December 27, 2018
To: NCH Policy Board
From: Lee White, Executive Director
Subject: NCH 2018 Annual Report
This report details the National Coalition for History’s accomplishments in 2018. It has been an extremely successful and productive year for the coalition, despite continuing internal financial challenges.
Normally, the annual report begins with a look back. However, with the Democrats taking control of the House in January, the 116th Congress may have major implications for our constituencies. The Democrats gained 39 seats in November and hold a 235-199 margin with one race yet to be decided. In addition a slew of Republicans retired so there will be large scale reshuffling on the minority side as well. The Republicans gained two Senate seats and hold a 53-47 seat majority.
While many expected dire cuts to federal funding for history in the 115th Congress, that did not occur. Congressional Republicans ignored President Trump’s budget requests calling for the elimination of agencies and programs such as the National Endowment for the Humanities and Institute for Museum and Library Services, National Historical Publications and Records Commission and funding for international, history and civics education. Most programs of interest received level funding and in some cases small increases. Traditionally, Democrats have been somewhat more generous in funding history and archival programs, but no one should expect a sudden windfall.
The new Congress offers both challenges and opportunities for the National Coalition for History. In the House, obviously there will be new chairmen and chairwomen and ranking members on every committee. This also means a great deal of turnover in personal and committee staff which means new relationships have to be created.
As noted below, while the Congressional History Caucus that we helped found is at an all-time high of 41-members, recruitment must start all over again since caucuses need to be recertified at the beginning of each new Congress.
Attendance at this year’s Humanities Advocacy Day will be even more important since we will likely be dealing with new staff that aren’t familiar with our programs. The National Humanities Alliance has opened registration for its annual Advocacy Day, to be held March 10-12 in Washington, D.C.
- FY19 Federal Funding
NCH’s primary advocacy focus remains ensuring sustained and robust funding for those federal agencies and programs that have the greatest impact on historians and other stakeholders.
Congress approved five of twelve appropriations bills by the time the 2019 fiscal year began on October 1. While that might not seem like a major accomplishment, it had not been accomplished in 22 years.
Instead of passing a massive omnibus bill funding the entire federal government, Congress this year chose to bundle agencies in smaller bills known as a “minibus.” On September 28, President Trump signed into law a minibus that combined FY 19 appropriations bills for the Defense Department, and Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies.
This minibus includes level funding for the Department of Education’s Title VI and Fulbright-Hays programs at $65.1 million and $7.1 million, respectively. It also included a major boost for the K-12 history and civics programs at the Department of Education, despite President Trump’s threat to eliminate them. The American History and Civics grants program received an over 75% increase from $1.7 million to $3 million. The Presidential and Congressional Academies for American History and Civics received level funding at $1.8 million. This marks an increase for the two programs from $3.5 million in FY 18 to $4.8 million in FY 19. Separately, the Library of Congress received a healthy funding increase from $669.8 million last year to $696.1 million in FY 19. Finally, the Institute of Museum and Library Services received a small $2 million increase up to $242 million. About three-quarters of the roughly $1.33 trillion in discretionary spending authority for FY 2019 was included in this bill.
Since the start of the 2019 fiscal year on October 1, Congress passed a series of continuing resolutions (CR) to keep the rest of the government operating. The final CR expired on December 21, 2018, for the federal agencies covered under the remaining unpassed seven appropriations bills.
As this is being written, the partial shutdown of the federal government is expected to continue until at least January when Congress reconvenes. The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the National Park Service, National Archives, National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) and Smithsonian Institution are among the agencies that have been temporarily closed.
The attached chart shows the House and Senate-passed numbers for those agencies to provide a sense of their likely funding levels. For most agencies the difference between the House and Senate levels are small or identical such as the NEH and NHPRC.
To summarize across the board, history, archival and education programs were, or likely will be, either level funded or receive small increases. This should be considered a major victory, since the president had proposed eliminating the NEH, the IMLS, the NHPRC and other programs.
- NCH Involvement in Effort to Plan the Nation’s 250th Anniversary Celebration
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. The 33-member body is comprised of 8 Members of Congress, 16 private citizens, and 9 federal officials. One academic historian and two political scientists are included among the private citizen appointees.
The Department of the Interior last summer selected the American Battlefield Trust as the nonprofit organization that will serve as secretariat and administrator of the Commission. The American Battlefield Trust will raise funds, prepare reports, provide administrative and financial support, and house the Commission’s administrative offices.
The Commission was tasked with developing a report with recommendations to the President and Congress by the summer of 2018. However, because of the delay in selecting the American Battlefield Trust, the meeting and preparation of the report were delayed. The Commission met for the first time November 19 in Philadelphia. Note: the American Battlefield Trust was until recently known as the Civil War Trust. They changed their name to reflect their broadened mission of protecting battlefields associated with the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.
NCH has been closely monitoring the situation and is poised to play an active role as a resource to the Commission. The American Battlefield Trust is a long-time member of NCH and we have already been in contact to find ways NCH and its members can be involved with the Commission. In addition, NCH recently announced its support of five history-related goals for the commemoration prepared by the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) and has been active in a task force on USA 250 convened by AASLH.
- Congressional History Caucus
We currently have 41 members in the House caucus, which is an all-time high; up from the 20 members we had at the end of the last session of Congress. We recently completed a direct mailing to the staffs of targeted members which significantly increased membership. Unfortunately, the caucus needs to be recertified with each new Congress so we need to start the process all over again in January. More information on the History Caucus can be found at https://historycoalition.org/congressional-history-caucus
- Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) Reauthorization Bill
On December 19, the House of Representatives, by a vote of 331-28, passed S.3530, the “Museum and Library Services Act of 2018.” The Senate approved the bill earlier this month and it now goes to the President for his signature. The bill reauthorizes the IMLS until FY 2023.
The IMLS is the primary federal agency that funds museum and library programs across the country. The legislation contains a number of provisions specifically designed to strengthen the museum field. NCH worked closely with the American Association for State and Local History and the American Alliance for Museums in developing the legislation.
- Controversy over Department of Interior Records Disposition
In November, disinformation went viral on the internet that the Department of Interior was proposing to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) the destruction of valuable historical records having to do with the Endangered Species Act, Fish and Wildlife, energy management and other important issues under the department’s jurisdiction. Conversations with senior officials at the National Archives, as well as colleagues working for major open government groups and the archival community allowed the NCH to clarify the situation for our constituents.
In December, NCH sent a letter to NARA questioning the handling of records from the Department of the Interior. NCH joined with 12 other open government and transparency groups in the letter. In addition, the letter asked NARA to make the actual records scheduled for destruction available online so they are open to public inspection and comment and obviate the need to file FOIA requests
One result of this controversy is that NCH organized a session at the AHA’s upcoming 2019 Annual Meeting to discuss with NARA’s chief records officer ways to improve the future handling of records schedules.
- NCH Urges Congress to Investigate Immigration Records Mismanagement
In a July letter, NCH called on Congress to investigate claims that federal agencies with jurisdiction over enforcing immigration policy have grossly mismanaged their recordkeeping responsibilities during the recent crisis along the Nation’s southwest border. NCH sent letters to the House and Senate committees with oversight over immigration and the National Archives and Records Administration. https://historycoalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/NCH-Immigration-records-Sen-Johnson.pdf
NCH is also closely monitoring a situation involving potential destruction of records by the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. Under the Federal Records Act, federal agencies routinely request permission from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to destroy routine “temporary” records. NARA then makes a determination as to whether the records have historical or permanent value which requires them to be retained permanently. NARA is required by law to seek public comment after a notice is posted in the Federal Register.
In 2017, ICE requested that NARA approve a records retention schedule that would have allowed them to destroy detainee records in 11 categories including solitary confinement, assault, sexual abuse and deaths while in custody. NARA initially recommended the approval of ICE’s request, which sparked outrage during the public comment period with a broad range of opponents arguing the records clearly had permanent historical value. NARA agreed to suspend its initial recommendation and is reviewing the records retention schedule with ICE to determine what if any records can be destroyed. There will be an additional public comment period on the records retention schedule once this finding has been made.
- Increased Public Access to Congressional Reports
NCH has for many years supported legislation requiring the Government Publishing Office (GPO) to establish, maintain, and ensure the automatic updating of a free public website containing Congressional Research Service (CRS) Reports, and an index, that is searchable, sortable, and downloadable. Currently, CRS reports are not easily accessible to the public.
The 2018 omnibus appropriations bill that was passed by Congress and signed by the President in May included a provision mandating that all non-confidential CRS reports be made publicly available online through a free website within 90 to 270 days of their publication. The website recently went live and is slowly ramping up to meet the legislative mandate of making all reports available to the public. https://crsreports.congress.gov/
- Oral History “Common Rule” Revisions
Revisions to the Common Rule, the set of regulations governing human subjects research, have been delayed a further six months, but with a few exceptions. The new rules were set to take effect on July 19, 2018, but have been delayed until January 21, 2019. However, during that interim period institutions will be allowed, but not required, to take advantage of three “burden-reducing” provisions in the new regulations, including the exemption of oral history work from unnecessary and invasive Institutional Review Board oversight.
- National Park Service Modified Fee Proposal
Following extensive backlash over a proposal to significantly increase fees at several of the most popular national parks, including a letter from NCH, the National Park Service (NPS) has announced a revised plan. Instead of large increases at a small group of parks, NPS will raise fees by a more modest $5 per vehicle across the entire park system. The additional revenue will help address the backlog of maintenance and infrastructure issues NPS faces.
- NCH will continue to provide advice to, and monitor the activities of, the State Department Historical Advisory Committee, the NHPRC, the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB), the Advisory Committee on the Records of Congress and other relevant federal bodies.
- Working with other stakeholders, NCH will monitor the Trump administration’s approach to open government activities.
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 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. The records issues noted above are a prime example of what this directive entails.
- The Executive Director should continue to implement the Membership and Marketing Plan.
- Lead Organizations (>$8,000): There are currently four organizations in this group who contributed a total of $131,000. This is an increase of $5,000 from FY17, thanks to an increased contribution from HISTORY.
- Sustaining Members ($4,000–$7,999): There are currently eight organizations in this category that contributed a total of $31,920. That is $4,700 reduction from FY17, due to a $2,500 reduction in History Associates’ contribution and a $2,200 reduction in the Regional Archives Consortium contribution—both due to internal changes in those organizations. Barring a recommitment by these organizations to support NCH at a level at or above $4,000, both will shift to contributing members for FY19.
- Contributing Members ($1,000–$3,999): At the end FY18 there were 13 organizations in this category who contributed a total of $15,100, down from $16,000 in FY17.
- Basic Members ($600): There were 19 organizations that have either contributed or indicated their commitment to pay by the end of the year. As 12/26/18 we received contributions from 10 of these 19, totaling $5,700, just over half the amount contributed last year at the basic membership level. Within this category we definitively lost five members and gained two. Some of the groups that paid, contributed below the minimum $600 membership threshold established by the board two years ago and this “free-rider” issue continues.
Membership Breakdown: NCH currently has 44 members (based on expected contributions for 2018). However, based on dues contributions received as of 12/26/18 the membership stands at 34. Even if we receive some contributions late, this represents a troubling decline in membership at the basic membership level.