News Briefs, May 2005

Bruce Craig, May 2005

NARA and Nixon Library Reach Agreement on Donation

In mid-March officials of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace Foundation exchanged what were characterized as "general terms of agreement letters" regarding the donation of the still private Nixon presidential library in Yorba Linda, California, and thus laid the groundwork for eventual incorporation of the Nixon library into the presidential library system.

On March 14, 2005, Allen Weinstein, the archivist of the United States, wrote to John Taylor, the director of the Nixon library, regarding the incorporation of the library into the federal archives system. The letter emphasized the need for library officials to comply with NARA policies and provisions of the Presidential Libraries Act. Taylor responded a day later with a letter in which he pledged to be a "constructive and collaborative partner" with NARA. Taylor promised to transfer the non-deeded Nixon papers (including pre- and post-presidential materials) so as to create "a vital resource for scholars and for all Americans for generations to come."

A key provision in the exchange stipulates that once the Nixon documents are under NARA control, the library will create "a unitary collection in every possible respect, including especially the late President’s official non-deeded pre-Presidential records as well as the so-called personal papers." The unification of the governmental and privately held collections is expected to be a boon to scholars and researchers; however, the controversial and much contested Nixon tapes that are presently being processed in NARA’s College Park facilities will not be transferred until their processing is completed, which is projected to be accomplished in 2008 or 2009.

Though an official, binding memorandum of agreement has yet to be drafted or signed, the informal exchange of letters indicates that NARA anticipates accepting the Nixon Library donation from the Nixon library foundation in February 2006 under terms of the Presidential Libraries Act, provided sufficient funding is available in NARA’s fiscal 2006 budget for operations and the retrofit of facilities is completed by the presidential library. Weinstein’s letter states that the Nixon Library will be "responsible for securing funds for the archival storage addition" that will house the archival collections, but neither letter makes it clear exactly where those funds are to come from.

It is widely believed that through the efforts of the lobbying firm Cassidy and Associates, the Nixon Library is seeking to secure not just a congressional earmark for operations but also one for construction of the yet to be built archives facility—an action that would most likely affect NARA’s budget in fiscal 2006 and beyond. According to Weinstein’s letter to Taylor, "it is important to the National Archives that we not take over the operation of the Nixon Library at the expense of our other programs and services," but the letter does not specifically urge that the Nixon library should raise the funds needed for the archives component through private sources. It has been the long-standing tradition and precedent for the establishment of other presidential libraries that all facilities be constructed with private sector or nonfederal funds prior to donation to the federal government.

History Coalition Calls for Increase in NEH Funding

The National Coalition for History has submitted testimony to the House Subcommittee on the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies about the proposed fiscal 2005 budget regarding the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). In keeping with the needed dollar figure agreed to by members of the National Humanities Alliance (NHA), the testimony urged the committee members to increase the NEH budget by the modest amount of some $15 million to $153.1 million.

The increase is sought specifically to enable the NEH to "strengthen core programs" (that is, programs of the scholarly research, preservation access, and challenge grants divisions) that have been cut back in recent years in real dollars and to "further the reach" of the history-based "We the People" program. The testimony stated that the president’s proposal for "level-funding" of $138.1 million actually translates into a cut for the NEH and fails to meet the agency’s efforts to maintain its current reach of programs.

The testimony also called on Congress to direct the NEH to restore an emphasis on certain types of history-based programs that have not received proper attention by the NEH in recent years. To this end, it argued that in addition to the "We the People" initiative, "there also is a need to restore and broaden the reach of the NEH core programs so that not just American history receives emphasis but world and comparative history as well." A copy of the testimony will be posted soon on the National Coalition web page at http://www2.h-net.msu.edu/~nch/.

Historians and Archivists Work to Save NHPRC

Over the last couple of months, historians and archivists have been busy seeking to restore funding to the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), the grant-making arm of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) that the Bush administration has proposed entirely zeroing out in the federal budget for fiscal 2006. In recent months, historians and archivists have joined forces to see that a minimum funding level of $8 million is provided for the NHPRC grants program and an additional $2 million for staffing and other program administration-related costs in the fiscal 2006 federal budget.

For both historians and archivists much is at stake. If Congress allows the NHPRC to be zeroed out of the federal budget, this important program, which has played an essential federal leadership role and has an outstanding success record of using a small amount of federal funds to leverage other contributions, would come to an end. This would be devastating to projects such as editing and publishing the papers of nationally significant individuals and institutions; the development of new archival programs; the promotion of the preservation and use of historical records; regional and national coordination in addressing major archival issues; and a wide range of other activities relating to America’s documentary heritage.

Over the past 40 years, the commission has awarded a total of $153 million to over 4,000 state and local government archives, colleges and universities, and other institutions to preserve and publish important historical records that document American history. Accessible documents and documentary editions provide the essential evidence that enables historians to tell the story of our nation’s history. Through the work of the documentary editions, more and more of the documentary record has been made readily available in books and electronic formats, enabling research by historians—on a wealth of issues, events, and people—that often resulted in award-winning books. Editions and archival collections have also provided the resources for the creation of a vast number of authentic tools for educators at all levels.

Only once in its history—in fiscal 2004—did the NHPRC receive its full, authorized level of $10 million. In fiscal 2005 Congress appropriated only $5 million—after the Bush administration proposed cutting the program to $2 million. Cuts of this magnitude threaten the integrity of the program. But in spite of the budget cuts, last year the president signed legislation (P.L. 108–383) reauthorizing the commission’s grants program for another four years at the $10 million level. NHPRC supporters believe that the White House should stand by its commitments and provide funding for the program.

Given the financial challenges that presently confront the nation, the National Coalition for History recognizes the need for restraint in fiscal 2006 and thus supports a budget figure for the NHPRC that is 20 percent less than the authorized level of $10 million (that is, $8 million, an amount that is essential if the NHPRC is to meet its congressionally sanctioned mandate to preserve, publish, and make accessible the documentary heritage of the United States). An additional amount of $2 million will be needed, however, to maintain the staffing for this program.

This month, historical and archives groups are reaching out to contact members of the House Transportation, Treasury, HUD, Judiciary, and District of Columbia Appropriations subcommittees and the full House Appropriations Committee to urge them to provide funding for the NHPRC.

Three excellent web pages on the NHPRC issue provide expanded background information on how readers can take action to help save the NHPRC. They are the web pages of the Council of State Historical Records Coordinators (http://www.coshrc.org/issues/NHPRC-NARA-06budget/index.htm); the Society of American Archivists (http://www.archivists.org/news/nhprc-FY2006.asp); and the Association for Documentary Editing (http://etext.virginia.edu/ade/advocacy/nhprc_crisis.htm). A background fact sheet on the NHPRC is also posted on the NCH web page at http://www2.h-net.msu.edu/~nch/.

President Signs Nazi War Crimes Board Extension Act

The legislation (S. 384) passed by the Senate to extend the life of the Nazi War Crimes and Japanese Imperial Government Records Interagency Working Group (see "Senate Recommends Nazi War Crimes Board Extension," Perspectives, April 2005, p. 22) was signed into law by President George W. Bush on March 25, 2005. The law (P.L. 109–5) to amend the Japanese Imperial Government Disclosure Act of 2000 (P.L. 106–567) extends the life of the working group for another two years. Among other things, the law (along with P.L. 105–246) stipulates that the Interagency Working Group

  1. locate, identify, inventory, recommend for declassification, and make available to the public at the National Archives and Records Administration, all classified Japanese Imperial Government records and Nazi war criminal records of the United States;
  2. coordinate with agencies and take such actions as necessary to expedite the release of such records to the public; and
  3. submit a report to Congress, including the Committee on Government Reform and the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence of the House of Representatives, and the Committee on the Judiciary and the Select Committee on Intelligence of the Senate, describing all such records, the disposition of such records, and the activities of the Interagency Group and agencies under this section.

While virtually all other federal agencies willingly complied with the provisions of law, the Central Intelligence Agency has proved not so cooperative. While the agency has turned over 1.25 million pages of relevant documents, it was less than forthright with others relating to postwar ties between American intelligence agencies and Nazis who may well have been war criminals. After intensive questioning by Senator Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) in a recent oversight hearing, the CIA relented and agreed to release at least some of the remaining contested documents over the next two years.

NPS Urges No New Heritage Areas Pending Guidelines

During a Senate hearing in which a proposed national heritage area in eastern Kansas—"Bleeding Kansas" National Heritage Area (S. 175)—was under consideration, the National Park Service (NPS) urged Congress to defer consideration of this and other legislation authorizing any new national heritage areas until Congress establishes a uniform system of guidelines for creation, administration, and management of such areas. Among other things, the NPS witness stated that all such areas should be subjected to a test of "national significance" prior to establishment.

According to Janet Snyder Matthews, NPS associate director for cultural resources, the proposed Kansas heritage area meets criteria for national significance, but nevertheless, comprehensive legislation needs to be in place before allowing more heritage areas to be designated.

Generic legislation establishing guidelines for heritage areas has been advanced in Congress in the past but failed to be enacted into law. Lawmakers are hesitant to enact such legislation partly because the proposed guidelines would have placed limits on the total amount of federal dollars that could be appropriated to an individual heritage area over a period of years. However, generic heritage-area legislation has been introduced yet again in both the House and Senate (S. 243/H.R. 760); the Senate bill has already been reported out of committee (S. Rept. 109–38) and is currently pending action on the Senate floor.

Since 1984 Congress has established 27 national heritage areas throughout the country. Heritage-area designation brings money and other resources from the National Park Service to assist in the preservation of heritage sites often located in multiple jurisdictions. Critics charge that the creation of such areas divert desperately needed funds from more significant "crown jewel" national park units.

— Bruce Craig