The Coalition Column

News Briefs, November 2007

Lee White, November 2007

Two Senior National Archives Officials Resign

On October 1, Executive Director Max J. Evans announced that he would retire from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) on January 31, 2008. Evans, who was appointed in January 2003, will be assuming a new position with the historical department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, Utah. No timetable was given for the naming of a replacement.

Earlier, on September 28, Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein had announced that he had “reluctantly” accepted the resignation of J. William Leonard, director of the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO).

Leonard was appointed as the director of the ISOO in June 2002. ISOO oversees the security classification programs in both government and industry and reports annually to the president on their status. ISOO monitors approximately 65 executive branch departments, independent agencies, and offices. Leonard also serves as the executive secretary for the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB), an advisory committee established by Congress to promote public access to classified materials.

House Passes Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library Bill

On September 24, by voice vote, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1664, a bill that would authorize the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to make pass-through grants toward the establishment of a Woodrow Wilson presidential library in Staunton, Virginia, the president's birthplace.

H.R. 1664 only authorizes that federal funds can be used to make grants to the Wilson library. Separate language in an appropriations bill would be needed to provide the National Archives the funds needed to make the grants.

In addition, the legislation sets stringent requirements that must be met before any federal dollars may be appropriated. First, the private entity running the Wilson library must certify that it has raised double the amount of the proposed federal grant from non federal sources. Second, the grant is conditioned on the Wilson library coordinating its programs with other federal and non federal historic sites, parks, and museums that are associated with the life of Woodrow Wilson. Finally, the bill prohibits the use of federal grant funds for the maintenance or operation of the library.

The legislation also makes it clear that the library will not be considered part of the existing Presidential Library System and that the National Archives will have no involvement in the actual operation of the library.

While the Bush administration took no formal position on H.R. 1664, sources at the National Archives do not feel that NARA should be used as a pass-through for federal funds to a private entity. Private institutions usually receive funds through specific earmarks in appropriations bills.

The bill had the unanimous support of the Virginia delegation in the House. Companion legislation (S. 1878) has been introduced by Senator James Webb (D-Va.), with the co-sponsorship of Virginia's senior senator, John Warner (R-Va.).

World War II Crimes Group Issues Final Report to Congress

On September 28, the Nazi War Crimes and Japanese Imperial Government Records Interagency Working Group (IWG), formed under the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act of 1998 and the Japanese Imperial Government Disclosure Act of 2000, issued its final report to Congress describing the seven-year, approximately $30-million government-wide effort to locate, declassify, and make publicly available U.S. records of Nazi and Japanese war crimes.

In a Capitol Hill ceremony, Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein, presented the final report of the IWG (entitled Nazi War Crimes and Japanese Imperial Government Records Interagency Working Group: Final Report to Congress) to Representative Carolyn Maloney, one of the authors of the 1998 enabling legislation.

More than eight million pages were declassified and opened to the public as a result of the Disclosure Acts. Notably, the records include the entirety of the operational files of the Office of Strategic Services (the predecessor agency of the CIA), and more than 163,000 pages of CIA materials of a type never before opened to the public.

One of the IWG's aims was to uncover documentation that would shed light on the extent to which the U.S. government had knowingly used and protected war criminals for intelligence purposes. Findings on this subject were explored in two volumes produced by the IWG: Researching Japanese War Crimes: Introductory Essays (January 2007) and U.S. Intelligence and the Nazis (April 2004).

GAO Report Criticizes Smithsonian Maintenance and Security Practices

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently issued a report critical of the Smithsonian Institution's maintenance and security practices. The GAO specifically criticized the Smithsonian Board of Regents for not responding to recommendations in a 2005 GAO report that urged a more aggressive approach to private sector fundraising and less reliance on scarce federal dollars.
The Smithsonian's cost estimate for facilities projects has increased to $2.5 billion from $2.3 billion in April 2005.

The report detailed the impact that the lack of adequate maintenance funds has had on the institution's collections. The GAO gave startling examples of “near misses”—events related to inadequate facilities that could have been catastrophic to collections had they occurred at different times. According to Sackler Gallery officials, in October 2006, a major leak unexpectedly occurred in a holding area used by the museum to store exhibits on loan three weeks before $500 million worth of art arrived to be held there. If the leak had occurred while the art was being stored in this space, the art could have been destroyed.

The GAO also found that because of funding shortfalls, the Smithsonian has an inadequate number of security guards. As a result, cases of vandalism and theft have occurred at Smithsonian facilities.
This lack of adequate funding for maintenance and security is ironic given the well-publicized lavish salary and expenses incurred by former Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence Small, who was forced to resign earlier this year. The fallout from the Small scandal has resulted in hostility towards the Smithsonian Regents from Congress and a reluctance to provide additional funding from the federal government until the institution gets its house in order.

Smithsonian Channel Debuts on DirecTV

The long-delayed Smithsonian television channel finally made its debut on satellite provider DirecTV. The launch ends a lengthy, controversy-ridden saga that began two years ago with the Smithsonian Institution's announcement of its exclusive deal with the Showtime Networks, Inc. to develop a television presence. Originally conceived as an on-demand digital channel, the venture debuted on September 26 as a traditional channel with regular programming scheduled 24 hours a day.

However, it is hardly an auspicious debut. Thus far, DirecTV is the only satellite or cable provider in the country that has signed on to carry the Smithsonian Channel. And, since the channel is being broadcast solely in high-definition (HD), it is only available to DirecTV customers who pay an additional fee to receive HD programming. Negotiations with additional cable and satellite companies are said to be ongoing.

In March 2006, the Smithsonian ignited a storm of controversy when it announced that it had entered into a 30-year, semi-exclusive contract with Showtime to create a digital on-demand television channel. Members of Congress and other stakeholders, including the National Coalition for History, raised issues concerning the contract's potential effects on public access to and use of the Smithsonian's collections, its confidential nature, and the process by which the Smithsonian negotiated the agreement.

The Smithsonian claims that the fears that access to their holdings by filmmakers would be adversely affected have proved unfounded. The Smithsonian says that it received more than 210 requests from January 1, 2006, to August 3, 2007, to film at the institution. Of these, only two were declined due to the creation of Smithsonian Networks. One request was for a one-hour show focusing entirely on the Smithsonian and the other was a proposal for a partnership with the Smithsonian on a children's series. Producers for commercial cable channels had made both requests.

—Lee White is the executive director of the National Coalition for History.