House votes to slash funding for NARA

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In a surprise move on the floor of the House of Representatives, on 14 June 2006, the lower chamber cut the proposed budget for the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) by $8 million. A higher level budget had been approved by the House Appropriations Committee and its Subcommittee on Transportation, Treasury, Housing and Urban Development, the Judiciary, and the District of Columbia. If the Senate agrees with the House the net result would signal (to quote a “dismayed” Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein) “a very austere year” in FY 2007 for NARA – one that would mean a reduction of hours of operations, partial closings of researcher reading rooms on nights and weekends, and even possible furloughing of employees.

The cut took National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) legislative staff and the House Appropriations Members and staff by surprise; there was no advance notice of the proposed amendment. The amendment, sponsored by Representatives Darlene Hooley (D-OR) and joined by Kenny C. Hulshof (R-MO) and Ike Skelton (D-MO) sought to restore funding (including $8 million from the NARA budget) for a drug interdiction initiative that had been zeroed out of the federal budget. The initiative seeks to help curb the extensive abuse of crystal methamphetamine.

The congresswoman recommended taking the money from NARA’s budget as she needed to find an “offset” (when Congress adds money to a bill, an “offset” must be found and the budget for that program reduced by an equal amount) in order to fund the interdiction program.

While the funding plight of the interdiction program was recognized by Congressman Knollenberg (R-MI), Chairman of the Transportation/Treasury Appropriations Subcommittee, he vigorously opposed funding proposal at the expense of NARA’s budget. The chairman told his colleagues that the National Archives was already struggling to fund a $12 million shortfall, and that the agency is considering other measures to save money in addition to the hiring freeze (see related story below). During the first vote the amendment was defeated, but Rep. Hooley demanded a roll call vote; the final vote on the amendment was 348 yeas to 76 nays, with 8 members not voting. As a result, NARA’s proposed funding shortfall in FY 2007 is now over $20 million.

In conversations between the National Coalition for History and Senate appropriations staff and others on Capitol Hill, most insiders believe the Senate will not agree to the proposed offset and that the $8 million will be restored by the Senate in conference when the bill is reconsidered by representatives of both houses.

Insiders also report that when the Senate takes up the NARA funding bill (probably after the July 4 recess) the Senate is likely to agree with the House on the need to provide some level of funding for the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). While the president proposed zero funds for the NHPRC, the House approved funding at
$7.5 million ($5.5 for grants; $2 million for administration and staffing). The Senate is expected to provide funding for the NHPRC at a level consistent with the House.

Constituents of Representatives Hooley, Hulshof, and Skelton may wish to contact their member (write, e-mail, or call -- the capitol switchboard number is (202) 224-3121 and express their views on the amendment that was offered and let them know about the devastating impact it conceivably would have on NARA’s ability to serve the public.

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