On March 16 the Trump administration released an initial overview of its budget proposal for fiscal year 2018. “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again” lays out President Trump’s overall proposal for discretionary spending. If enacted, it would drastically limit the effectiveness—and even existence—of many federal programs. It also lists several agencies and programs slated for major cuts or elimination to help offset a proposed $54 billion increase in defense spending. From what we’ve seen so far, there are few bright spots for historic preservation—and much to be concerned about.
The budget proposal recommends cutting $1.5 billion from the Department of the Interior—a drastic 12 percent reduction of current funding. While the budget would support “stewardship capacity for land management operations of the National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management” within the department, specific funding proposals for these agencies and their line-item programs won’t be available until later this spring. However, unspecified increases to programs focused on energy development and the increase in expected fire suppression costs —combined with the overall cuts to the department —raise very real concerns about funding historic preservation priorities.
The proposal does specify cutting $120 million from land acquisition within the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Fish and Wildlife Service—an amount equivalent to the vast majority of the $163 million that these three agencies spent on federal land acquisition in 2016. Land acquisition funding, primarily from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), plays a key role in protecting historic sites nationwide. Since LWCF was created in 1965, more than $550 million has been invested to acquire historic sites across 137,000 acres in 162 National Park Service units. Forest Service land acquisition (funded through the Department of Agriculture) would also be cut by an unspecified amount.
In addition to the 12 percent reduction proposed for the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) budget would be reduced by an unprecedented 31 percent.
Alarmingly, the budget proposal recommends eliminating all federal funding for numerous programs and agencies, including:
- National Heritage Areas;
- National Endowment for the Arts;
- National Endowment for the Humanities;
- Corporation for National and Community Service, including AmeriCorps;
- Institute of Museum and Library Services;
- Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation (NeighborWorks America);
- Community Development Block Grant program; and
- Several programs to address global climate change within the EPA and the State Department.
Among its very few bright spots, the budget blueprint references a planned “increased investment in deferred maintenance projects.” It also expresses support for leveraging taxpayer resources through historic preservation, recreation, and wildlife conservation grants. The proposal doesn’t specify amounts for either, however, and the deferred maintenance increase appears to come at the expense of construction and major maintenance programs within the Department of the Interior.
There’s a lot we still don’t know about the President’s proposal because details of the budget—how funding would be allocated among specific agencies and programs—will not be released until later this spring. Accordingly, the funding outlook for most preservation-related programs—the Historic Preservation Fund, National Park Service operations and cultural resources programs, Bureau of Land Management cultural resources funding, and more—simply remains unknown. Perhaps most importantly, it’s ultimately Congress, not the president, that will determine how funding will be spent. This proposal has already met with substantial pushback from both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill, including from former House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., who described the reductions as “draconian, careless, and counterproductive.”
The budget battles will play out in the coming months, primarily on Capitol Hill, where work to finalize the fiscal year 2017 budget and appropriations process continues despite the fiscal year being nearly halfway through. Fiscal year 2018 begins October 1, meaning that congressional appropriators will aim to get individual bills drafted and through the committee process in the late spring and summer, which will be followed by floor consideration and reconciling differences between House and Senate versions of bills. Congress rarely meets the October 1 deadline—in fact, it hasn’t happened in more than 20 years —so work will likely be ongoing for much of the year, affording multiple chances for preservation advocates to weigh in with representatives and senators.
The National Trust is already working with our partners to send a strong message to Congress about the importance of funding historic preservation programs. As the process moves forward, we will provide updates on proposals, congressional actions, and opportunities to defend programs that are key for historic preservation.
Janelle DiLuccia is the associate director of public lands policy at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.