News Briefs, October 2010

Lee White, October 2010

NHPRC Reauthorization Bill Markup Postponed Indefinitely

On July 30, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s scheduled markup of legislation (H.R. 5616), to reauthorize the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) at a $20 million level from fiscal 2011 to fiscal 2015, was postponed indefinitely.

Although no official reason was given as to why the bill was pulled from the agenda at the last minute, the Republican members of the committee had apparently planned to offer a number of crippling amendments. These included cutting the authorization level for the NHPRC in the bill to $10 million and limiting eligibility and the scope of projects the NHPRC could fund.

For example, days before the hearing Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) introduced H.R. 5865, the “Stop Wasting Archive Grants Act of 2010.” The bill would prohibit the Archivist of the United States from making “grants to preserve or publish non-Federal records.”

On July 1, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census and the National Archives had cleared the bill by a vote of 6—1.

The Senate has already passed a bill (S. 2872) to reauthorize the NHPRC at a $10 million for fiscal years 2010—2014.

“User-Friendly” Web Site Marks Federal Register’s 75th Anniversary

To mark the 75th anniversary of the Federal Register Act on July 26, 2010, the National Archives Office of the Federal Register (OFR) and the Government Printing Office (GPO) launched FR 2.0, a new user-friendly version of the daily online Federal Register on FederalRegister.gov.

It is important to note that FR 2.0 is posted as an unofficial prototype to gather public feedback. It has not yet been approved as the “official” version of the Federal Register. That is not expected to occur until 2011.

The FR 2.0 web site is similar to a daily web newspaper, with a clear layout and new tools to guide readers to the most popular topics and relevant documents. The site displays individual news sections for Money, Environment, World, Science & Technology, Business & Industry, and Health & Public Welfare.

NARA Releases “Alien Records”

For the first time, more than 300,000 case files on alien residents of the United States who were born 1909 and prior are now open to the public at the National Archives at Kansas City. These files, known as “Alien Files” (commonly referred to as “A-Files”) were transferred to the National Archives from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) and are only a small part of the millions of case files that will eventually be transferred and opened to the public.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), the predecessor agency of USCIS, began issuing aliens Alien Registration numbers in 1940, and on April 1, 1944, began using this number to create the A-Files.

A-Files are eligible for transfer to the National Archives when 100 years have passed since the birth date of the subject of a file. The National Archives at Kansas City will maintain A-Files from all USCIS district offices except San Francisco, Honolulu, Reno, and Guam. These files will be housed at the National Archives at San Francisco because of the significant research use of related immigration files there. Files to be housed at the National Archives at San Francisco are currently being prepared for transfer. For more information go to: www.archives.gov/research/genealogy/aliens.

A-Files may be viewed in person by appointment at the National Archives at Kansas City or copies of files may be ordered for a fee. Additional information on requesting the A-Files at the Kansas City facility can be found at the link www.archives.gov/research/genealogy/aliens/a-files-kansas-city.html.

NARA Acquires Original Nuremberg Laws

In a transfer ceremony at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens on August 25, Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero accepted on behalf of the U.S. Government the original Nuremberg Laws presented by Steven S. Koblik, Huntington president. Gen. George S. Patton Jr. deposited the documents at the Library for safekeeping at the end of World War II. He died in December of 1945 in an automobile crash before he could discuss their final disposition.

September 15 marked the 75th anniversary of the signing of these laws by Adolf Hitler in 1935, which he used as the legal underpinning for the persecution of Jews in Germany, culminating in the Holocaust.

Presidential Library Unveils Newly Donated FDR Papers

On July 28, the National Archives released a selected group of papers from the “Grace Tully Archive” that was recently donated to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library. The Grace Tully Archive is a collection of documents and memorabilia pertaining to President Franklin Roosevelt that is comprised of items that were gathered by his personal secretary throughout FDR’s private and public career as Governor of New York and as President.

After Tully’s death in 1981, her collection of personal papers passed on through her niece into the hands of private collectors, and finally, to the current owner, Sun Times Media, which bought the collection for $8 million in 2001. Subsequently, Sun Times Media decided to donate the entire collection to the FDR Presidential Library.

In 2004, the National Archives asserted a claim of ownership to certain documents in the collection, arguing that those documents were Presidential records and should have originally been provided to NARA instead of staying with Grace Tully’s collection. Specific statues governing the maintenance and ownership of such records were not enacted until after the death of President Roosevelt.

The donation to the Roosevelt Library is the result of more than five years of negotiation between the government and the private parties involved. Due to the Archives’ formal claim, Sun Times Media had been prevented from receiving any type of tax deduction for the donation. In February 2010 Congress enacted Public Law 111-138, which removed the legal tax barriers preventing the donation of the papers.

National Declassification Center Issues Initial Status Report

The National Archives National Declassification Center (NDC) recently issued its first status report, covering the reporting period of January 1–June 30, 2010. During this time, nearly 8 million pages of material were processed and made available to the public. The report is online at archives.gov/declassification/reports/2010-biannual-january1-june30.pdf.

The creation of the NDC is specified in the Executive Order 13526 on Classified National Security Information signed by President Obama on December 29, 2009. The NDC is charged with streamlining declassification processes, facilitating quality assurance measures, and implementing standard training for declassification reviewers.

Of course, the major benchmark by which the NDC will be measure is the progress it makes in reducing the 400 million-plus pages of materials awaiting declassification. EO 13526 requires the NDC eliminate the backlog by December 31, 2013.

To date, the NDC has made little progress in reducing the backlog. However, human and IT infrastructure, prioritization policies, business processes and personnel training procedures are still being developed and implemented. As a result, the NDC expects greater progress will be made over the next six months as these continue to come on line.

Total backlog pages as of January 1, 2010: 417,916,550 pages; total pages released to the open shelves: 7,830, 22 pages; and total backlog pages as of June 30, 2010: 410, 086, 228 pages.

International Digital Humanities and Bridging Culture Grants Announced

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) recently announced $897,000 in grants for five international digital humanities projects, in partnership with the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG), which contributed approximately $772,000.

The NEH/DFG Enriching Digital Collections Grants support collaborations between U.S. and German scholars to develop digitization projects that will benefit research in the humanities. Each project was sponsored jointly by an American and a German institution, whose activities will be funded by NEH and DFG respectively. A list of the funded projects can be found at: www.neh.gov/news/archive/201007200.html.

NEH and DFG are also announcing the deadline for the next Enriching Digital Collections grant competition, which will be November 16, 2010. For information on how to apply, please see the web pages of the NEH Office of Digital Humanities.

NEH also recently announced the first in a series of Bridging Cultures grants, awarding a total of $1.7 million that will enable humanities experts to launch public discussions addressing two pressing concerns: the role of civility in democracy and the understanding of Muslim contributions to world cultures.

Eight cultural and educational institutions around the country will host public forums designed to share the best of recent humanities research with members of the general public. New ideas coming out of these forums—ranging from “cyber-civility” to the cultural legacy of Timbuktu—will also form the basis for future educational and cultural programs that NEH intends to make available nationwide as part of its larger Bridging Cultures initiative. After each forum, participants will work with educators and members of state humanities councils to produce materials such as books, videos, exhibits, and other public programming to disseminate its content to regional and national audiences.

NEH Chair Jim Leach’s signature initiative, Bridging Cultures, highlights the role of the humanities in enhancing understanding and respect for diverse cultures and subcultures within America’s borders and around the globe. Building on a long tradition of support for excellent scholarship, NEH is renewing its focus on the need to bridge gaps in Americans’ understanding of world history, literature, philosophy, religion, archeology, language, and law. A list of the grantees can be found at: www.neh.gov/news/archive/20100816.html.

National Digital Stewardship Alliance Launched

The Library of Congress recently announced the formation of the National Digital Stewardship Alliance (NDSA), a partnership of institutions and organizations dedicated to preserving and providing access to selected databases, web pages, video, audio and other digital content with enduring value.

The alliance is an outgrowth of the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program (NDIIPP), which the Library has administered since 2000. In establishing the program, Congress directed the Library to work with other federal agencies and a variety of additional communities to develop a national approach to digital preservation.

The NDSA will focus on several goals. It will develop improved preservation standards and practices; work with experts to identify categories of digital information that are most worthy of preservation; and take steps to incorporate content into a national collection. It will provide national leadership for digital-preservation education and training. The new organization will also provide communication and outreach for all aspects of digital preservation.

The NDSA will launch with a core set of founding members drawn from current NDIIPP project partners. Those members will develop a roadmap for immediate action, including a process for expanding membership. For more information, visit www.digitalpreservation.gov/ndsa/.

Lee White is the executive director of the National Coalition for History. He expresses his gratitude to the National Security Archive and the Associated Press, on whose reports he has heavily relied for writing this article. He can be reached at lwhite@nationalhistorycoalition.org.