Bush skewers e-records research program, again

For the second consecutive year, the Bush administration has proposed to end a National Archives and Records Administration’s grants program that is responsible for state and local electronic records research.

The fiscal 2007 budget states it seeks to terminate the grants program “so that NARA can focus its resources on its essential federal records management mission.”

Similarly, President Bush’s fiscal 2006 budget request sought to cut all funding for the 72-year-old program, called the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). In addition to e-records research, NHPRC funds historical projects.

Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein, state archivists and historians nationwide participated in a campaign to stop the dismantling of the grants program. Eventually, Congress reinstated the program with $7.5 million in funding for fiscal 2006.

Under the 2007 proposal, NARA’s flagship Electronic Records Archives project would get a $7.6 million increase. ERA is the first effort to save the government's records — regardless of format — and make them available on future hardware and software. The proposed 2007 budget requests $45.5 million, a 20 percent increase from last year’s $37.9 million final appropriation.

Before the creation of ERA, the grants program was responsible for funding e-records research. Nearly 25 years ago, NHPRC gave Wisconsin money to create a machine-readable records archive.

Today, archivists said they would again rally to restore the grants program.

“It’s unfortunate that NHPRC is apparently zeroed out again,” said David Carmicheal, director of the Georgia Archives and president of the Council of State Archivists. “I’m very happy for ERA, but they are two separate programs. And we kind of lost on one side. ERA has a research agenda, but it’s a very narrow research agenda, which is appropriate,” he said.

Currently, the grants program is funding the testing of an e-records model in Georgia. The state is formatting clemency records in Extensible Markup Language to allow government agencies to rapidly share records, redact nonpublic information and extract information of historical value for preservation in the Georgia Archives. Any state archives should be able to replicate the system when the project is complete.

Local agencies, including corrections departments, pardons and paroles boards and governor’s offices, would be able to share these e-records when a criminal asks for clemency. Part of the information would be publicly accessible, while other components would be accessible only to authorized users.

Carmicheal said, “The NHPRC had a much broader research agenda that really allowed us to research various kinds of models and often bring those models to bear much more rapidly than what ERA is going to be able to do.”

He added that Congress and President Bush consistently underestimate the importance of state archives, in comparison to state libraries and museums, in telling the American story.

“They push money for libraries and museums out of the federal level down to the state and local level. . .They understand that you can’t just fund libraries and museums at the federal level to tell the American story. But they haven’t applied that same logic to the archives,” Carmicheal said. “You don’t tell the American story only at the federal level. And NHPRC reaches down to the state and local level and preserves that story across the board. And we will fight to preserve that story.”

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