constituency to NCH.
12. Marketing and New Initiatives:
In October, NCH issued a new online marketing brochure, or infographic, designed to highlight its achievements to existing members and to solicit new and lapsed organizations to join the coalition. The “e-brochure” has been sent to all NCH member organizations for their use. It is also available for viewing on the NCH website at: https://historycoalition.org/brochure/
Attached to the report is NCH’s new logo which is the first stage of our re-branding initiative. This is a major milestone in the implementation of our marketing strategy. We are currently working with a website design firm and we anticipate a rollout of our new website in early 2015.
In August, NCH hired a student intern. Danielle Dulken is currently pursuing her Masters in History at American University with a concentration in public history. Danielle has been instrumental in developing these marketing projects and has agreed to stay at NCH during her spring semester next year.