Blogs > Cliopatria > NCH WASHINGTON UPDATE (Vol. 12, #35; 8 September 2006)

Sep 8, 2006 7:18 pm


NCH WASHINGTON UPDATE (Vol. 12, #35; 8 September 2006)




1. WEINSTEIN REPORTS ON DECLASSIFICATION INITIATIVE PROGRESS
2. PRESIDENT BUSH NOMINATES NEW DIRECTOR OF THE NPS
3. GOVERNMENT SECRECY REPORT ISSUED
4. HISTORY COALITION EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR SEARCH IN FULL SWING
5. EDUCATION SECRETARY DECLARES NCLB LAW NEEDS ONLY "TWEAKING"
6. BITS AND BYTES: Attention Federal Employees; FRUS China Volume Released; Library of Congress Bookfest

1. WEINSTEIN REPORTS ON DECLASSIFICATION INITIATIVE PROGRESS In a meeting with representatives of the research community on 6 September 2006, Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein reported on the progress being made in the effort to implement the "National Declassification Initiative (NDI)," a new set of policies, declassification practices, procedures, and organizational structures believed necessary to create a more reliable executive branch-wide declassification program for federal records. The Archivist said, "When we last met in April, I promised that the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) would act swiftly and responsibly to begin to address the very serious challenges that we face in coordinating with other Federal agencies in the realm of declassification." The meeting demonstrated that Weinstein's promise is being kept.

The new NARA initiative is in response to an April 2006 audit report by the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) entitled "Withdrawal of Records from Public Access at the National Archives and Records Administration for Classification Purposes." During the hour-long meeting that brought together representatives of the National Coalition for History, the American Historical Association, the National Security Archive, the Federation of American Scientists, and several other groups, Weinstein explained the objectives, milestones, and progress to date for the initiative that he hopes will serve as the catalyst for declassification reform among federal agencies. The Archivist stated that all federal agencies are being encouraged to participate in and support both of these declassification initiatives.

Weinstein reported that the steering group met on 28 August at which time representatives of the 12 executive branch agencies with major declassification responsibilities discussed various strategies required to ensure the NDI's success. The Archivist stated that in subsequent meetings, the executive steering group will develop and implement detailed work plans designed to ensure that agency equities are referred and resolved to allow the maximum feasible declassification. In addition, the steering group will focus on ensuring that common referral standards are developed, redundancies are reduced, and that records are adequately reviewed for declassification so that only information that must be retained for national security purposes is withheld.

According to Weinstein, the program will establish a better means for managing referrals of classified equities between executive branch agencies. As envisioned, the new NDI program will reduce redundancies in declassification review, will promote accurate and consistent declassification decisions, will improve equity recognition across the declassification community, will develop centralized priorities and management controls around the priorities, and will make the declassification process more transparent to the public. In order to realize these goals, an interagency executive steering group has been established.

The Archivist also gave a status report on specific audit items. Weinstein stressed that since the ISOO audit report was issued, notwithstanding the ongoing Department of Energy document review pursuant to the Kyl-Lott Amendment [in which materials relating to atomic energy and weaponry are being "re-reviewed" consistent with a Congressional mandate], the practice of withdrawing documents from open shelves "has been stopped in its tracks." Weinstein stated that "today,withdrawals are extremely rare" and in order for an agency to do so it "must demonstrate a compelling case." He stated that only seven new documents had been withdrawn in the last four months and that "all of these withdrawals have been carefully noted in the opened files so that their removal is transparent to researchers and all have been handled in accordance with the audit protocol." One of the documents (from the Truman Library) has been declassified and is now back on the open shelf and agency decisions are still pending on the other items which originated from the Carter presidential library.

As a result of the findings of the ISOO audit, the Archivist stated that he requested that agencies do another re-review of the documents withdrawn during the first re-review. This effort is ongoing and the National Archives expects the vast majority of records withdrawn to be restored to public access over the next several months. For example, at the end of their work, the Air Force expects that 95 percent of their records under re-review will be released in full or redacted. By way of another example, CIA is re-reviewing 55 boxes of State Department records and expects to release in full 85 percent of their records; release in redacted form 10 percent; and withhold 5 perpcent. Additional collections will likewise be reviewed for return to the open shelves. "We regard this as encouraging news and plan to continue to hold our feet to the fire to ensure that there is no backsliding," added the Archivist. "

2. PRESIDENT BUSH NOMINATES NEW DIRECTOR OF THE NPS Mary A. Bomar, the current director of the National Park Service (NPS) Northeast region, was nominated by President Bush to replace Fran Mainella as Director of the NPS. Secretary of the Interior Dick Kempthorne praised the president's choice, stating that, "I greatly admire the passion that Mary brings to her work in the Northeast Region. I am confident that Mary is the right person to ensure that our national parks endure for the enjoyment of future generations."

Bomar was raised in Leicester, England, and became a U.S. citizen in 1977. She is a career National Park Service employee, having worked at multiple parks throughout the United States. Bomar's NPS career began in Texas and includes stints as the superintendent at the Oklahoma City National Memorial, the acting superintendent at Rocky Mountain National Park, and the assistant superintendent at the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. From 2003 to 2005, Bomar served as the superintendent of the Independence National Park in Philadelphia, considered the premier historic site in the park system. Under her supervision, a large-scale rehabilitation and revitalization project was completed, which resulted in an increase in park visitation by 35 percent. As director of the Northeast Region, Bomar exercised general administrative authority over the region with the largest percentage of historic sites, parks, landmarks, and National Heritage Areas.

The current director of the National Park Service, Fran Mainella, announced her plans to resign in July, after serving as director for six years. Mainella cited personal reasons and her desire to spend more time "with my family, including my parents and in-laws who have been having health issues," as the reason for her pending departure. Mainella was the sixteenth director of the NPS and the first woman to hold the position. Assuming the nomination is confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Bomar will become the second woman to head the NPS.

3. GOVERNMENT SECRECY REPORT ISSUED OpenTheGovernment.org handed out failing grades to the Bush administration in its "Secrecy Report Card 2006: Indicators of Secrecy in the Federal Government." Based on the findings disclosed in the Report Card, official government secrecy continued to expand last year. According to coalition director Patrice McDermott, while "every administration wants to control information about its policies and practices, the current administration has restricted access to information about our government and its policies at unprecedented levels."

The report highlights various indicators that secrecy has increased within the government, including Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests from the public and the use of the state secrets privilege by the president. There was an increase of 65,543 FOIA requests since 2004, a jump that has caused many agencies to fall behind in answering these requests. The state secrets privilege, which allows the president to withhold documents from the public, the courts, and Congress, has been utilized at least twenty-two times since 2001. This is a substantial increase in the average use of the privilege. In comparison, during the height of the Cold War, between 1953 and 1976, presidents invoked the state secrets privilege only six times overall.

OpenTheGovernment.org, of which the National Coalition for History is a member, is a coalition of diverse individuals and organizations ranging from librarians and journalists to government and consumer groups. The coalition advocates for greater openness within the government in order to make the United States "safer, strengthen public trust in government and support [the United States'] democratic principles."

To view the entire Secrecy Report Card 2006, visit http://www.openthegovernment.org/otg/SRC2006.pdf .

4. HISTORY COALITION EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR SEARCH IN FULL SWING Because Bruce Craig is relinguishing his directorship in January 2007, the National Coalition for History (NCH) is seeking applications for the position of executive director. This next week advertisements will appear in the CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION and the Capitol Hill newspaper ROLL CALL. Postings also appear in the current issue of the American Historical Association's PERSPECTIVES. The announcement also has been posted on the web pages of the National Coalition for History ( http://www.h-net.org/~nch/ ) the American Historical Association webpage (www.historians.org) and other history-oriented web sites.

A consortium of over 75 organizations, the NCH concentrates on issues involving federal funding and policies that have an impact on history-related programs, research, and teaching. These include policy issues related to the support of historical research and public programming,federal historical offices, archival policies, FOIA and access to government information,copyright and intellectual property issues, and historic preservation.

Description of Position: The executive director serves as the organization's voice on Capitol Hill. In addition, the executive director is responsible for maintaining the organization's webpages; writing and publishing this weekly electronic newsletter -- the NCH Washington Update -- that is distributed via H-NET to professionals across the nation; and encouraging cooperation and, when appropriate, united action among member organizations.

The NCH is a nonprofit 501 (c) (3) charitable organization that is overseen by a 20-member policy board; the executive director, who is the only paid staff person, is a registered lobbyist. The NCH operates out of an office in the American Historical Association's headquarters on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Candidates interested in the position are urged to visit the organization's web page at http://www.h_net.org/~nch/ where past annual reports and the organization's 2000-2005 strategic plan may be consulted (an updated strategic plan will be posted in the near future).

Preferred Qualifications: The NCH seeks candidates with qualifications in a history-related field (an advanced degree in history or archives is preferred), advocacy experience, effective communication skills (particularly the ability to write concise and clear prose under the pressure of deadlines), expertise in relevant policy and legislative issues, background of working with boards and professional associations, demonstrated ability to work with a diverse constituency, administrative capabilities, and facility at performing disparate tasks. Salary is negotiable and commensurate with experience and qualifications.

Application Procedure: An application letter; resume; names, addresses, and telephone numbers of three references; and a short writing sample, should be sent to: Chair of the Search Committee National Coalition for History, 400 A St., S.E., Washington, DC 20003.

Inquiries about the position should be directed to Arnita Jones at ajones@historians.org, president and chair of the NCH Policy Board. Review of applications will begin 1 October 2006, and will continue until the position is filled. Interviews will be conducted beginning in mid-October. The anticipated start date for the successful candidate is negotiable but 1 January 2007 is the target; there will be a short overlap with the current executive director.

5. EDUCATION SECRETARY DECLARES NCLB LAW NEEDS ONLY "TWEAKING" At an informal press conference last week, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings stated that the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) is "99.9 percent pure", and that "there's not much needed in the way of changes." Spellings also believes that the federal government "has done about as much" as it can and all NCLB needs is a little tweaking, others, including some historians, would challenge her assertion.

NCLB has drawn criticism from members of the academic and historical community regarding its lack of attention to subjects such as history, literature, and the arts. To begin to address the issue from the perspective of historians, teachers and educators, the National Council for the Social Studies is sponsoring a two-day conference later this month to discuss aspects of the NCLB law in anticipation of its upcoming reauthorization.

The law strives to improve the quality of teachers and provide more control over educational funds on a local level, making it the responsibility of the state to distribute money where it is most needed. The NCLB also stresses the need for accountability, a principle that is judged through state assessment tests required of every child in primary grade levels. If a school is unable to meet the state's reading and math goals for two consecutive years, the school is categorized as "failing." Consequently, many educators believe that they are forced to "teach to the test," thereby creating a situation where subjects not tested are deemed less important to teach. The NCLB guidelines require testing in math and reading skills, leaving other subjects such as history out of the equation.

The current debate centers on the lack of attention for history in the classroom. Some historians argue that adding history to the NCLB required curriculum would effectively ensure that the subject is emphasized in schools. Others believe it may be a mistake to place history under the rigid testing standards; they also assert that standardized testing often fails to adequately assess students' knowledge of history and historical processes. One thing that both sides of the debate would agree on, however, is that something must be done to remedy the disappearance of history from the curriculum and lesson plans, an unintended consequence of NCLB and its narrow focus.

6. Bits and Bytes: Item #1 -- Attention Federal Employees; Please Donate During Upcoming CFC Campaign: Once again, the National Coalition for History (NCH) will be participating in the federal government's annual Combined Federal Campaign (CFC). The CFC is the once-a-year opportunity for federal employees to donate to causes and charities that are important to them. The NCH is composed of over 70 institutional members and has no individual members, however, it is possible for readers who are federal employees to support the important activities and programs of the history coalition, including publication and free distribution of the NCH WASHINGTON UPDATE to subscribers throughout the country. If you are a federal employee and wish to support the NCH with an individual contribution during the CFC campaign this year, please take note that our four-digit agency code for CFC donation this year will be #2351. Last year over $8,000 was contributed to the history coalition through the CFC and we hope to exceed that total this year!

Item #2 -- FRUS China Volume Released: The U.S. State Department issued a new volume on the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS). This volume is dedicated to exploring the relationship between the U.S. and China between the years of 1969 to 1972 in which "engaging the People's Republic of China (PRC) in a dialogue is perhaps the most dramatic and far reaching decision undertaken by the Nixon administration." The volume contains many interesting documents, including a 1972 memorandum sent to Henry Kissinger from NSC staffer John H. Holdridge which expressed unease about the efforts of the Federation of American Scientists and its President Jeremy Stone, to encourage scientific exchange with China. Holdridge believed that the Chinese were undercutting the Committee on Scholarly Communication with the PRC by urging Stone to promote this scientific exchange. The full text of the new FRUS volume is available at: http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ho/frus/nixon/xvii/index.htm .

Item #3 -- Library of Congress Bookfest Scheduled: Taylor Branch, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Bob Woodward, Kay Bailey Hutchinson, Douglas Brinkley and Robert Remini are among the many historians, authors, and poets participating in the 2006 National Book Festival. The Festival, which is organized and sponsored by the Library of Congress and hosted by First Lady Laura Bush, will include over seventy well-known authors of all genres, including children's literature, fiction, biography and poetry. The National Book Festival is now in its sixth year and allows visitors to meet their favorite authors and learn about reading programs and library resources around the country. Additionally, the Library of Congress is offering many online resources for those who cannot attend the event. A podcast series is available for free download and offers interviews with authors participating in the festival, including Poet Laureate Donald Hall and historian John Hope Franklin. A series of online chats will also be held prior to the Book Festival. These chats feature several historians, notably Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin, the authors of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize Winning biography "American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer." The podcast series is available at www.loc.gov/bookfest and a schedule of online chats is posted at www.washingtonpost.com. The National Book Festival will be held in Washington D.C. on Saturday, 30 September from 10 A.M. to 5 P.M. on the National Mall, between 7th and 14th streets. It is free and open to the public. For more information, visit www.loc.gov/bookfest .

7. ARTICLES OF INTEREST One posting this week: In "Where's Mao? Chinese Revise History Books" (New York Times) 1 September 2006, high school students in Shanghai will have new, revised history books for the upcoming school year. These books focus on concepts such as economic growth, foreign trade, political stability and social customs, largely excluding a history of war, revolution, and Communism. For the article, go to http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/01/world/asia/01china.html?ref=asia .


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