Omnibus Appropriations Bill Enacted: Is There Love for History in a Time of Recession?

Lee White, April 2009

On March 11, 2009, President Obama signed into law the omnibus budget legislation for fiscal 2009 (H.R. 1105) which provides funding for federal agencies covered under the nine appropriations bills left unfinished by the last Congress. The omnibus package finalizes spending levels for the current fiscal year that began on October 1, 2008.

The total for the nine appropriations bills is $31 billion more than fiscal 2008. This represents about an 8 percent increase, which includes some significant—if not substantial—increases allocated to programs of interest to the history and archives communities (for details of these programs, see below).

The House of Representatives had passed the bill on February 25, 2009, by a vote of 245-178. Senate Republicans slowed consideration of the bill to voice concerns about the overall level of funding and earmarks. However, the Senate passed the bill by voice vote on March 10 after voting down a number of Republican amendments dealing with earmarks.

Despite his campaign promises opposing earmarks, President Obama signed the bill. However, he proposed new policies restricting earmarks in the fiscal 2010 budget that is expected to be released by the administration in April.

Please note that in the following report, the fiscal 2008 budget number will be included in parentheses after this year’s amount, for comparison purposes, followed by the changes (increase or decrease) between fiscal 2008 and fiscal 2009.

National Archives and Records Administration

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) will receive its highest level of funding in recent years under the fiscal 2009 omnibus spending package. NARA’s budget would jump 12 percent from the current $411 million to $459 million.

Here is a breakdown of NARA’s funding.

Operating Expenses—$330.3 million ($315 million) +$15.3 million

The fiscal 2008 Appropriations Act included funding for an increase in archivist staff, and the additional staff will continue to be funded in fiscal 2009 within this appropriation. In addition, this bill includes $875,000 to provide a further increase in the number of archivist staff, in order to continue to reverse the staffing reductions that had occurred between fiscal year 2002 and fiscal year 2007.

NARA is directed to report to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees within 30 days of enactment of the bill as to the specific steps it is taking to continue to restore NARA’s archivist workforce to pre-2002 levels.

Also included in the amount is $1 million for NARA’s new Office of Government Information Services (OGIS). The OGIS will serve as the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) ombudsman for the federal government. The administration had proposed funding this office at the Department of Justice in its fiscal year 2009 budget request. This bill now funds the office at NARA, as authorized by the OPEN Government Act of 2007 (Public Law 110-175).

The bill includes $650,000, available until September 30, 2010, to be used to complete the review of U.S. Government documents pertaining to the activities of the Nazis and the Japanese Imperial Government.

In 2007, following the declassification and review of thousands of files containing newly disclosed information about the Nazis and the Japanese Imperial Government, NARA issued a report summarizing the new historical insights gained as a result of the NARA-supervised review of these documents. However, a number of additional U.S. Army and CIA/OSS documents were discovered too late in the process to be included in NARA’s 2007 report. The new funding is to be used to report separately on these remaining documents. NARA has 90 days to report back to Congress with a proposed schedule for completing the review and historical analysis of these documents and releasing a supplemental report, to serve as a companion to NARA’s 2007 report.

Congress also provided $6,325,000 to operate the George W. Bush Presidential Library in Dallas. It is now temporarily located in a facility in Lewisville, TX until the permanent library is built with private funds on the campus of Southern Methodist University.

Electronic Records Archives (ERA) project—$67 million ($58 million) +$9 million

The Electronic Records Archive came online last year and federal agencies are slowly being phased into the system over the next year or so. The bill requires NARA to submit, and for the Committees on Appropriations to approve, a GAO-reviewed spending plan for ERA prior to the obligation of funds.

NARA was also required to provide quarterly progress reports on ERA to Congress and the Government Accountability Office and to alert them to any potential delays, cost overruns, and other problems with the development of the ERA.

Repairs and Restoration—$50.7 million ($28.6 million) + $22.1 million

The bill provides $50,711,000 for repairs and restoration. This amount includes: $17.5 million for necessary expenses related to the repair and renovation of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library in Hyde Park, N.Y., which NARA has listed as its top capital improvement priority; $22 million to complete construction of an addition to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston; and $2 million to complete the repair and restoration of the plaza that surrounds the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, Texas.

National Historical Publications and Records Commission

In a major victory for historians and archivists, the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) will receive its highest level of funding in five years under the fiscal 2009 omnibus spending bill. The NHPRC received $9.25 million for grants (plus $2 million for administrative costs), $1.75 million more than in fiscal 2008. In his fiscal 2009 budget submission, President Bush had proposed zero funding and elimination of the NHPRC.

Teaching American History Grants

The Teaching American History (TAH) grants program at the U.S. Department of Education will receive a modest $1 million increase under the fiscal 2009 omnibus spending bill. The total budget for the program would grow to $118.9 million from the current $117.9 million. The Congress rejected the Bush administration’s request that the program be cut to $50 million.

The bill also provides $500,000 in funding for the National History Day program. This marks the first time that National History Day had received federal funds.

Funding for the program has remained relatively constant for the program since FY 2004, fluctuating annually between $120 million and last year’s low of $117.9 million.

National Park Service

Funding for cultural and historic preservation programs at the National Park Service (NPS) will receive mostly modest increases under the fiscal 2009 omnibus spending bill.

The bill provides zero funding for the Centennial Challenge program down from $24.6 million. Congress did not provide money since the program has yet to be authorized. The Centennial Challenge is a 10-year initiative to generate $2 billion in public and private matching grants to prepare for the Park Service’s Centennial celebration in 2016.

The allocations for the NPS are:

Cultural Programs—$22.6 million ($21.4 million) +$1.2 million

Heritage Partnerships Program—$15.7 million ($15.2 million) +$500K

Historic Preservation Fund—$71.5 million ($65.6 million)

Within the Historic Preservation fund, the bill does not include $10,000,000 requested for the Preserve America program or $2,000,000 requested to initiate an inventory of historic properties. In zeroing out the program, the Committee on Appropriations stated that future funding for the Preserve America program should be deferred pending a full evaluation of the effectiveness of the program in meeting national heritage tourism needs.

Preserve America program—zero funding ($7.3 million)

State Historic Preservation Offices—$42.5 million ($39.3 million) +$3.2 million

Save America’s Treasures program—$20 million ($24.6 million) -$4.6 million

While the bill includes $20 million for the Save America’s Treasures· program, it allocates $10 million of this amount for specifically earmarked projects.

National Endowment for the Humanities

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) will receive a nearly $10 million increase under the fiscal 2009 omnibus spending bill. The total budget for the NEH would grow to $155 million from $144.7 million in fiscal 2008, an increase of about 7 percent.

The funding for NEH, broken down by the various programs is as follows (numbers courtesy of the National Humanities Alliance):

Federal/State Partnership—$35 million (+3.3 million)

Preservation and Access—$16 million (-2.4 million)

Public Programs—$14.5 million (+1.8 million)

Research programs—$14.5 million (+1.5 million)

Education programs—$14.5 million (+1.9 million)

Program development—$0.4 million (+0.04 million)

We The People Initiative grants—$15.8 million (+0.8)

Digital Humanities Initiatives—$4 million (+2.0 million)

Treasury funds—$5 million (+0.05 million)

Challenge grants—(-0.03 million)

Subtotal, Program Funds—$129 million (+9 million)

Administration—$26 million (+1.3 million)

Funding for two programs cut in President Bush’s fiscal 2009 budget request are partially restored in the omnibus bill.

Preservation: the omnibus bill restores $2.1 million of the $4.5 million cut from preservation funds in the fiscal 2009 request. The total level for Preservation & Access is still down by about $2.4 million from the fiscal 2008 level. The House-passed version of the fiscal 2009 spending bill (not enacted) would have cut nearly $8 million from the Preservation & Access division.

Challenge Grants: the omnibus bill restores all but $31,000 of the $2.25 million cut from challenge grants in the fiscal 2009 request.

The NEH Research, Education and Public Programs Divisions each receive an appropriation of $14.5 million in the omnibus bill, an increase ranging from $1.5 to $1.9 million per division. These divisions received level funding in the Bush budget request for fiscal 2009.

The We the People program of the NEH, an initiative to foster understanding of American history and culture, receives an increase of $800,000 in the Omnibus, which is about $4.2 million below what the Bush administration had requested for fiscal 2009. The NEH Office of Digital Humanities receives an increase of $2 million in the Omnibus above both the fiscal 2008 level and the fiscal 2009 budget request (approximately double).

The NEH Federal/State Partnership, the division that administers operating grants to state humanities councils, receives a $3.3 million increase in the Omnibus over the fiscal 2008 level and the fiscal 2009 budget request.

Smithsonian Institution

The Smithsonian Institution will receive a $48.7 million increase under the fiscal 2009 omnibus spending bill. The total budget for the Smithsonian would grow to $731.4 million from the current $682.6 million, thus increasing by $48.7 million or about 7 percent. The allocations break down as follows:

Program Support and Outreach—$39.8 million ($38.1 million) +$1.7 million

Salaries and Expenses—$593.4 million ($562.4 million) +$31 million

Facilities Capital—$123 million ($105.4 million) +$17.6 million

The bill includes $15 million for the Legacy Fund established in fiscal 2008 to address major facility repair needs at the Smithsonian Institution. Funds are to be matched by private donations on a dollar for dollar basis. These funds are designated for critical repair and rehabilitation projects, which are part of the Smithsonian’s $2.5 billion backlog. Legacy Funds are not to be used for programmatic activity, exhibit installation, expansion of existing facilities or construction of new facilities.

The Appropriations Committees reallocated $10 million from President Bush’s budget request for facilities to restore reductions proposed in the budget for public programs, education, and research. The reallocation includes $5 million from facility services in the Salaries and Expenses account and $5 million from facilities planning in the Facilities Capital account.

—Lee White is the executive director of the National Coalition for History. He can be reached at lwhite@historycoalition.org. His regular, informative, “Washington Update,” can be read at http://historycoalition.org where readers can also sign up to receive the update or to get an RSS feed about the latest post.