On the Hill: The President’s Budget Request Meets Congress

By Janelle DiLuccia posted 06-08-2017 15:51


Last month Congress completed long-overdue work on FY17 spending bills, wrapping 11 of them into an Omnibus appropriations bill that the president signed into law on May 5. While the Omnibus came more than halfway through the fiscal year, it brought a number of highlights for historic preservation, including near-record funding for the Historic Preservation Fund (HPF), increases to National Park Service (NPS) funding that will help address the deferred maintenance of historic structures, and small increases for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Numerous other key programs received level funding—a relatively good outcome in a tough budget environment.

Credit: Architect of the Capitol 

A few weeks later, the Trump administration released full details of its proposed budget for FY18, revealing a vastly different set of priorities with troubling cuts to key preservation programs. We previewed the administration’s vision for federal spending when the blueprint was released in March. It didn’t look good then, and the full picture is even bleaker.

Congressional authorizing and appropriations committees will examine the president’s budget over the coming weeks, but if what’s past is prologue, congressional proposals for FY18 spending will likely be more in line with the FY17 levels than with what the Trump administration is proposing. But the appropriations process is just beginning in earnest—without agreement on the topline numbers necessary to draft bills—and Congress faces an uncertain path forward. Advocates for historic preservation should speak up early and often over the course of the FY18 process to support the programs that protect and promote our shared heritage.

A number of important federal programs that were recently well funded by Congress fare quite differently in the administration’s FY18 budget proposal.

Historic Preservation Fund

Congress provided $80.9 million for the HPF in FY17—a healthy 23 percent increase over FY16. Within that current funding level, state historic preservation officers (SHPOs) see $47.9 million, and tribal historic preservation officers (THPOs) receive $10.4 million—both the highest levels in decades. Remaining funding is allocated among several preservation grant programs, including Save America’s Treasures and grants to historically black colleges and universities—each of which received funding for the first time in years—as well as robust funding to preserve stories of the Civil Rights Movement and sites associated with underrepresented communities.

Unfortunately, rather than building on this momentum, the president’s budget proposes a cut of nearly $30 million for FY18, recommending a total of just $51.1 million split between SHPOs ($42.1 million) and THPOs ($9 million). Funding for competitive grant programs would be eliminated entirely.

Historic and Cultural Resources on Public Lands

The NPS also fared well in FY17 only to see significant cuts proposed in the president’s FY18 budget, which recommends a 13 percent decrease to the NPS budget and a proposed staffing cut of more than 1,200 employees.

And despite Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s positive comments about addressing the deferred maintenance backlog in the national park system, the administration’s budget recommendation falls short. In FY17 Congress boosted funding for the Repair and Rehabilitation, Cyclic Maintenance, and Line-Item Construction—three key accounts that help address the backlog—by a total of $54 million or 17 percent higher than to FY16 funding. The administration’s FY18 budget recommends a modest but important increase for Line-Item Construction, but would reduce the two other maintenance accounts, resulting in a net decrease of about $34 million compared with FY17 to funds that would help tackle deferred maintenance in the national park system.

The Bureau of Land Management, which oversees the largest, most diverse, and most scientifically important collection of historic and cultural resources on our nation’s public lands, would also face funding cuts and a staff reduction of more than 1,000 under the president’s proposal. Though cultural resource management funding would hold steady, steep cuts to funding for our system of National Conservation Lands would reduce visitor services, decrease maintenance and care of trails, and result in fewer educational and interpretive resources. The National Conservation Lands include national monuments, wilderness areas, national trails, and other sites that are managed to protect America’s natural and cultural heritage.

View from the Great Bend of the Gila, an example of the cultural resources protected by the Bureau of Land Management. | Credit: Janelle DiLuccia 

Land and Water Conservation Fund

Many of the nation’s most significant historic and cultural landscapes have been permanently protected through investments from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). Over the life of the program, more than $550 million has been invested to acquire historic sites and lands within more than 150 NPS units. The president’s FY18 budget request proposes just $64 million for LWCF activities—a cut of 84 percent from the $400 million provided in FY17. Within that funding is $8.5 million for the American Battlefield Protection Program land acquisition grants that help protect historic battlefields—a cut of $1.5 million from FY17.

Advisory Council on Historic Preservation

The administration’s FY18 budget proposal recommends $6.4 million for the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, which is close to the FY17 funding level of $6.49 million.

Additional Historic Preservation Priority Programs and Agencies

The president’s FY18 budget would cut or eliminate funding for numerous federal agencies and programs:

  • National Heritage Areas: The budget would eliminate grant funding for National Heritage Areas (NHAs), which received more than $18 million in FY17. It would also reduce administrative support for Heritage Partnership Programs, which provide technical assistance and administer remaining funds, while winding down federal involvement in NHAs. 
  • National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities: The NEA and the NEH were targeted for elimination in the president’s March budget blueprint, and the detailed FY18 budget proposal continues down that path. While Congress boosted funding for the NEA and NEH to $149.8 million each in FY17, the president’s budget would provide just $29 million for the NEA and $42 million for the NEH to begin the process of shutting down both agencies. 
  • Institute for Museum and Library Services: Similar to the NEA and NEH, the president’s FY18 budget proposes just $23 million in order to wind down the Institute for Museum and Library Services, despite Congress providing it with $231 million in FY17. 
  • Corporation for National and Community Service: The president’s FY18 budget proposes to eliminate the Corporation for National and Community Service, cutting roughly 87 percent of the $1 billion program and recommending funding only for the orderly shutdown of the agency. 
  • Community Development Block Grants: The administration’s FY18 budget would fully eliminate funding for Community Development Block Grants, arguing that the program has not demonstrated a measurable impact on communities. Congress provided $3 billion for this important program in FY17.

Get Involved

The National Trust for Historic Preservation submitted testimony to both the House and Senate Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies appropriations subcommittees outlining priorities and recommendations for several important preservation programs. The House subcommittee kicked off hearings about the administration’s FY18 budget proposal for the Department of the Interior with Secretary Zinke on June 8. Meanwhile, staff in both chambers and on both sides of the aisle will be working to craft new appropriations bills.

Contact your representatives in Congress and encourage them to support funding for historic preservation programs. The United States Capitol Switchboard, reachable at 202-224-3121, can connect you with your senators’ and representative’s offices. To email or mail a letter, find your senators’ contact information here and your representative’s contact information here. 

Janelle DiLuccia is the associate director of public lands policy at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

#appropriations #Advocacy #testimony #PublicLands #Economics #HistoricPreservationFund

Get Connected

Discuss this blog post and more on Forum’s new online community. Sign up now.