What Does the Fiscal 2011 Budget Hold for the History and Archives Communities?

Lee White, May 2011

On April 12, 2011, the House Appropriations Committee released a list of proposed cuts in federal programs for the remainder of fiscal 2011. Nearly every program of interest to the historical and archival communities will, it is apparent, face cuts. However the fact that some, such as Teaching American History grants, survived, is a testament to the dogged lobbying efforts of the National Coalition for History, its constituent organizations, and allies in civics education.

The House and Senate still need to pass the budget bill (H.R. 1473) by the end of the week (April 15) when the current continuing resolution (CR) is set to expire. While dissatisfaction on the right and the left in Congress remains, the bill is expected to pass with the deal worked out by the House and Senate leadership and the White House.

As noted above, the Appropriations Committee only released a list of reductions with no details, and the bill language does not provide clarification in every case. Usually a conference report is issued along with an appropriations bill, giving agencies instructions on how funding should be allocated. However, it is unclear at this time whether or when a conference report will be forthcoming and how much discretion agency heads will have at the programmatic level if it is not issued.

Teaching American History grants (Department of Education): The Teaching American History Grants (TAH) program sustained a 61 percent cut of $73 million reducing the allocation from $119 million in fiscal 2010 to $46 million. While this is disheartening, throughout the budget process House Republicans had repeatedly targeted the program for elimination. The administration, too, had zeroed out TAH for fiscal 2011 and had proposed consolidating history education in a new Well Rounded Education program where it would have competed for funding with arts, music, foreign languages, civics, economics and other subjects.

So the fact that TAH survived at all is a major victory. Had the TAH program been eliminated it would have been nearly impossible to resuscitate it in the upcoming fiscal 2012 budget process and down the road in the pending reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

One question is whether the $46 million will be enough to fund new fiscal 2011 TAH grants. At a public forum earlier this year, Department of Education staff stated that continuing grants would have priority in receiving fiscal 2011 funding and that any remaining funds would go to new grants.

In fiscal 2008, the Education Department awarded TAH grants for three-year periods, but provided the option for the grantees to apply for additional funds for a fourth or fifth year. The fiscal 2008 grantees have been required to file detailed progress reports with the department and they are being evaluated to determine whether they merit additional funding.

The application deadline was April 4. However, there is no way of knowing yet how many fiscal 2008 grantees applied for additional out-year funding and if they will qualify. As a result, given the limited amount of funds available, conceivably there could be no new TAH grants made this year.

National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC): The NHPRC allocation was cut by $6 million from $13 million in fiscal 2010 down to $7 million this year. While this is a significant reduction, the House in a previous Continuing Resolution had cut the NHPRC amount to a $4 million level and there were House Republicans pushing for outright elimination of the commission.

In fiscal 2010 the NHPRC received $8.5 million for grants. An additional $4.5 million was set-aside to fund a project to digitize and make the papers of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington available online. While the Founding Fathers Project is ongoing, that funding was always intended as a one-time allocation to jump start the initiative.

Thus, the practical reality is that the amount of grant funding available to the NHPRC in fiscal 2011 was reduced by $1.5 million.

National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH): The NEH budget was reduced by 7.5 percent, with a cut of $12.5 million from the fiscal 2010 level of $167.5 million down to a level of $155 million. There had been a series of amendments to previous CRs in the House that would have imposed more draconian cuts in the NEH budget which were fended off by the advocacy efforts of the National Humanities Alliance.

National Park Service: While no programmatic details are available concerning the Park Service's history-related programs, two preservation programs were eliminated in one of the short term CRs passed earlier this year. They had been targeted for elimination under the Administration's proposed fiscal 2011 budget.

Save America's Treasures program–eliminated ($14.8 million): These funds are used to make small, one-time grants for specific local historic preservation projects to preserve a building or artifact which might otherwise be lost.

Preserve America program—eliminated ($4.6 million): This program provides small grants to local communities in support of heritage tourism, education and historic preservation planning activities.

Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS): The IMLS budget was reduced by $44 million down to a level of $238 million. In fiscal 2010 the IMLS received $282.3 million, $16 million of which was for congressional earmarks. The $44 million reduction includes the amount of those earmarks plus $28 million of cuts in programmatic funding. There is no breakdown available yet as to how the money will be divided between museum and library programs.

Lee White is the executive director of the National Coalition for History. He can be reached at lwhite@historycoalition.org.