SAA Submits Testimony on NHPRC Funding

Statement in Support of Funding for the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC)

Testimony Submitted to the House Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on Treasury, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, the Judiciary and District of Columbia

by Society of American Archivists

April 14, 2006


The Society of American Archivists, whose 4,600 members reside and work throughout the United States, strongly urges that Congress allocate $20 million to support current activities of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) and to enhance this modest but highly effective program in a way that will significantly benefit the record of our nation.

Through its current authorization of $10 million (which has been zeroed out in the President’s proposed budget for FY 2007), the NHPRC provides grants to state and local governments, historical and genealogical societies, and educational institutions in all states and territories. The grants sustain the work of archivists, records managers, historians, and others who preserve and make accessible records and documentary editions for use by classroom teachers, biographers, lawyers, genealogists, surveyors, documentary filmmakers, and many others. In addition to documenting the history and culture of the nation, these records provide the essential evidence of births and deaths, education, marriage and divorce, property held, contractual obligations, and criminal conduct. Many of these local records are tied directly to federal programs. They protect individuals’ rights and entitlements as well as governments’ interests.

The NHPRC has a distinguished record of supporting innovation at the state and local level that has a major impact on federal records. During the past 40 years, the Commission has awarded more than $150 million to more than 4,000 state and local government archives, colleges and universities, and other institutions to preserve and publish documentation of the American experience. Its grants have made substantial contributions to preserving and providing access to our nation’s documentary heritage in the following areas:

Addressing the growing challenge of electronic records. NHPRC provides funding to help records programs address the explosion of records in electronic formats. The work accomplished by the admittedly modest funding available has been essential in creating scalable solutions that can be applied in towns, counties, states, and organizations across the nation.

Making community connections to national history. NHPRC provides re-grants to states that make it possible for smaller, grassroots organizations scattered throughout the country to receive grants of even a few hundred dollars that can make a significant difference. These organizations, including historical societies, local public libraries, ethnic organizations, and local governments, are key to preserving the diversity of the record that makes up the American experience.

Ensuring a history for our children. The federal government has made a much-needed investment of hundreds of millions of dollars to encourage the study of history. To bring history alive for their students, many elementary and secondary school classroom teachers rely on documentary resources that can be found only in our nation’s archives. These records provide students and teachers with the literal evidence of our past and allow them to observe and study in the “laboratory” of history. It is inconceivable that the only federal program directed at historical records would be eliminated, seriously undermining our ability to bring our history to the American people.

Support for tribal archives programs. NHPRC provides targeted support for Native American communities’ efforts to build local archives programs. These programs provide Native Americans with local access to records about their history that are stored in other government archives, often many miles distant. They also support tribal efforts to document and preserve their traditional cultures.

The records managed by the 56 state and territorial archives, more than 88,000 local governments, and more than 43,000 non-profit institutions in the United States are an essential resource for documenting our democracy. The NHPRC provides essential, irreplaceable support for these institutions. NHPRC is the only federal program that concentrates on records programs and projects. It is the only federal program that links federal archives with those held by states, counties, municipalities, universities, and nongovernmental organizations. It is the only program designed specifically with archives and records management in mind.

Given NHPRC’s astonishing success, we strongly urge Congress to expand this agency’s valuable work through a new program – The Partnership for the American Historical Record (PAHR). PAHR might be structured to provide formula-based grants to every state and territory, with each receiving base-level funds plus an additional amount based on a formula that accounts for population and geographic area. These funds could be distributed by the state archives, making it much easier and faster for organizations to apply and compete for grants.

By appropriating an additional $10 million to enable the Commission to implement PAHR, Congress would take a major step forward in preserving the American record. This modest amount for archives would complement other national initiative grants, such as $250 million for libraries through LSTA, $50 million for museums through IMLS, and $35 million for historic buildings.

NHPRC is well-positioned to administer PAHR. The agency has a distinguished record of cost-effective distribution of funds, and it is accustomed to administering programs in which cost-sharing provides a stimulus for institutional investment in historical records.

The federal government spends hundreds of millions of dollars to support history programs in general, but NHPRC receives only a small amount to support records programs that in turn support historical research. We have seen the positive impact that NHPRC grants have made in thousands of organizations and communities, both large and small, throughout our country. With modest funding, the Commission provides support that allows the voices of all Americans to be heard, preserved, and valued.

The loss of funding at the authorized level of $10 million would cause irreparable harm to America’s historical memory. The provision of additional funding of $10 million for a state-based formula grant program could make a significant difference for:

  • Creation of tools to increase access to historical and genealogical records, including name indexes and digitization projects to make records available online;
  • Expanded archival education and training for records custodians, who often have no formal training in archives;
  • New and expanded teaching materials and promotion of National History Day; and
  • Preservation actions, including disaster recovery programs.

We appreciate the Subcommittee’s consideration of our concerns, and respectfully seek your support for $20 million in funding for the National Historical Publications and Records Commission – a critical investment in preserving the heritage of our nation.

Richard Pearce-Moses
President, 2005-2006
Society of American Archivists
527 South Wells Street, Fifth Floor
Chicago, Illinois 60607
312-922-0140 (SAA office)
602-568-5869 (Cell)