NATIONAL COALITION FOR HISTORY 2016 ANNUAL REPORT
(Prepared by Lee White, Executive Director, December 29, 2016)
The past year has been an extremely successful and productive one for the National Coalition for History. Long term objectives were reached such as the successful passage by Congress of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) reform bill. In addition, unanticipated issues arose that required NCH interventions. These included intervening with agency officials to prevent the closure of the history office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center and the successful resolution of a conflict over preventing the development of land in Princeton, New Jersey adjacent to the site of a Revolutionary War battlefield. These matters and others presented opportunities for the NCH to exercise its role as the preeminent advocacy voice for the interests of historians and other stakeholders.
Other matters of concern to the NCH such as federal funding for history-related programs are on-going. Issues such as the budget for the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Historical Publications and Records Commission perennially remain at the core of the NCH’s mission.
Initiatives such as the Congressional Caucus and advocacy of the Commission establishing the new American Museum of Women’s History as well as the recent engagement with efforts to prepare for the USA’s 250th Anniversary in 2026 have positioned the NCH to continue its transformation into an organization seeking the broadest possible influence in supporting the efforts of historians to bring the past’s lessons to contemporary Americans.
The NCH is not without internal challenges that exert an effect upon its ability to serve its constituents. While the Coalition is poised to do more, its income has remained essentially flat for nearly eight years while expenses continue to rise. Membership has been stagnant and dues have not been significantly raised to meet new budgetary demands. NCH can best serve member organizations by being aggressive in attracting new members while retaining the support of organizations that are already Coalition members.
2017 NCH Policy Objectives and Review of 2016 Accomplishments
1. During the conclusion of the FY 2017 appropriations process and development of the FY’ 18 budget, NCH will lobby aggressively for sustained funding for those federal agencies and programs that have the greatest impact on the historical and archival communities. Outcome: Accomplished/Ongoing
These include (but are not limited to):
- National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)
- National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC)
- National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)
- National Park Service history and preservation programs
- Title VI/Fulbright-Hays International Education programs
- Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS)
- Library of Congress
- Smithsonian Institution
The congressional appropriations process ground to a halt in late-September and Congress passed a short term budget continuing resolution (CR) that kept the federal government running until December 9. Before leaving for the holidays, Congress passed a second CR to keep the federal government funded and operating through April 28, 2017. Republican leaders in Congress decided they wanted to avoid a final budget battle with the Obama administration. The delay will also allow the Trump administration to have input on the budget even though it would cover only the final six months of the FY 17 fiscal year.
There were some bright spots in funding bills, especially in the House, that will be the basis of negotiations with the Senate over the final budget package. A chart summarizing the current status of the FY 17 appropriations bills of interest to the historical community is included at the end of this report.
The House passed a Financial Services and General Government FY 17 funding bill (HR 4585) that includes $6 million for the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). This is an increase of $1 million from the administration’s request and what the commission received in FY 16. If adopted this would be the NHPRC’s highest funding level since FY 2011.
The bill also contains good news for international and foreign language education. Though the President’s FY 2017 budget request, and the comparable Senate bill, propose a $4.9 million or 69% reduction in Fulbright-Hays (overseas) funding, the House bill funds Fulbright-Hays and Title VI at their respective FY 2016 levels of $65 million for domestic and $7 million for overseas programs. NCH issued a legislative alert urging House members to support the higher funding level for the overseas program.
2. NCH will advocate to ensure federal K-12 history/civics education grants established in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) are fully funded in the U.S. Department of Education’s FY 16 and 17 budgets. Outcome: ongoing
In the new ESSA, two programs were specifically targeted at providing funding for history and civics education.
- 2232: Presidential and Congressional Academies for American History and Civics— Establishes competitive grant programs for nonprofit organizations to run intensive, two-to- six-week-long academies in American history, civics, and government for high school students and for teachers. Entities eligible to compete for these grants include institutions of higher education, nonprofit educational organizations, museums, libraries, or research centers with demonstrated expertise in historical methodology or the teaching of American history and civics.
- 2233: National Activities—Creates a competitive grant program for nonprofit organizations and institutions of higher education to develop and disseminate innovative approaches to offering high quality instruction in American history, civics, government and geography for underserved students. This program could be used to fund professional development for teachers.
The U.S. Department of Education awarded one grant in FY 16 for $1,751,759 which will support the grant for a three-year project period. The awardee is the Kentucky Educational Development Cooperative, with partners including the Rendell Center for Civics and Civic Engagement and the National Constitution Center. This is the first Civics/History funding awarded under ESSA.
The House FY 17 Labor, HHS and Education appropriations bill includes funding for both the new American History and Civics grants and the American History and Civics Academies. HR 5926 provides more than the programs were slated to receive under the Every Student Succeeds Act which authorized $6.5 million for both programs. The House bill provides $6.5 million for the history and civics grants and $1.8 million for the academies. However, we still have work ahead of us since the Senate version of the funding bill didn’t include money for the grant program.
3. NCH will work with the Congressional Commission on The American Museum of Women’s History to ensure participation in the deliberative process by professional historians with experience in women’s history. Outcome: Completed/Ongoing
On November 16, the Congressional Commission on an American Museum of Women’s History (AMWH) submitted its much-anticipated report. Legislation creating the commission was passed by Congress in December 2014.
NCH, AHA, OAH and other historical organizations provided support to the commission throughout its deliberations and participated in a “scholar’s summit” held by the commission in January 2016. NCH will continue to monitor the situation and advocate for the museum as the focus turns back to Congress and the Trump administration’s decision on how to proceed.
The commission affirms the need for a physical national museum (known as the American Museum of Women’s History) honoring the impact and experience of women in America. The commission recommended the museum become an official part of the Smithsonian Institution and be located one of three “preferred” sites on the National Mall.
Under the commission’s plan, the Museum would be funded with a combination of public and private funds with a fundraising goal ranging from $150–$180 million from the private sector. At least 75% of capital campaign funds would need to be pledged prior to any construction. The Museum would be between 75,000–90,000 square feet in size. The commission calls for the creation of a 10-year strategic plan to develop the Museum in three phases.
To read the executive summary and full report, click here. (https://amwh.us/report/)
4. NCH Intervenes to Prevent Elimination of History Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Outcome: Unanticipated issue that arose during 2016. Accomplished Successfully
In July, NCH was made aware by the leadership of the Organization of American Historians (OAH) that the history office at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Johnson Space Center (JSC) was likely to be defunded and closed at the end of the 2016 fiscal year on September 30. One historian in the three-person office had already been terminated. This situation was especially disconcerting because of the vital work of the JSC office in preserving the oral histories of astronauts and engineers, scientists, technicians and agency managers who blazed our nation’s trail into space.
The JSC history office was the 2016 recipient of OAH’s Friend of History award. The prize “recognizes an institution or organization, or an individual working primarily outside college or university settings, for outstanding support of historical research, the public presentation of American history.”
Under the current structure, each of NASA’s eleven centers across the country has its own history office. Each is autonomous and operates under the purview of that center’s assistant administrator. The JSC historians are not federal employees but work for a contractor; thus they could be let go without the usual restrictive federal personnel rules applying.
On August 15, NCH sent a letter to NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden, Jr. urging him to provide the funding necessary to keep the JSC office open with the resources it needs to be fully staffed and maintain the same excellent level of service to the historical community and the public it has provided in the past. The OAH and the AHA each communicated to NASA the same concerns regarding the imperative of continued funding for this work.
On September 23, NCH received a highly favorable reply from NASA’s Chief Historian William P. Barry. Stating that NCH’s “letter was both timely and impactful,” he reported that the history office was being restructured within the JSC under the management of a civil service employee and that the contractor staff was being retained with plans to add an additional person in the future. Assuring the AHA that “the attention of the very top management has been turned to the history program,” Barry told OAH president Nancy Cott that Administrator Bolden places “a high priority on having a strong history program at NASA” and that steps are being taken to strengthen the program, “including placing the office under the purview of the Chief Knowledge Officer.”
The outcome was the direct result of NCH working collaboratively with OAH, AHA and the Society for History in the Federal Government to achieve this common goal.
5. NCH Plays Vital Role in to Preserving Revolutionary War’s Princeton Battlefield. Outcome: Unanticipated issue that arose during 2016. Accomplished Successfully
On March 3, NCH joined the fight to halt destruction of a historically significant parcel of land associated with the Revolutionary War’s Battle of Princeton. In a letter to the Institute for Advanced Study’s Board of Trustees, a national coalition of historical and conservation organizations asked the Institute to halt destruction of Maxwell’s Field, one of the most significant battlefield properties in the nation. On this site, General George Washington staged a counterattack against the British Army that led to victory in the Battle of Princeton on January 3, 1777. Coming on the heels of Washington’s victory against the Hessians a few days before in Trenton, historians consider the two battles to be a pivotal turning point in the Revolution. The Institute is nearby, but not affiliated with, Princeton University.
On December 12, the Institute for Advanced Study and the Civil War Trust jointly announced a plan to significantly expand the land that will be preserved adjacent to the current Princeton Battlefield State Park while enabling the Institute to construct new housing for its faculty on its campus. The National Coalition for History is a member of the “Save Princeton Coalition” which advocated for preserving this historical property.
Under the plan, the Civil War Trust, through its Campaign 1776 initiative to protect Revolutionary War battlefields, will purchase 14.85 acres of land from the Institute for $4 million, to be conveyed to the State of New Jersey as an addition to the existing Princeton Battlefield State Park. The acquisition includes approximately 2/3 of the Maxwell’s Field property, along with an additional 1.12-acre tract north of the property that has been identified by historians as part of the battlefield. The agreement will not go into effect until all necessary project approvals have been received. The target date for the transfer of the property to be sold to the Trust is the end of June 2017.
6. NCH Supported FOIA Improvement Act Signed Into Law. Outcome: Previously ongoing issue that was accomplished successfully
On June 30, President Obama signed into law the “FOIA Improvement Act of 2016” (PL 114-185). NCH supported the legislation codifying comprehensive reforms to the Freedom of Information Act that increase public access and restore a presumption of openness in the handling of federal records.
Importantly, it strengthens the “foreseeable harm” standard, which obligates federal agencies to adhere to a standard of openness: they must release information unless “the agency reasonably foresees that disclosure would harm an interest protected by an exemption” or “disclosure is prohibited by law.” The new law limits Exemption 5, the broadest of the nine exemptions to FOIA, which includes documents touching on “the deliberative process.” By placing a 25-year time limit on Exemption 5 claims by the federal government, the law opens up a new potential source of research materials to scholars.
7. NCH Advocacy in Support of Confirmation of New Librarian of Congress. Outcome: Unanticipated issue that arose during 2016. Accomplished Successfully
In July, the U.S. Senate by a vote of 74-18, confirmed Dr. Carla D. Hayden as the 14th librarian of Congress and she was sworn into office on September 14. Hayden is the first woman, and the first African American, to lead the Library of Congress. She is also the first librarian to serve in the post in 60 years and the first Librarian of Congress subject to a renewable 10-year term, which Congress imposed in 2015.
In conjunction with the American Library Association, NCH participated in an advocacy effort to urge the US Senate to expedite consideration of Dr. Hayden’s nomination and in support of her confirmation.
8. The Executive Director will work with the Congressional History Caucus co-chairs to solicit members through promotion of a “Dear Colleague” letter and in organizing a rollout event. Throughout the year the Executive Director will assist the Congressional History Caucus in achieving its mission of promoting history on Capitol Hill. Outcome: Ongoing
In February 2015, the executive director met with Representative John Larson to discuss future plans for the caucus. We currently have 27 members in the House caucus, which is more than we had at the end of the last session.
Our website includes a “how-to” page to allow NCH organizations and their members to recruit Members of Congress for the caucus. We continued to promote the “Dear Colleague letter” urging representatives to join the caucus. Every House office was contacted at least once by NCH staff. NCH member organizations sent solicitations to their members urging them to contact their House member and urge them to join. More information on the History Caucus can be found at (https://historycoalition.org/congressional-history-caucus). The goal of holding an inaugural event this year was not met. This will continue to remain a priority in 2017.
9. NCH comments on Human Subjects Research in HHS Rule. Outcome: Ongoing.
In September 2015, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and fifteen other federal departments and agencies announced proposed revisions to the regulations for protection of human subjects in research. The comment period ended on January 6, 2016.
The draft rule specifically states that “oral history, journalism, biography, and historical scholarship activities that focus directly on the specific individuals about whom the information is collected” be explicitly excluded from “the scope of the Common Rule.” Moreover, the recommendations acknowledged the importance and value within oral history, and historical studies more generally, to identify individual actors in history, and recognized that there already existed discipline-specific codes of ethical conduct.
The Oral History Association’s (OHA) executive director, the late Dr. Clifford Kuhn, took the lead in preparing draft comments on the proposed rule. The comments strongly endorsed the recommendation to exclude oral history from the Common Rule. NCH used the OHA’s paper as the basis for a letter submitted to the HHS on October 30, 2015. (https://historycoalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/NCH-HHS-Human-Subjects-Proposed-Rule-10-30-15.pdf
In June, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine issued a report recommending that Congress authorize and the president appoint an independent, national commission to examine and update the ethical, legal, and institutional frameworks governing research involving human subjects. In addition, the academies urged the executive branch to withdraw the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for the “Common Rule.”
According to a November 16, 2016, article in Politico, the rule still has not been sent to OMB and it is unlikely to be completed during the dwindling days of the Obama administration. It is unclear what the incoming Trump administration’s views on the issue will be.
10. Freedom of Information Act Advisory Committee. Outcome: Completed/Ongoing
In June 2014, 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 was one of only ten non-governmental appointees to the committee.
In April, the panel concluded its two-year term and submitted a series of recommendations to the Archivist. Mr. Ferriero decided to renew the FOIA panel’s charter for an additional two years. Following conversations with NCH’s executive committee, it was decided that I would not submit my name for an additional term. Instead, we reached out to NCH organizations to encourage them to solicit nominations from qualified applicants to fill the “historian’s slot” on the advisory committee. Unfortunately, when the new panel was announced, neither one of the candidates NCH member groups had submitted were chosen. In fact, not a single historian was appointed despite the panel’s charter which mandated that one be included. I reached out to NARA staff to point out the oversight. Subsequently, Archivist Ferriero appointed Dr. James Hershberg, a Professor of History and International Affairs at the George Washington University to the panel.
11. Congress Creates Commission to Prepare For USA’s 250th Anniversary in 2026. Outcome: Ongoing.
In July 2016, Congress passed legislation (Public Law 114-196) establishing the U.S. Semiquincentennial Commission to begin planning for the nation’s 250th anniversary in 2026.
Key highlights include:
- The 32-member body will be comprised of 8 Members of Congress, 16 private citizens, and 8 federal officials. Unfortunately, the law does not delineate the qualifications for the private citizen representatives who will be named by the Speaker, House Minority Leader, and the Senate Majority and Minority Leaders.
- The Commission shall develop a report with recommendations to the President and to Congress within two years of its formation.
- The Commission observes and commemorates not only the Revolution, but also the history of the United States leading into the 250th anniversary
- The Commission shall remain in existence until December 31, 2027.
NCH facilitated the submission to congressional leadership of a list qualified historians with expertise in the field to be considered for selection to the commission. NCH will continue to monitor the activities of the commission and seek opportunities for participation by historians.
12. Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) Rule Issued by NARA. Outcome: Completed
On September 14, the National Archives issued a final rule, “Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI),” establishing consistent practices and procedures for safeguarding, disseminating, controlling, and marking CUI across Executive Branch departments and agencies. It went into effect November 13, 2016.
CUI is information that, while sensitive, does not meet the higher level of security restrictions needed to qualify as classified. The new rule is an attempt to provide a uniform government-wide process for managing CUI by creating four broad categories.
NCH reached out to interested parties within the coalition to solicit comment during the public comment phase of the rulemaking process. NCH signed on to group comments written by OpenTheGovernment.org (https://www.openthegovernment.org/node/4940) that were submitted to the National Archives.
13. Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) Reauthorization Bill. Outcome: Ongoing.
On September 22, the “Museum and Library Services Act of 2016” (S. 3391) was introduced in the Senate. This legislation, which NCH supports, will strengthen the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and enhance its ability to help museums serve their communities.
IMLS is the primary federal agency that funds museum programs across the country. The legislation contains a number of provisions specifically supported by the museum field. The bill did not see action this session and it will be reintroduced when the new Congress reconvenes.
14. NCH will continue to provide advice to, and monitor the activities of, the NHPRC, the State Department Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation, Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB), the Advisory Committee on the Records of Congress and other relevant federal bodies. Outcome: Ongoing
15. Working with other stakeholders, NCH will monitor the incoming Trump administration’s approach to open government activities. Outcome: Ongoing
NCH will continue to work towards identifying new areas in which to promote openness and transparency within the federal government while remaining vigilant for any attempts by the Trump administration to undo the tremendous progress made in this area during the Obama administration.
The executive director continued to follow the lead of OpenTheGovernment.org, the National Security Archive and other pro-transparency groups in lobbying on these issues.
16. The Executive Director should make it a top priority to implement the Membership and Marketing Plan and provide the Executive Committee with quarterly reports on his progress. Outcome: Accomplished/Ongoing
NCH dramatically expanded the frequency of communications with the full membership not just the policy board. Staff updated the infographic to highlight NCH’s achievements to existing members, and to solicit new and lapsed organizations to join the coalition. Staff also developed a one-page .pdf version of the infographic that was sent to existing NCH organizations and used as marketing tool.
17. The Executive Director will set a goal of attending the annual meetings of four NCH organizations (within budget limitations) with priority given to those groups who meet the requisite membership level in the Membership and Marketing Plan. To the extent possible, the Executive Director will work with member organization representatives to provide presentations at these meetings.
Outcome: In 2016, the Executive Director made presentations to the leadership of the American Historical Association the Organization of American Historians, National Council on Public History, the Society for History in the Federal Government, and the Association for Documentary Editing during their annual meetings.