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From Cyberspace to Washington:
The Impact of H-Net on the Advocacy Mission of the National Coordinating Committee for the Promotion of History

Page Putnam Miller
Director, National Coordinating Committee for the Promotion of History (NCC)

On January 11, 1995, the National Coordinating Committee for the Promotion of History, in partnership with H-Net, began publishing "NCC Washington Update" on the Internet. Little did I realize then that I would write 86 more during the next year and a half and that the "Updates" would become the NCC's single most important information delivery system. Not only has the NCC profited from having a vehicle for the timely delivery of information to a wide audience but H-Net subscribers also are assured of access to the latest developments on Capitol Hill.

The "NCC Washington Updates" have broadened the advocacy network of historians and archivists far beyond anything that, just a few years ago, I could have imagined. As a one person operation with a very modest budget, the thought of getting out information without having to stuff envelopes and pay for postage is truly exhilarating. Not only can I reach many more people more easily, but I am also more accessible to the profession.

It is not unusual for me to be alerted by a reader of "NCC Washington Updates" to a problem or pending crisis. I explore the situation with my contacts in Washington, read up on the matter, and then write it up to appear in the next "Update." I have also received some useful suggestions from readers regarding format. For example, I have tried to incorporate the e-mail addresses of members of Congress or agencies relevant to an "Update."

The NCC, which serves as the central advocacy office in Washington for the historical and archival professions, attends to a range of issues from federal support for historical research and information policy to national parks and copyright policy. The NCC presents testimony at Congressional hearings, provides background information to the fifty-three NCC member organizations, participates in advocacy strategy sessions with other coalitions, and informs the professions of current legislative and policy developments.

While many people think of advocacy efforts as primarily trying to influence key Congressional votes, the "Updates" have made clear that federal regulations, agency planning documents, executive orders, and reports of agency advisory committees are also important elements in the development of federal policy. As an advocacy organization, the NCC works in many ways to influence and shape legislation and policy. Some of this is done in Washington, but much of it is accomplished by members of the historical and archival profession across the country who reference their members of Congress and comment on various agency proposals. Effective advocacy, whether in Washington or at the district level, depends on accurate and timely information.

A recent vote on funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) indicates that advocacy work takes perseverance and that the steady prodding of members of Congress pays off over the long run. When the FY'96 appropriations bill for NEH came to the House floor for a vote last year, Representative Steve Chabot (R-OH) introduced an amendment that called for the elimination of the NEH. This amendment failed. This year when the FY'97 appropriation bill for NEH came to the House floor for a vote, Representative John Shadegg (R-AZ) introduced an amendment to cut the funding of NEH by $12.9 million. He stated that to balance the budget the House must reduce spending in areas it can no longer afford, and he argued that the private sector could fund the humanities. This amendment, although not as drastic as the one of the year before, also failed. An analysis of the two votes revealed that seventeen representatives who voted for the elimination of NEH in 1996 voted against the $ 12.5 million cut in 1997.

I offer this history as an indication that some constituents repeatedly contacted these members to inform them of the many ways the NEH ably serves the American people and to present mounting evidence that the private sector is not in a position to undertake the kinds of projects funded by NEH. Effective lobbying is seldom ad hoc or short term. Development of a successful advocacy program takes the patience to educate historians and archivists who can in turn educate their members of Congress.

Many people have asked me how I get data for the updates. Much information comes from the Congressional Record, the Federal Register, Congressional and government reports, and announcements of new regulations. I also go to a number of hearings and markups: I get in line early outside the Congressional hearing rooms and usually am able at least to find standing room. If not, I rely on first hand accounts from a legislative aide with whom I have worked over the years or an attendee someone from the humanities community. As is obvious, staying abreast of all this information necessitates my dependence, as a one-person band, on many colleagues and contacts in partner coalitions, history departments, federal agencies and in Congressional offices.

I enjoy access to a broad and informative network. The fifty-three organizations that comprise the NCC frequently alert me to issues of concern to historians and archivists. I also stay in close contact with the staffs of the Washington Office of the American Library Association, the Association of Research Libraries, and the American Association of Law Libraries. They are strong advocates for access to information and have been allies on issues related to the National Archives, copyright, and the future of the federal depository library program.

Working in coalitions is a two-way street. I am frequently called by counterpart organizations to provide information on matters on which I have expertise. Likewise, I ask others when I need more information. Developing trust, gaining a reputation for accurate information, and responding quickly to another's call for assistance are all essential ingredients to working in the Washington advocacy networks. For most of us, there is little to be gained by being proprietary about information.

I also meet regularly with a small group of people who work on funding for NEH. This group includes both the National Humanities Alliance and the Federation of State Humanities Councils. NCC is also a participant in the informal National Preservation Coordinating Council made up of representatives from a dozen Washington-based organizations that promote historic preservation. On declassification issues I work closely with the Federation of American Scientists and the Moynihan Commission on protecting and releasing government information. When my schedule permits, I also attend meetings of a telecommunications roundtable and an OMB Watch-sponsored roundtable on government information.

In a few cases I am a direct participant. For example, I am a member of the CIA's Historical Review Panel and the Department of Energy's Openness Advisory Panel, both of which deal with declassification policy. Additionally I have been involved for the last two years in CONFU, the Conference on fair use of copyrighted material in the electronic age. This past spring I testified at Congressional hearings on the FY'97 budgets for the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Archives, and the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.

One of the most satisfying aspects of reporting on the Internet has been receiving fan mail. A number of people have told me how much they appreciate being informed about developments in Washington and how much they depend on the updates. There is no doubt that the many postings on the Internet are based more on rumor or on a hunch than on hard information. In writing the "Updates" I have placed a high priority on getting reliable and accurate information. I also endeavor to place this information in a context that makes it understandable and to avoid, when possible, the use of legislative and legal jargon.

Writing the "Updates" and being thoroughly connected into cyberspace has been a grand adventure and one that I have truly valued. The NCC is most appreciative of its partnership with H-Net which has made all of this possible.

Page Putnam Miller is Director of the National Coordinating Committee for the Promotion of History, 400 A Street, SE, Washington, DC 20003. pagem@CapAccess.org

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