From The Coalition Column in the February 2013 issue of Perspectives on History
From the Annual Report of the National Coalition for History
Lee White, February 2013
As executive director, I often get the question, "What exactly does the History Coalition do?" I thought it might interest readers to see a summary of NCH's 2012 Annual Report and its accomplishments this year. And for a historical perspective, NCH's prior annual reports are accessible on our website .
2012 National Coalition for History Annual Report
Federal appropriations and reauthorization issues have traditionally been a primary focus of the NCH's advocacy efforts. In 2012, NCH continued to take the lead in advocating for funding for federal programs that affect historians, archivists, educators, and other stakeholders. In an increasingly hostile budget environment, NCH has been able to fend off draconian cuts to most programs of interest to our constituencies.
NCH and its constituent organizations were actively involved in advocacy efforts, mobilizing their respective members to contact Congress concerning funding for the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), the National Endowment for the Humanities, and Title VI/Fulbright-Hays International Education and Foreign Language programs. Senior staff members at the affected federal agencies have credited these efforts with preventing deeper cuts or elimination of programs.
Congress postponed addressing a host of controversial issues before leaving to campaign in the fall, and was unable to finalize a budget for fiscal year 2013 when the new fiscal year began on October 1, 2012. Congress passed a continuing resolution (CR) at the end of September that provided funding to keep the federal government operating until March 27, 2013. Federal programs remain funded at the fiscal year 2012 level.
On January 1, Congress passed legislation addressing the tax issues involved in the so-called "fiscal cliff." However, Congress postponed action on the across-the-board budget cuts, known as the "sequester," which would have gone into effect on January 2. Congress set a new deadline of March 27, the same day the current CR expires. Should Congress fail to act, automatic spending cuts estimated at $85 billion will go into effect.
Federal Funding of K–12 History Education
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) was last authorized in 2001 during the Bush administration under the rubric of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The NCLB's authorization expired in 2008. In 2012, efforts to pass an ESEA reform bill stalled in the House and Senate. The Obama administration's decision to grant states waivers from NCLB's looming compliance requirements removed the sense of urgency for Congress to act on the reauthorization legislation.
Nonetheless, NCH worked closely with history, educational, and civics organizations in seeking to create a dedicated funding mechanism for K–12 history and civics education in the Department of Education's fiscal year 2013 budget. The executive director met with the staffs of the House and Senate appropriations committees to seek a champion to request funding during the appropriations process. While we were ultimately unsuccessful, the effort was important to demonstrate to members of Congress continued public support for history education.
National Historical Publications and Records Commission
For many years, the History Coalition has led the fight to stave off elimination of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission and to ensure that it receives adequate funding to meet its mission. Unfortunately, this small but vital program remains a perennial target for budget cutters in Congress and at the Office of Management and Budget.
The NHPRC received $5 million under the continuing fiscal year 2013 budget resolution. This is $2 million more than the administration's request. The House Appropriations Committee proposed cutting NHPRC funding to $2.5 million. The National Coalition for History, the Association for Documentary Editing, the Society of American Archivists, and the Council of State Archives lobbied successfully for the adoption of the $5 million figure.
Elimination of the Political Science Program at the National Science Foundation
In May 2012, the U.S. House of Representatives approved an amendment to the fiscal year 2013 Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations bill that defunded political science programs at the National Science Foundation (NSF). The amendment passed by a roll-call vote of 218 to 208.
While the amendment was not considered in the Senate, and not included in the fiscal year 2013 continuing budget resolution, this is the second time in recent years that the political science program at NSF has been targeted for elimination.
For over a decade, the History Coalition has been the lead advocate for enactment of Presidential Records Act (PRA) reform legislation. President Obama issued a Presidential Records Executive Order (EO) in 2009, replacing the overly restrictive Bush administration EO. Unfortunately, efforts to codify changes in the PRA remain stalled in Congress and no action was taken this session.
The National Coalition for History continues to play an important advocacy role with federal agencies. NCH has maintained excellent relationships with the archivist of the United States, the chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the chief historian of the National Park Service, the director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, the historian of the State Department, and other key officials in the federal historical and archival bureaucracies.
Processing, Preservation, and Declassification of Federal and Presidential Records
NCH collaborated with other stakeholder groups in working to reduce over-classification of government records, increase public access to unclassified records, speed the declassification process, and establish standards for the preservation and retrieval of federal and presidential electronic records.
In 2012, NCH continued to advise and monitor the activities of the National Declassification Center, 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 Advisory Committee on Presidential Library Foundations.
The National Archives has been aggressively urging agencies to take their records management responsibilities more seriously, although it still lacks the legal authority to compel compliance with federal records laws. NCH will continue to advocate for passage of legislation to establish meaningful records preservation standards and aggressively ensure federal agency compliance.
In December, the Public Interest Declassification Board submitted recommendations to the president on reforming procedures on the classification and declassification of federal records in a report entitled Transforming the Security Classification System.
Of particular interest to historians is PIDB's recommendation regarding the prioritization of the preservation and processing of "historically significant records." The PIDB suggested that these records "should be identified and set aside as early as possible after their creation to ensure their preservation, long-term access and availability to agency policymakers and historians. Each agency should have an in-house history staff to assist agency records officers and declassifiers in the prioritization of records." In 2013, NCH will be advocating for implementation of this recommendation by Congress and within the administration.
Georgia State Archives Closure
In September, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp announced the closure of the state archive to the public on November 1 due to across-the-board budget cuts mandated by Governor Nathan Deal. The secretary of state also eliminated seven of the ten positions at the state archive.
On September 21, NCH and 19 stakeholder organizations sent a letter to the governor and secretary of state opposing the budget cuts, denial of public access to the archive, and the termination of the bulk of the archive's employees.
In October, Governor Deal and Secretary of State Kemp announced they would restore funding to keep the facility open until the end of the state's fiscal year on June 30, 2013. The agreement retained the current hours of operation, which would have been severely curtailed. Under the plan, the University System of Georgia would assume control of the Georgia Archives on July 1, 2013, pending approval of the state's General Assembly.
Public pressure put on the governor by archivists, historians, and other stakeholders garnered a great deal of media coverage and clearly motivated Deal's commitment to keep the archive open. NCH played a critical role in coordinating the response from our membership organizations that included historians, archivists, political scientists, legal historians, and the historic preservation community.
Release of CIA History on The Bay of Pigs Invasion
In May 2012, the National Security Archive sued the CIA under the Freedom of Information Act seeking to declassify the full "Official History of the Bay of Pigs Operation." Unfortunately, the U.S. District Court sided with the agency's efforts to keep the last volume of the report secret in perpetuity.
The archive appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. In response, the CIA filed a "motion for summary affirmance," in effect asking the court to decide in its favor without full briefing or oral argument. In December, the D.C. Appeals Court rejected the CIA's position and ruled that the case merits the court's full consideration with briefs due in early 2013.
In August, NCH coordinated a letter from a dozen organizations representing thousands of historians, archivists, political scientists, educators, and researchers opposing the CIA's motion. The NCH letter argued the precedential impact of the case would have devastating consequences on future access to records and materials for research, especially in the areas of national security, foreign relations, military history, and presidential history. NCH asserted federal agencies would rely on the district court's overly broad interpretation to deny similar FOIA requests in the future.
Lee White is the executive director of the National Coalition for History. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.