Date: January 22, 2021
To: NCH Policy Board
From: Lee White, Executive Director
Subject: 2020 NCH Annual Report
Despite the pandemic, 2020 was a busy year for the National Coalition for History (NCH). We continued to advocate for robust fiscal year (FY) 21 funding for federal agencies. We also provided updated information to our members on how to access federal agency resources and funding opportunities during the COVID-19 shutdown.
Already in 2021, NCH has weighed in on two events which occurred during the waning days of the Trump administration. NCH signed onto two AHA public statements. The first condemned the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. The second criticized a report issued by the 1776 Commission that was appointed by President Trump which extolled an extremely conservative assessment of the teaching of US History. On his first day in office, President Biden issued an executive order disbanding the 1776 Commission and the report it issued has been removed from the White House’s website.
NCH recently sent a memorandum to President-elect Biden’s transition team. Our comments focused solely on the dire need to provide funding for the National Archives and Records Administration. Below is a summary:
The National Archives and Records Administration has reached an inflection point. For too long it has been neglected and underfunded. As the quantity of records increases exponentially, NARA will reach a point at which it will have difficulty dealing with federal records generated each year, let alone tackling the massive backlog of older, historically important paper records that should be digitized. Backlogs in declassification and the processing of records at presidential libraries will also increase. Perhaps most importantly, the quality and quantity of services provided to our citizens will deteriorate. The Biden administration must halt this decline by providing the resources necessary to restore this repository of our nation’s past and to ensure its future.
We stressed the need for the Biden administration to recommit to openness and transparency, to protect presidential records during the transition, improvements in customer service and employee morale, restoration of research hours, and investments in infrastructure.
FY 21 Federal Funding
President Trump has signed into law an omnibus appropriations bill which will fund the federal government for the remainder of fiscal year 2021. Click here to access a chart showing how programs of interest to our community fared. It includes the budget for FY 21 and compares it with FY 20 and President Trump’s original FY 21 budget request. Click here to see a second chart that provides funding trends over the past three fiscal years to give some historical perspective.
When viewed from that time frame, the numbers show a general upward trend, except for the National Archives (see explanation below). Across the board, history, archival and education programs were either level funded or received small increases. This should be considered a major victory, since the president had proposed eliminating the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and other programs.
Summary of History, Archival, Education and Preservation Funding in FY 21 Budget
- TheNational Archives and Records Administration (NARA) received $377 million for operating expenses (OE), an $18 million increase from the FY 20 level of $359 million. However, the bill allocates $18 million for NARA as an offset to perform its duties related to the presidential transition. So, it is a wash and NARA’s OE budget remains the same. $2 million is designated to fund the Civil Rights Cold Case Review Board which has languished because of a lack of funding. And $9.2 million is allocated for NARA to continue its records digitization initiative.
- TheNational Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), which the president and Senate had targeted for elimination, received level funding of $6.5 million. NCH and its member organizations engaged in a vigorous advocacy campaign to save the NHPRC.
- The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) received $167.5 million, a $5 million increase from the FY 20 level. The Trump administration had sought to eliminate the NEH in its FY 21 request to Congress.
- K-12 history and civics programs at the Department of Education: Despite President Trump’s threat to eliminate them, federal K-12 history and civics programs were given slight increases in funding. The Presidential and Congressional Academies for American History and Civics received $2 million up from $1.8 million last year. The American History and Civics grants program received $3.25 million, up from $3 million in FY 20. The total is $5.25 million up from $4.8 million.
- TheTitle VI/Fulbright-Hays International Education programs received modest increases. Title VI (domestic programs) was increased from $68 million to $69.3 million. Fulbright-Hays (overseas programs) was increased by $800,000, up to $8.8 million. Together the programs received $78.1 million. Both programs had been targeted for elimination by the administration.
- The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) received a $5 million funding boost to $257 million. Library Programs received $197.5 million and Museum Programs increased by $2 million up to $40.5 million. This is another agency the president had targeted for elimination.
- The National Park Services’ Historic Preservation Fund will receive $144.3 million this fiscal year, a substantial $25.6 million increase over FY 20. Within this amount $55.7 million is provided for grants to States and $15 million is provided for grants to Tribes. The bill also includes $21.1 million for competitive grants to document, interpret, and preserve historical sites associated with the Civil Rights Movement. The bill includes $10 million for competitive grants to Historically Black Colleges and Universities and $25 million for the Save America’s Treasures competitive grant program for the preservation of nationally significant sites, structures, and artifacts. The bill includes $ 23.8 million for the Heritage Partnership Program and provides $7.5 million for competitive preservation grants to revitalize historic properties of national, State, and local significance. The American Battlefield Protection Program saw its budget double from $10 million to $20 million. The Interior bill allocates $8 million to support the ongoing work of the US Semiquincentennial Commission and creates a new $10 million Semiquincentennial grant program to support restoration of State-owned historic sites and structures that honor and interpret the country’s founding, including Revolutionary War battle and commemorative monuments. The commission continues its task of preparing for the commemoration in 2026 of the 250th anniversary of the founding of the United States.
- The Library of Congress received a $32 million increase up to $757.3 million for FY 21.
- The Smithsonian Institution’s budget was reduced by $15.3 million to $1.032 billion. There was a shift of priorities with the Salaries and Expenses budget being increased by $24.4 million ($818 million total) and a reduction of $39.7 million ($214 million total) in the Facilities Capital budget.
- The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars received $14 million, level funding from last year.
NCH Initiative to Increase FY 21 Funding for the National Archives
Unlike other federal archival and history-related agencies and programs, the annual Operating Expenses (OE) budget for the National Archives has been on a downward trend for some time. In FY20, its OE budget was reduced by $14 million and by $26 million over the previous three fiscal years. It has remained stagnant for over a decade, even as the agency’s responsibilities have increased. When adjusted for inflation, NARA’s budget has decreased by 10 percent since FY12.
At its meeting in January 2020, NCH’s Policy Board discussed NARA’s financial problems at great length. In response, NCH executive director Lee White devoted greater resources to advocating on behalf of the National Archives, the rationale being that other agencies such as the NEH and IMLS already have advocacy groups (e.g., National Humanities Alliance, American Alliance of Museums and American Library Association) who focus on those budgets. Other than the Coalition, NARA has no other advocacy group devoted solely to their budget and issues. In March, the Coalition worked with Congressmen John Larson (D-CT), Don Young (R-AK), and Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) to seek support for additional funding in the FY 21 budget for NARA and the NHPRC. They circulated a “Dear Colleague” letter to their fellow representatives urging them to show their support for NARA and the NHPRC. In March, the Coalition submitted testimony on the agency’s FY 21 budget to the Senate Appropriations Committee
In addition to placing a greater emphasis on NARA’s OE budget, the Coalition continued to advocate for NHPRC funding. The Trump administration has proposed eliminating the NHPRC each of the past four fiscal years. However, NCH’s advocacy has staved off elimination once again in FY 21. NARA staff credits the Coalition’s lobbying with ensuring the survival of the NHPRC.
We are assisting AHA’s working group to proactively identify problem areas with NARA. The Coalition is also working with a similar group within the Society of Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR).
For the first time, the National Archives was one of the funding priorities during the annual Humanities Advocacy Day held in March in coordination with the National Humanities Alliance.
We had arranged over 65 visits to Capitol Hill for OAH members to advocate for NARA funding during their annual meeting the first week of April, which was unfortunately cancelled because of the pandemic.
Congressional History Caucus
Since congressional caucuses must be renewed with each new session of Congress, NCH will be working with co-chairs Representatives John Larson (D-CT), Tom Cole (R-OK) and Bill Pascrell to re-establish the Congressional History Caucus. It had 35 members at the end of the last Congress. With the arrival of many new House members, we are hopeful we can improve on that number.
K-12 History and Civics Education Funding Initiative
Senators Chris Coons (D-DE) and John Cornyn (R-TX) have introduced the “Educating for Democracy Act of 2020.” It is the companion bill to one introduced in September by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Congressman Tom Cole (R-OK) which will significantly increase federal financial support for history and civics education.
The legislation authorizes $1 billion in spending each year over the next five fiscal years for grants to states, non-profits, institutions of higher education and researchers. The measure establishes new grant programs for state and local education agencies to strengthen and improve their approach to civic and history education. The bill provides funding for non-profit entities to develop or expand access to evidence-based curricula, instructional models, and other educational programs to enhance student knowledge and achievement in civics and history. Grants would be provided to higher education institutions to assist in developing and implementing programs to train elementary and secondary school teachers in methods for instructing and engaging students in civics and history.
Legislation to Address Handling of Presidential Records During Transition
Following reports that the outgoing Trump administration is destroying presidential records and ignoring the law when using non-official electronic devices to conduct official business, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) introduced the Promoting Accountability and Security in Transition (PAST) Act, to clarify and enhance existing law with regards to presidential transition and presidential records. Congressman Mike Quigley (IL-05) introduced the companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives. NCH was consulted during the drafting of the legislation and has endorsed the bill. While it did not pass, it is expected the bill will be reintroduced in the new session of Congress.
NCH Opposes Decision to Close National Archives Seattle Records Center
Earlier this year, NCH sent a letter to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) opposing the closure and eventual sale of NARA’s records facility in Seattle, Washington. We urged OMB to reopen the review process since no opportunity was provided for public comment before the decision to sell the property was made. OMB ratified a recommendation to sell the Seattle property that was made by the Public Buildings Reform Board, a federal advisory committee tasked by Congress to identify “high value” federal properties to be put up for sale.
The Coalition joined the AHA, OAH, Council of State Archivists, and Society of American Archivists in opposing the sale. The sale is also being opposed by the congressional delegations of the States of Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. We continue to work with AHA on this issue. We are hopeful that the Biden administration will reconsider the decision. In addition, the Attorney General of Washington State has filed a lawsuit against the federal government over the matter.
In report language accompanying NARA’s FY 21 budget, congressional appropriators also expressed their displeasure with the proposed closing. They instructed NARA to report back to Congress in 180 days with a “report on the feasibility of digitization and/or co-location of NARA materials in an existing or planned facility, the amount of funding that would be necessary, and any potential barriers to colocation.”
American Women’s History Museum and National Museum of the American Latino
In September, NCH endorsed the Smithsonian American Women’s History Museum Act (S. 959), legislation to establish an American Museum of Women’s History (AMWH) as part of the Smithsonian Institution.
The bill was included in the FY 21 omnibus budget package along with legislation authorizing the creation of a Latino museum. The Smithsonian now begins the challenging prospect of simultaneously raising the funds needed to build both the National Museum of the American Latino and the American Women’s History Museum. Fifty percent of the cost must be raised privately with the remaining half coming from federal funds. The funding bill includes $6 million each to the museums to begin the process.
In addition, Congress expressed its intent that the location of both museums be “on or near” the National Mall which has limited vacant space available.
Civil Rights Cold Case Collection Act
In January 2019, President Trump signed into law the “Civil Rights Cold Case Records Collection Act of 2018 (Public Law 115-426). It authorizes the National Archives and Records
Administration to create a collection of unsolved civil rights case files. In addition, the law establishes a Civil Rights Cold Case Review Board to determine which records can be released to the public.
The law delineates the appointment process for five individuals to serve on the review board, sets timelines for appointments, names groups qualified to recommend appointments, and the qualifications required for members of the review board. It designates the American Historical Association, Organization of American Historians, Society of American Archivists and American Bar Association as groups to be consulted in the nomination process. This past spring, NCH facilitated the submission of potential nominees to the White House on behalf of AHA, OAH and SAA. However, in late summer the White House informed us they wanted “additional names,” while refusing to specify reasons as to why the original pool of applicants was not sufficient. AHA submitted the name of one individual to replace a previous nominee who had withdrawn from consideration.
The administration did not name anyone to the board before the end of Trump’s term. We will be following up with the Biden administration to urge them to appoint members and begin the long-delayed work of the review board.
NCH Involvement in Effort to Plan the Nation’s 250th Anniversary Celebration
The U.S. Semiquincentennial Commission to continues its planning for the nation’s 250th anniversary in 2026. NCH has been playing an active role as a resource to the Commission. The American Battlefield Trust, a long-time member of NCH, is managing the day-to-day operations of the commission. NCH is a member of the USA 250 steering committee convened by the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) that is providing advice to the commission.
Reauthorization of the Title VI/Fulbright-Hays Programs
NCH has been involved in an advocacy effort led by the Coalition for International Education to reauthorize these programs at the Department of Education. The “Advancing International and Foreign Language Education Act” (HR 2562) would support foreign language and international education programs at colleges and universities. Unfortunately, the bill did not pass during this session of Congress. Supporters will reintroduce the legislation in the new session to authorize funding for Title VI programs at $150 million. By comparison, this fiscal year these programs only received $78.1 million.
Use of Altered Photo in National Archives Exhibit
In January 2020, NCH sent a letter to Archivist of the United States David Ferriero criticizing the use of an altered photo of the 2017 Women’s March on Washington in the National Archives and Records Administration’s exhibition, “Rightfully Hers: American Women and the Vote.” As first reported in the Washington Post, the photo was altered to blur marcher’s signs criticizing President Trump. Signs including references to female anatomy were also blurred. Our letter urged NARA to review its policies and procedures that allowed this incident to occur and to take the necessary steps to ensure this does not reoccur. In response to overwhelming public criticism, NARA quickly reversed course and issued an apology. The National Archives has removed the photo and replaced it with the original.
Statement Opposing Targeting of Historical and Cultural Sites
In January 2020, the Coalition issued a statement condemning the targeting of historical and cultural heritage sites as a tactical option in wartime or peacetime.