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From The Coalition Column of the March 2005 Perspectives

The President's Budget: The Fallout for History and History-Related Programs

Bruce Craig, March 2005

On February 6, 2005, President George W. Bush advanced to Congress his proposed $2.57 trillion federal government budget for fiscal 2006 (the full budget document is available online at www.gpoaccess.gov/usbudget/fy06/). Some hill watchers characterize it as "one of the most special-interest driven budgets presented in a very long time." As anticipated, it guts many domestic programs—some 150 federal programs are slashed or eliminated entirely. However, some federal history-related agencies and programs such as the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the Department of Education's "Teaching American History" grants program did relatively well, managing to receive a "level-funding" recommendation. Others, like the "Save America's Treasures" initiative, saw their budgets cut in half. Still others—the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), for example—were zeroed out entirely.

For better or worse, here are the numbers we currently have: For the Department of Education there is a $56 billion request that includes $119 million—level funding from what was appropriated last year—for the "Teaching American History" initiative. In all some 48 education programs are marked for termination, partly to enable increased spending on the "No Child Left Behind" initiative to expand it to the nation's high schools.

For the National Endowment for the Humanities, the allocation is $138 million—the same recommended by the administration last year. Readers should keep in mind that because of inflation and increased costs of operations, "level funding" translates in actuality into a programmatic cut. Nevertheless, the NEH recommendation includes $11.2 million for the history-based "We the People" (WTP) initiative, thus buttressing one of its specifically history-related activities. Some of those 11 million dollars would be used for new WTP-related activities including support for projects to digitize copies of scholarly editions and to prepare reference works on important figures and events in American history and culture. A new national history competition for elementary and middle school students is also contemplated. Noting that this year's proposal does not reflect increases of 20 to 22 percent that the Bush administration has recommended for the NEH in years past, Jessica Jones Irons, the interim executive director of the National Humanities Alliance, characterized the NEH proposal as "disappointing, especially given the White House's recent support for the agency."

The president's budget provides $121 million for the National Endowment for the Arts, the same that Congress allocated in fiscal 2005.

For the National Park Service, the proposal is $2.25 billion, representing a 3 percent cut. The budget includes $38.7 million, the same appropriation as it received in fiscal 2005, for the Historic Preservation Fund. The budget includes $12.5 million in matching grants to advance the goals of the "Preserve America" initiative, which seeks to provide one-time assistance to help communities demonstrate long-term approaches to using historic resources in an economically sustainable manner. In order to pay for that initiative, the "Save America's Treasures" (SAT) program sees its funding cut in half—from $30 million to $15 million. According to Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the cut "sends the wrong signal to the private sector—a signal that seriously compromises the program's goals and undermines the leverage in value of the governments role in stewardship of the places and objects that tell America's story."

The budget includes a $615 million request for the Smithsonian and includes sufficient funds to complete the final phases of renovation for the old Patent Office Building* that houses the National Portrait Gallery. For The National Museum of American History there is a level funding recommendation and some funds to begin the long anticipated renovations to the museum.

For the Institute for Museum and Library Services, $262 million is slated, up $21.5 million from fiscal 2005. For the museum services section, the request is for $39 million, a $4.1 million increase. Some of the funds would go for a new program to fund African American museums and a related training program in African American history. For the library section of the IMLS there is $221 million—again level funding.

For the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) there is $323 million—about a 1.3 percent increase over fiscal 2005 figures. The recommendation includes $281 million for "operations," and about $6.1 million for facility construction. There is the requisite $36 million for the Electronic Archives Initiative, and $100,000 of this is to enable the Inspector General to increase investigations of missing or stolen documents.

The most draconian history-related proposal in the president's budget is the recommendation to terminate all new grant funding and staff support for the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). Over the last 40 years this small agency has awarded some $153 million to over 4,000 state and local government archives, colleges and universities and individuals to preserve and publish important historical records that document American history. The proposal to zero out the program in its entirety seems rather bizarre, especially considering that just last year the president signed legislation (P.L. 108-383) reauthorizing the commission at a $10 million a year level for another four years. Also, just last month, the White House appointed two new representatives to serve on the commission. The Office of Management and Budget has been targeting the NHPRC for some time, and it seems to have scored a direct hit this time.

One hopeful sign for the NHPRC, however, is that last year, when the administration advanced only a slightly less harsh budget proposal—one that called for the elimination of some 65 targeted programs—Congress ultimately agreed to ax only five of them. If any lessons can be drawn from last year's budget battle, it is that programs that saw their funding restored managed to do so because each had its own dedicated and vocal constituency that was willing to go to bat on behalf of the threatened program.
This year though, the effort to restore funding for programs targeted to take cuts or be eliminated will be especially challenging. Congress faces new pressures—a record deficit projection of $427 billion for fiscal 2005; an ongoing war against terrorism; new and expensive homeland security needs; a costly war in Iraq (which is not even included in the budget proposal); and a steadily declining dollar that is contributing to foreign trade imbalances. Clearly, the pressure is on Congress to regain control over spending. If the history and archives communities are to see the programs they care about hold their own, let alone grow, it will require a concerted grassroots effort.

Humanities Advocacy Network to Be Launched

Anticipating the challenges advanced in the Bush budget, representatives of the Council of State Historical Records Coordinators, the National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators, and the Society of American Archivists, met last week and agreed to form a joint task force to focus on advocacy. In addition, the National Coalition for History, together with the National Humanities Alliance, and the Federation of State Humanities Councils will shortly launch the "Humanities Advocacy Network"—a new legislative action tool that will enable users to take direct action and communicate with governmental officials. The new web site is at http://www.humanitiesadvocacy.org. The network is designed to serve as the central location for advocacy where those who care about supporting our nation's investment in education, research, preservation and public programs in the humanities.

— Bruce Craig is director of the National Coalition for History. He can be reached at rbcraig@historycoalition.org.

*This is a correction; the printed version of the March 2005 issue, incorrectly stated this as the "Old Post Office Building."