Publication Date

March 1, 2004

On February 2, 2004, President Bush submitted to Congress a $2.4 trillion budget proposal for funding the federal government in fiscal 2005. It reflects significant increases in spending on the military and homeland security and dramatic cuts in domestic spending (the Department of Education being a notable exception). The budget blueprint does not include additional spending in Iraq and Afghanistan; nevertheless, it is still $521 billion in the red. To help silence objections from fiscal conservatives, the White House proposes to trim spending by eliminating over 60 federal programs. The president also pledged to reduce the deficit by half within five years. Democrats immediately charged that the Bush blueprint is as good as "dead on arrival"—one senator characterizing it as "a 2,365-page portrait of financial wreckage." Because of the massive deficit and the president's proposed restrictions on discretionary congressional spending in an election year, even some Republicans express their skepticism. One House Republican lamented, "I hope we can do better."

So how did history fare in the proposed budget? In general, funding is up for history, humanities, and other cultural programs. The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), historic preservation programs within the National Park Service, and the Smithsonian Institution all receive substantial increases or funding at previous levels.

The Endowments

In the proposed budget for the National Endowment for the Humanities, the president is seeking funding of $162 million (about $27 million over fiscal 2004 approved budget of $135.3 million), thereby sustaining the NEH's ongoing grant programs. In addition, Bush is proposing to give a significant boost of $23 million (for a total of $33 million) for the agency's flagship "We the People" (WTP) initiative, which is designed to encourage and strengthen the teaching, study, and understanding of American history, culture, and ideas. If Congress approves the recommendation, WTP would become the largest competitive grant program in the history of the NEH. It should be noted, however, that last year, the White House proposed $25 million for WTP but Congress only appropriated about $10 million. The proposed influx of WTP initiative money would be devoted to funding a variety of special projects to combat what the NEH characterizes as "American Amnesia." Those new programs include "Landmarks of American History," which seeks to provide K-12 teachers with opportunities to participate in residential summer workshops at important historic and cultural sites across the United States; a "We the People Challenge Grant" competition, to encourage educational and cultural institutions to strengthen their programs that advance knowledge of the founding principles of the United States; a program entitled "America's Historic Places" that would support public programming at historic and cultural sites across the nation; and "Family and Youth Programs in American History" that would encourage intergenerational reading about significant topics in U.S. history and literature. Other programs launched last year such as the "Idea of America" essay contest, the "Heroes of History" lecture, and the "We the People Bookshelf" (a favorite with Lynne Cheney, the vice president's wife and a former chair of the NEH) are slotted to continue. NEH funding levels for various programmatic initiatives of particular interest to the history community are as follows: Federal/State Partnership at $31.83 million; Education Programs at $12.62 million; Preservation and Access at $18.90 million; Public Programs at $13.11 million; Research Programs at $13.06 million; and Challenge Grants Program at $10.44 million (here and throughout the article, the budget figures have been rounded off). One surprise for the humanities and arts communities was the proposed $18 million (15 percent) increase for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The president has proposed a budget line of $139.4 million for the NEA—the largest budget figure for the agency in 20 years (the largest budget for the NEA was in 1992 when $176 million was appropriated). Laura Bush, the president's wife, is a high-profile proponent of the increase. Her strong support puts her in sharp contrast to opponents of the increase that include some conservative organizations and their supporters in Congress. Citizens Against Government Waste, for example, stated that the increase was "unacceptable" in the wake of the deep deficit. The higher funding proposal for the NEA is generally regarded positively by Hill insiders. The NEH and NEA both have their supporters and advocates, and increases to one endowment are rarely offered to the detriment of the other.

Institute for Museum and Library Services

For the IMLS, the president proposes a $32 million increase (14 percent higher than the fiscal 2004 appropriation of $229.6 million) to $262 million. This includes a $10 million increase for the museum programs and a $12 million increase to $220 million (an 11 percent increase) for the library segments.

National Archives

For the National Archives and Records Administration, the president seeks to advance goals outlined in NARA's strategic plan, including plans to continue the development of the Electronic Records Archives (ERA). The proposed budget includes $22 million plus base funding for the development stage of the ERA. This funding is for the initial development of the first increment of the system, scheduled to be operational in 2007, with four more increments in each of the following years scheduled. The budget request also includes an additional $200,000 to give the Office of the Inspector General resources to audit the ERA program. The total budget request of $312.04 million for NARA includes $266.94 million for operating expenses, a total of $35.91 million for the ERA program, and $6.18 million for repairs and restorations to NARA facilities. As is all too often the case, within the NARA budget, the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) is allotted a paltry total of $3 million ($2 million less than in the president's fiscal 2004 budget proposal). Supporters of the NHPRC, which last year for the first time in its history was "fully funded" to its authorized level of $10 million, again have their work cut out for them.

Department of Education

For the Department of Education (ED), the president is proposing a 3 percent increase to $57.3 billion, which represents the largest increase for any domestic agency. Much of the increase is devoted to the "No Child Left Behind" initiative. However, President Bush is also proposing to cut 38 ED programs, including the "gifted and talented" students program. The president is requesting $12.9 billion—an $823 million increase—for the Pell Grant program "to help an estimated 5.3 million students from low-income families to help pay for their education." The "Teaching American History" grant program is proposed to be funded at $119.29 million—level funding from what was approved by Congress last year, but almost $20 million more than was reflected in the president's proposal last year. In advancing this number it appears that the administration realizes that the program will get whatever funding its proponent, Senator Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), the ranking minority member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, wants the program to get. Knowing that Byrd would give the program no less than it received last fiscal year, the White House seems to have simply yielded to the senator's known desires. This translates into funding for 145 new awards with $500,000 being held aside to complete a three-year evaluation of the program. All in all, it seems hard to envision that a program of this magnitude can continue to be run at the staffing the ED has presently assigned to the task. The staff needs to be expanded to administer the program.

The Department of the Interior and the National Park Service

The Department of the Interior gets roughly a 2 percent increase to $10.6 billion. From these funds there is a modest increase of about $100 million to the National Park Service's $2.4 billion budget. The NPS's Historic Preservation Fund (HPF) provides money for several history and preservation-related programs. This year, the administration's centerpiece program within the HPF is "Preserve America"—a new historic preservation initiative developed in cooperation with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation—which is being funded to the tune of $10 million. "Preserve America" grants are designed to assist states, Indian tribes, and communities that can demonstrate sustainable uses of their historic and cultural sites as well as foster economic and educational opportunities related to heritage tourism.

As part of the new initiative there are two related education efforts that will also be launched to enhance the teaching of history in classrooms. First, in partnership with the History Channel's "Save Our History" program, the administration will support the creation of a history education manual that provides teachers with lesson plans and ideas on how to get students involved with the preservation of historical sites in their communities. Second, in partnership with the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, the administration hopes to honor outstanding teachers of American history with a new "'Preserve America' History Teacher of the Year" award. It should be noted, however, that the $10 million allocated for the "Preserve America" programs are not new funds; rather, money is being siphoned off from other existing preservation-related programs to fund the initiative. According to some Hill insiders, funds have been drawn from the Historically Black Colleges program and from the stateside component of the Historic Preservation Fund.

Also as part of the HPF allocation, $30 million ($3 million less than Congress appropriated in fiscal 2004) is recommended for the "Save America's Treasures" grants. The president is proposing what amounts to "level funding"—$34.57 million—for the stateside preservation programs and $2.963 million for tribal governments.

Civil War battlefield protection does particularly well this year in the NPS budget. The White House proposes to more than double the administration's fiscal 2004 request of $2 million to $5 million in fiscal 2005 for battlefield preservation activities. Congress has now appropriated some $21 million dollars for the American Battlefield Preservation Program since its inception in 1998, thus allowing governmental entities and nonprofits to preserve some 11,000 acres of battlefield lands nationwide.

Smithsonian Institution

The Bush administration proposes to give the 17 Smithsonian Institution museums some $628 million—an increase of $32 million—roughly a 5 percent increase. The proposal includes $44 million for continued renovations of the Old Patent Office Building that houses the American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery, and $25 million for the renovation of the Arts and Industries Building. The administration also recommended that Congress set aside $5 million for the recently authorized National Museum of African American History and Culture—the funds going for staff and planning.

What Does the Future Hold?

All in all, what is the prognostication for realizing the president's goals? Hill insiders give varying opinions, but most agree that funding the president's recommendations will present "a challenging scenario" this year. Because of a combination of factors—the huge proposed deficit, continuing massive spending needs in Iraq, and the upcoming presidential and congressional elections—lawmakers will be under strong pressure to cap nondefense, discretionary spending in order to demonstrate their fiscal prudence to voters while at the same time doing their best to bring federal dollars back home to the states and congressional districts the lawmakers represent.

— is director of the National Coalition for History. He can be reached at

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Attribution must provide author name, article title, Perspectives on History, date of publication, and a link to this page. This license applies only to the article, not to text or images used here by permission.