From The Coalition Column of the March 2006 Perspectives
The Devil in the Details: The President's Budget Proposals
Bruce Craig, March 2006
On February 6, 2006, the White House officially submitted to Congress a $2.7 trillion budget proposal for fiscal 2007. While defense and homeland security related agencies see modest increases, those increases are at the expense of domestic agencies, many of which face draconian cuts. Collectively, domestic agencies stand to lose billions in reductions. A total of 141 federal programs are slotted to be sharply curtailed or eliminated entirely and a third of them are in the Department of Education.
For the second year in a row the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) is zeroed out from the president's budget; there are no funds whatsoever for grants and only $510,000 is requested for staffing and administration for the remaining ongoing grants. Once they are completed the program would be terminated.
Also zeroed out is all funding for Senator Lamar Alexander's (R-Tenn.) Congressional and Presidential Academies, which this last year the Department of Education (ED) launched with awards of just under $2 million to several organizations. Additionally, if the president's proposal is embraced by Congress, the ED's popular "Teaching American History" (TAH) grant initiative would be cut in excess of 50 percent as the president has requested only $50 million for this program in FY 2007.
The administration advanced a curious rationale for the cut in funding for the TAH grant program. In the budget proposal the president asserts that, "the number of quality applications for assistance under this program [TAH] in recent years does not justify the current level of funding ($121 million)." Hence, the reduced request reflects "the anticipated number of high-scoring applicants" and would generate "about 52 new awards." According to departmental and Hill insiders and education advocates who monitor ED programs, the collective view is that the president's assertion that the number of "quality" applications has declined is of "questionable veracity."
Another big loser is the National Park Service (NPS). According to the National Parks Conservation Association, a citizen watchdog group, the president proposes a cut of $100.4 million in the NPS budget. Last year's appropriation was $2.25 billion and this year the budget request is scaled back to $2.15 billion. Most of the cuts come in construction and land acquisition, of which there is only one project recommended for funding—the Flight 93 National Historic Site in Pennsylvania that commemorates the terrorist attack of 9/11. To the relief of many, the Historic Preservation Fund survived a potential hit and is level-funded at $72 million.
For the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) the request is for $140.95 million for the agency as a whole—a $6,000 increase, but in real terms, essentially level funding. But according to the National Humanities Alliance, "the president's budget would cut funding for competitive program funds by $1.32 million to help pay for administrative salary and overhead cost increases." Level funding—$15.2 million—is proposed for the NEH signature "We the People" initiative, the NEH program that focuses funds on the teaching and learning of American history and culture. "We the People" funds support numerous activities across the breadth of the NEH's programmatic areas. Part of the funds would support the "Interpreting America's Historic Places" and "Family and Youth Programs in American History" initiatives; the purpose of the former is self evident while the latter supports intergenerational learning about significant topics in U.S. history and culture. There is also a major new matching fund initiative that seeks to transcribe, digitize, and post to the Internet the papers of the first four presidents (Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison).
There are funds earmarked to help preserve and increase access to collections of papers of former members of Congress and, finally, the budget includes $31.08 million for federal/state partnership programs.
Also level funded is the Woodrow Wilson Center—$9 million—and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation—$6 million.
For the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) the request is for $338 million, an increase of $12.5 million over fiscal 2006. Of this $45 million would go toward development of "basic preservation and access capabilities of the Electronic Records Archives." For the first time there is a funding request to support the operations of the Public Interest Declassification Board, a body authorized by Congress in 2001 that serves in an advisory capacity to the president and executive branch on federal record declassification. To the disappointment of many, the hoped for initial funding for a new stateside archives formula grant program did not materialize. There is, however, a $3.7 million set aside for the initial move of the records and for staffing, operation, and maintenance of the Nixon presidential library and an additional request of $6.9 million toward construction of an archival storage addition to the Nixon facility. In total, over $10 million is set to go to the Nixon Library.
In contrast, the NHPRC gets no funds for grants. The budget document states: "The Budget proposes no new grants funding . . . so that NARA can focus its resources on its essential Federal records management mission." The official NARA press release subtly takes issue with the president's recommendation by stating that "over the past four decades, NHPRC has awarded more than $153 million to more than 4,000 state and local government archives, colleges and universities and individuals to preserve and publish important historical records that document American history." Last year, due to the collective efforts of the history and archives communities, Congress restored $7.5 million for the NHPRC and efforts are already underway to once again restore funding for the commission.
For the 18 museums that comprise the Smithsonian Institution, the request is $644.4 million—a surprise increase up from the fiscal 2006 appropriation of $615 million. Funds are present for renovations for several of the institution's deteriorating museums, including $14.5 million for the National Museum of American History.
The one area that the president has demonstrated continued support for is the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS). Hill insiders attribute this to Laura Bush's continued advocacy on behalf of the nation's libraries. The president's request is for a total of $262.2 million (an increase of just over $15 million or 6 percent) of which $39.89 million (an increase of $2.5 million) is for assistance to museums and $220 million for assistance to libraries. There is set aside $25 million for the "Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program" as well as some $17.9 million for Museums for America and $3 million for Museum Professionals for the 21st Century programs.
Now that the president has submitted his budget proposal it is up to Congress to revise and approve funding for the government's operations. The president's plan likely faces an uphill battle for adoption. It is not likely to be greeted with enthusiasm either by fiscal conservatives or by lawmakers squeamish about cutting programs in election years. Of particular concern is the president's proposal for a significant cut in Medicare—$30 million over five years, and the equally offensive proposal to raise monthly premiums once again—a plan sure to draw fire from some of the 43 million seniors who traditionally vote in large numbers. The budget also reflects another massive deficit—$355 billion—and that does not include the cost of off-line items such as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq or Katrina hurricane relief.
—Bruce Craig is director of the National Coalition for History. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.