The 2005 Federal Budget: For History and Archives It Could Be a Lot Worse

Bruce Craig, November 2004

Once again, the Republican-controlled Congress failed to complete the annual appropriations process that provides funding for the federal government by the October 1 deadline—the date on which the new fiscal year begins. Because they were unable to reach agreement on the budget, Congress enacted a Continuing Resolution that will keep the government operating at last year's funding levels until Congress returns after the election to enact a budget. Nevertheless, there was a push by the leadership in the House and the Senate to complete as much of the work as possible, and while the House and the Senate may not have resolved all their differences between their respective appropriation recommendations, they have laid out the framework for decision-making that is expected to take place after the election. In fact, the House and the Senate have announced virtually all of the fiscal 2005 budget figures that are of prime interest to the history and archives communities, and we can provide a little analysis of what to expect when Congress returns to finish the fiscal 2005 budget. 

Overall, the House took a pragmatic approach to appropriations for next year—with Republicans generally supporting the president's recommendations for most federal agencies. The Senate (which is also operating under tight fiscal limitations) overall did a much better job in allocating resources for history and archives programs.

For the Department of Education's "Teaching American History" initiative, the House failed to provide any funding for the program in spite of the president's request for funds (see H. Rept. 108-636). Instead, the House opted to rely on the key sponsor of the initiative in the Senate, the powerful, ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) to ensure the continued vitality of the initiative. Byrd came through as expected with another $120 million appropriated for this program that provides competitive grants to Local Education Agencies to "augment the quality of American history instruction and to provide professional development activities and teacher education in the area of American history" (see S. Rept. 108-345).

For the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), which is funded out of the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education bill, the House recommended $261.74 million, of which $169 million is set aside for state grants; full funding is provided for the "21st Century Librarians Initiative," in which Laura Bush, the president's wife, takes a special interest. On the museum side of the IMLS, the House recommended $20.7 million for the "Museums for America" program and $450,000 for museum assessment programs. In the Senate, a total of $262.24 million is recommended for the IMLS with similar (though not identical to the House mark-up) funding allocations being set aside for the various IMLS program components.

NARA to Get a Small Raise

For the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), the House recommended $318.281 million, a decrease from the president's fiscal 2005 request of $320.041 but $9 million above the fiscal 2004 enacted operating budget. The House recommended the president's request of $3 million for the National Historical Publications and Records Administration (NHPRC) but earmarked $500,000 for the Nixon Library (see related story below). If permitted to stand, these numbers would mean significant belt-tightening for most NARA programs. By contrast, in the Senate, in response to a concerted lobby effort by supporters of the NHPRC, the funds set aside for grants were elevated to $5 million with NARA set to get $320.04 million. NHPRC funding may well rise when the Treasury bill goes to conference. In both the House and Senate, funding of about $36 million is provided to advance the electronic records initiative. Other funds are present to address other storage and preservation needs, to enhance technology infrastructure, and to construct or improve NARA and presidential library facilities in a half-dozen states.

In the congressional reports for the massive Department of Interior bill (see H. Rept. 108-542 and S. Rept. 108-341), the House is recommending some $141.8 million toward grants and administration for the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)—an increase of nearly $6.5 million above the 2004 level, but $23.5 million below the president's budget request. Specifically, due to "inadequate resources to expand" the program this year, the House recommended against the administration's recommended $23 million increase sought for the "We the People" American history initiative. The Senate recommended an appropriation of $135.3 million, in essence providing "flat funding" for the NEH. The Senate also stated that "budget constraints have prevented the committee from providing additional funds to expand the agency's ‘We the People' American history initiative." Chairman Cole and his staff, nevertheless, will continue to do what they can to expand and advance the program initiative within the framework of congressional directives.

For the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars—the agency that supports dozens of scholarly activities at home and abroad—the House is recommending $8.9 million, nearly a half million dollars above the fiscal 2004 enacted level. The Senate concurred with the House mark; consequently, the center's funding level will not be an issue of discussion in any future conference on the Department of Interior and Related Agencies funding bill.

The same can be said for the agency that furthers the national policy of preserving historic and cultural resources—the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. For this small agency the House recommended $4.6 million for operations, an increase of $649,000 above the fiscal 2004 level needed to cover fixed costs. The Senate also concurred in this funding level.

Funding for "Preserve America" on Shaky Ground

The Historic Preservation Fund (HPF) is a special pool of money that supports a variety of historic preservation service-related functions, including grants to the states. For fiscal 2005, the House recommended $71 million for the HPF—a decrease of just over $2 million below last year's enacted level but $6 million below the president's fiscal 2005 request. If the House funding scenario is adopted without modification, some $34.57 million would be allocated for the state historic preservation offices, $2.96 million for tribal grants, and $30 million for the "Save America's Treasures" program. Much to the chagrin of the administration, the committee provided zero funding for the new "Preserve America" program, a new preservation initiative strongly supported by the Advisory Council for Historic Preservation. By contrast, the Senate recommended only $100,000 more than the House did for the HPF—$71.250 million—but the upper chamber allocated the funds far more creatively. For the stateside program, the Senate responded favorably to a concerted effort by preservationists to increase the grant funding, and proposed a $3.43 million increase for state grants. The Senate recommended a decrease of $10 million to the Preserve America initiative but in order not to totally kill the administration's new initiative, the Senate made a stipulation that $2 million out of the "Save America's Treasures" initiative be used to fund "Preserve America" pilot grants.

For the management of the Smithsonian Institution—an assemblage of some 18 museums, galleries, and a zoological park (mostly located in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area)—the House recommended $628 million, an increase of about $32 million. Decreases are proposed for the new National Museum of African American History and Culture and for institution-wide facility operations, security, and digital infrastructure. The Senate recommended figures below the president's budget request but slightly higher than fiscal 2004 enacted levels. The Senate bill provides increases for the National Air and Space Museum and the newly opened National Museum of the American Indian.

For the National Park Service (NPS), the federal agency with responsibility for many of the nation's heritage resources including several hundred historic sites and battlefields, the House is recommending $1.61 billion for "operations" of the National Park System—the same as the president's request and some $76.51 million above the enacted level. In its report the House expressed concern about allocation of resources within the NPS and the impact that such allocations are having on core operating programs of the parks. Thus, the House recommended against "any new initiatives or expanding non-essential programs." The Senate recommended almost $1.69 billion for park operations, a slight increase over the budget request and some $79.36 million over the fiscal 2004 enacted level. The Senate increase, however, provides for a doubling of the administration's request for park operations, a move welcomed by field rangers but sure to cause consternation among specialty program managers whose programs will absorb the impact of the increases.

With nearly all the budget recommendations now in place, agency managers are relieved to know what they can expect to have appropriated to their agencies when Congress finishes work on the budget, even though they are not necessarily happy about it. But given the enormous deficit, the ever-increasing cost of the Iraq war and the existence of "untouchable" social programs (Medicare and social security for example), most history and archive agency managers can be grateful that their programs did far better than many other domestic programs.

Bruce Craig is director of the National Coalition for History.