Critical Archival Funding at Risk! Take Action Now!

Here’s the Bad News

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) appropriation for FY 2004 is in trouble. On September 3, the Subcommittee on Transportation, Treasury, and General Government of the Senate Appropriations Committee approved President Bush’s budget request for basic operations, but zeroed out all funding for NARA’s Electronic Records Archive (ERA) and allocated only $5 million for the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). The ERA is NARA’s strategic response to the challenge of preserving, managing, and providing access to the federal government’s electronic records. The NHPRC is a small agency that works to preserve the nation’s documentary heritage. The Committee did approve funding to purchase land for the new NARA facility in Anchorage, Alaska, and allocated some monies for a rehabilitation of the LBJ Plaza in Texas. Overall, the Senate mark represents a 12% cut in funding from the President’s request for NARA.

The President’s FY 2004 request included $35.9 million for ERA project management, research, and development. The House of Representatives set aside $35,914,000 for the ERA, as well as full funding—$10 million —for NHPRC. In the Senate, however, following the recent shuffling of appropriations and oversight committees after the Department of Homeland Security was created, responsibility for NARA’s budget was transferred to the appropriations committee that funds the Department of Transportation. Consequently, when the subcommittee was looking for an offset to give additional funds to Amtrak, lawmakers who are more concerned with funding transportation projects focused on the ERA as well as some Internal Revenue Service programs. Although Hill insiders generally are reluctant to predict what will happen with the ERA funding crisis, it seems likely that conferees may well split the difference between the two budget recommendations for NHPRC, and that the agency may see $7 million in FY 2004.

Hill insiders are counting on NARA’s Congressional supporters, particularly those in the House, to play a crucial role in restoring the funding to the ERA and NHPRC when the bill (HR 2989) goes to conference. To assist in the education of Senate committee staff, the Society of American Archivists and its partners in the National Coalition for History will be visiting key congressional aides on the Senate Appropriations Committee in mid-October.

Here’s What You Can Do To Help

The central players in the Senate who can restore the ERA and NHPRC funding are Senators Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Patty Murray (D-WA), both of whom are expected to serve as conferees when the Senate and House managers meet to reconcile the differences between the two appropriations measures. Constituents of these two senators, as well as NARA supporters who may be beneficiaries of NHPRC funding in Alabama and Washington, are especially urged to contact their Senator in support of restoration of the ERA program and full funding for NHPRC.

When discussing the ERA, please emphasize that:

  • This is not a new program. It has been supported by two Presidents and Congress since 1998.
  • $35 million already has been invested in the program to date.
  • This is a critical need due to the volume and rapid obsolescence of electronic records today, let alone in the future.
  • Archival Databases provides Internet access to more than 50 million electronic records, and since March has had more than 400,000 users.
  • A recent National Academy of Sciences report concluded that “it is critical to start developing new electronic records preservation capabilities quickly in order to continue to fulfill NARA’s mandate to preserve federal records.”