Blogs > Cliopatria > NCH WASHINGTON UPDATE (Vol. 12, #12; 16 March 2006)

Mar 16, 2006 9:06 pm

NCH WASHINGTON UPDATE (Vol. 12, #12; 16 March 2006)

6. BITS AND BYTES: Google To Digitize NARA films; Northwest Archivists Conference to Sponsor Advocacy Workshop
7. ARTICLES OF INTEREST: "Secrecy Under Scrutiny" (U.S. News and World Report)

1. HOUSE SUBCOMMITTEE CONDUCTS OVERSIGHT HEARING ON GOVERNMENT SECRECY Representative Christopher Shays (R-CT), Chair of the House Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations, conducted an oversight hearing on 14 March titled "Drowning in a Sea of Faux Secrets: Policies on Handling of Classified and Sensitive Information." The hearing focused on government-wide barriers to information sharing, and problems in classification and declassification with particular emphasis on a recently revealed program at the National Archives to withdraw and reclassify documents from the archive's open shelves. Appearing before the committee was Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein, Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) Director William Leonard, several other federal agency representatives, and a panel of witnesses, including several historians.

Shays' hearing was the third that his subcommittee has conducted in recent months. While the first two focused largely on the use of Sensitive But Unclassified (SBU) designation like "For Official Use Only
(FOUO) or "Official Use Only" (OUO), this hearing focused on the NARA reclassification program and the declassification activities of the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Energy (DoE).

Following opening statements by Shays and four Democratic members of the subcommittee who were in attendance Archivist Weinstein delivered his testimony. He focused on the imposition of a moratorium on federal agency personnel from withdrawing what were previously declassified documents. ISOO Director Leonard commented next and his testimony concentrated on the audit of re-review program that is currently underway. Both Weinstein and Leonard spoke in support of a "National Declassification Initiative" that would assist in the development of standardized guidelines and protocols and ensure consistency in declassification review. Representatives of the DoD and the DoE discussed how their agencies currently address matters relating to safeguarding classified national security information.

Testimony was also provided by Ms. Davi M. D'Agostino of the U.S.
Government Accountability Office
(GAO) who released to the committee a GAO report (GAO-06-369) on how the DOE and DOD could improve their policies and oversight. The DoD agency representative took issue with several of the GAO findings while the DoE representative "agreed that the findings contained in the draft report were accurate and fully concurred with the report's recommendations."

Members of the subcommittee questioned Weinstein and Leonard about a Memorandum of Understanding (currently classified as "Secret") that exists between the DoD and NARA regarding the re-review program.
After considerable discussion, the committee formally requested a copy of the MOU and requested a classified briefing by NARA and the DoD regarding the MOU. The DoD representative had no objection to providing a "sanitized version," but Congressman Shays stated that that would not do -- he wanted an unsanitized version for the committee, a closed briefing, and hoped to be able to release a sanitized version to the general public.

During the hearing the committee learned that the CIA had pulled many documents from NARA's open shelves (some that were not even CIA documents) because of an alleged "breakdown of quality control" in the year 2000. The DoE representative stated that during the re-review of his department's records, that thus far no DoE documents have been "reclassified." Leonard summed it all up when he stated that the audit that ISOO is conducting is essential as "this situation cries out for transparency" -- a point of view that was heartily endorsed by all the members of the subcommittee.

To the amazement of all, in response to a question posed by a member of the subcommittee, the DoD representative stated that "anyone" in the DoD has the authority to classify a document, subject only to a supervisor's approval. He recognized that this was problematic but that his agency endorsed the GAO recommendation for "better and uniform training" -- several members questioned whether that recommendation alone would solve the problem of over-classification within the DoD. Shays concluded, "my view is that we have an absurd system [of classification review]."

Following the agency presentations, a second panel, comprised of Thomas Blanton of the National Security Archive; Dr. Anna Nelson, Distinguished Historian in Residence at the American University; and Matthew Aid, the historian who uncovered the reclassification program, provided testimony.

Blanton summarized the results of his organization's audit of federal agency classification policies titled
"Pseudo-Secrets: A Freedom of Information Audit of the U.S. Government's Policies on Sensitive Unclassified Information." Historian Nelson provided historical context to the ongoing reclassification program and stated that agencies "tend to overreact to current events" and that this was probably one of the causes of what she characterized as an questionable program that lacks any "consistency" in policy and administration. She speculated that re-reviewed documents may have been reclassified "simply because those re-examining the documents did not know of the previous
release." Matthew Aid concluded the
hearing with testimony explaining how he came to discover the reclassification program. He posed a rhetorical question to the subcommittee -- whether the reclassification effort has made America any safer û and stated "he doubted it."

Here are the links to several of the reports cited above; a special thanks to the Federation of American Scientists for posting these studies. For "'Sensitive But Unclassified'
Information and Other Controls:
Policy and Options for Scientific and Technical Information," dated 15 February 2006 (published 14 March
2006) go to: For The Government Accountability Office report on SBU policies at the Departments of Energy and Defense, go to: For the National Security Archive survey of SBU policies at federal agencies entitled "Pseudo-Secrets: A Freedom of Information Audit of the U.S. Government's Policies on Sensitive Unclassified Information" go to:

2. CONGRESSIONAL SEMINAR ON RECONSTRUCTION DELIVERED TO CAPACITY CROWD On 13 March, the National History Center inaugurated its second annual Congressional seminar series with a program that featured historians Eric Foner and John Hope Franklin who addressed the topic "Revisiting
Race and Reconstruction: What is the Federal Government Role?" The
seminar was taped by C-SPAN
and will be broadcast in the near future. The program also will soon be available via a webstream at the National History Center's website at: .

The event was held in the Senate Russell Building in Washington D.C. and was attended by a capacity audience. Lonnie Bunch, founding director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture moderated the presentations by Eric Foner, De Witt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University and John Hope Franklin, James B. Duke Professor of History Emeritus at Duke University.

Foner, author of several books on the reconstruction, opened the session by noting that the federal government as we know is really a creation of the Civil War and Reconstruction which together placed new and extraordinary burdens on the central government. Franklin took a somewhat longer view, considering some of the contradictions inherent in the earliest institutions of the federal government. During a lively question and answer period both discussed ways in which the nation's inability to find a satisfactory outcome to the problem of race relations in the aftermath of the Civil War continues to impact American society today.

The National History Center is an initiative of the American Historical Association. It seeks to create a common ground for historians drawn from throughout the world and to reaffirm the place of history in public life; the Congressional Seminar Series seeks to provide historical background and context to policy issues being addressed by Congress.

3. ARCHIVISTS LAUNCH NHPRC FUNDING INITIATIVE Three national archival organizations have launched a new initiative designed to at least double the authorized appropriation level for the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC).
The initiative seeks to support a significant enhancement of the commission's program by creating a program of formula grants to states. For the FY 2007 federal appropriation to the NHPRC, the groups hope to see Congress adopt an appropriation level of $20 million and expand that figure beyond $20 million over time.

Launched 9 March by the Council of State Archivists, National Association of State Archives and Records Administrators, and the Society of American Archivists, the initiative is titled the "Partnership for the American Historical Record (PAHR)." If funded the new program would be administered through the NHPRC in addition to the existing national grants program.

The initiative seeks to increase federal support for records held by state and local governments, historical societies, libraries, and related organizations by providing an infusion of new funds, above the current Congressionally sanctioned NHPRC authorization of $10 million. According to the PAHR factsheet released by the organizations, "PAHR will provide formula-based grants to states for regrants and statewide services to support preservation and use of historical records" including:
access to records of long-term
value by supporting emergency planning for records, research and development on electronic records, creation of a wide variety of access tools such as finding aids, providing for the conservation of records, supporting the development of teaching materials, and providing funds for education and training of archivists.

According to a "Joint Statement" that also was released by the organizations, for the FY 2007 federal budget proposal, the national archival organizations "support funding of the NHPRC at the fully authorized level, but we believe that the current authorization is insufficient to address the profound issues that archival repositories face. Therefore, the archives community will advocate for a funding level of $20 million."

The president's FY 2007 budget proposal (as did the proposal in FY 2006) calls for zeroing out all funds for the NHPRC. Last year, a concerted effort by the archives, history, and humanities communities managed to secure from Congress national grant funding to the tune of $5.5 million (plus an additional $2 million for
administration/staffing) û a figure far better than zero funds but still far below the current authorized level for the NHPRC.

The archival partnership believes that the NHPRC FY 2007 appropriation, "at whatever level" should be shared between traditional programs (i.e. documentary editions and nationwide grants to state archives) and
the PAHR. According to a NARA spokesperson, exactly how the commission
would divide up funds
remains unclear -- it all depends on how much Congress decides to appropriate to the commission. Though NARA officially supports the president's request of zero funding for the NHPRC, insiders report that key NARA and NHPRC officials are supportive of the PAHR program "in concept."

The archival groups are seeking organizational resolutions of support for the proposed new program. For additional information on PAHR and the advocacy effort in its support, go to .

4. HOUSE APPROVES CLINTON BIRTHPLACE HOME AS NATIONAL PARK UNIT On 8 March 2006, by a vote of 409 to 12, the U.S. House of Representatives granted approval to the Secretary of the Interior to designate President Bill Clinton's birthplace in Hope, Arkansas, as a National Historic Site thus making it a unit of the National Park System. The bill is somewhat unusual as it empowers the Secretary of the Interior to designate the home rather than have the site created through the more common process where Congress alone makes the designation.

The legislation (H.R. 4192) was introduced by Representative Mike Ross
(D-AK) with other members of the
Arkansas Congressional delegation on 1 November of last year. On 16 November the House Committee on Resources met and favorably reported the measure (H. Rept. 109-133) to the House by unanimous consent.

The legislation provides that the Hope residence located at 117 South Hervey Street will be established as a unit of the National Park Service and given the name the "President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home National Historic Site" once the Clinton Birthplace Foundation donates the house and related property to the federal government. Figures provided by the National Park Service and Congressional Budget Office estimate the costs of preparing and operating the site would be about $1 million a year.

National Park Service (NPS) insiders report that there was no contextual study to assess and compare the "suitability, feasibility, and historical significance" of this site with others associated with President Clinton.
The NPS was not requested by the committee to comment on the proposal.

NPS policy discourages designations of birthplaces as NPS units and instead favors designations of other sites more closely associated with a president's historical
significance. Congressional supporters of the
Clinton site maintain that "While there are numerous residences associated with Clinton, this property is the one most closely identified with his youth and early development." The designation also has the support of President Clinton.

On 14 March 2006 the Federal Register celebrated its 70th year as what one newspaper characterized as "the country's chronicle of regulatory minutia." For agency-watchers, the Federal Register provides official notice of agency proposed rules, regulations, and publishes other official federal government notices. The celebration party at the Government Printing Office was attended by Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein and Bruce R. James, Public Printer of the United States.

One of the accomplishments of the Federal Register is that it has never missed a day of publication in its entire existence since its first issue came off the presses 14 March 1936. A subscription in 1936 cost $10 but by 1994 the print version ran $729 a year. Subscriptions plummeted from a high of 20,000 to about 2,500 when in 1994 the register became available free online. Today, the public downloads approximately 200 million Federal Register documents each year.

Item #1 -- Google To Digitize NARA films: Google Incorporated has begun take National Archives (NARA) films, digitize them and then offer them as part of an effort to expand content offered on its online video service. Clips include World War II newsreels, the Apollo 11 moon landing, and over 100 other films clips.
The films have been digitized by Google at no cost to the government. NARA hopes to seek additional films put online. (Ed Note: sorry, no link to this posting!)

Item #2 -- Northwest Archivists Conference to Sponsor Advocacy
Workshop: On 18 May 2006, during the
annual meeting of the Northwest Archivists in Butte, Montana, Kathleen Roe, past president of the Council of State Archivists, and Rand Jimerson, past president of the Society of American Archivists, will conduct a one day workshop on how to advocate for archival programs. Up to twenty participants will have the opportunity to learn how to effectively describe the importance of archives, and identify and tailor messages to various audiences. The cost is $80 per participant and the registration deadline is 15 April 2006. For more information and registration materials, visit the Northwest Archivists
2006 conference website at: .

One posting this week: Given the amount of press coverage of the event, it is hard not to have known that this last week was "Sunshine Week" -- a nationwide effort designed to spark discussions about the
importance of preserving access to government information. For an
interesting article on government
secrecy, see "Secrecy Under Scrutiny" by David E. Kaplan in the U.S. News and World Report; 20 March 2006). For the article visit: .

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