The Coalition Column

News Briefs, September 2006

Bruce Craig, September 2006

Representative DeGette Introduces Human Subject Research Legislation

On June 9, 2006, Representative Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) introduced the "Protection for Participants in Research Act of 2006" (H.R. 5578)—legislation seeking to ensure that all human subject research is conducted in accordance with the Common Rule and other provisions in law that are designed to ensure that human subject research poses minimal risk to research participants. The bill also seeks to ensure "informed consent" by all research participants.

Human subject research—including certain oral history research activities—has been interpreted by some federal officials in the Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP) and some university Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) to be governed by provisions in the Public Health Service Act. The law, which originally was designed to protect human subjects from abuse by bio-medical researchers, remains vague if not totally mute with respect to oral history research. This, however, has not stopped some university IRBs to (in the words of critics) "overreach" their authority when applying OHRP regulations to oral history research. Some university IRBs grant an exemption to oral history research while others (especially those that do not have historians or social scientists sitting on the IRB) demand that historians seek IRB approval for any oral history research that may be undertaken in the process of conducting historical research.

DeGette's bill does not speak directly to the issue of oral history research and would do little to address the specific concerns relating to such research activities. While the DeGette bill does little to resolve the controversy over oral history, the American Historical Association, the Oral History Association, and other history-related organizations have formally requested that the OHRP (which in the past has sent contradictory messages to the historical community) clarify their regulations and policies regarding the applicability of oral history in IRB review.

Robert Remini's Long Awaited House History Released

On April 26, 2006, the long awaited history of the House of Representatives by Historian of the House Robert V. Remini was unveiled at an event at the Library of Congress. In attendance were author Remini, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington, Secretary of the Smithsonian Lawrence Small, and President and CEO of HarperCollins Publishers Jane Friedman. Also in attendance was former history teacher and now member of Congress John B. Larson (D-Conn.) whose legislation (P.L. 106-99) served as the catalyst for the writing of the first comprehensive history of the House targeted to the general reader.

In writing the book, Remini had the challenge of condensing over 200 years of history into 625 pages. Remini's thoughtful narrative solution was to chronicle the first through the 108th Congress by highlighting the struggle between principle and pragmatism. To that end he showcases not just events but the many colorful personalities who have contributed to making the institution what it is today. Remini has drawn heavily on manuscript materials as well as the congressional records, newspaper accounts, letters, diaries, memoirs, and his own interviews with many current and former members. The result is a rich history of "the people's House."

The book, titled The House: The History of the House of Representatives is published by Smithsonian Books (an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers).

—BC