On the Hill: Preservation Highlights from the FY17 Omnibus Appropriations Bill

By Tom Cassidy posted 05-11-2017 11:45


On May 5 Congress completed its work on the H.R.244—the FY17 Consolidated Appropriations Act—known as the “Omnibus.” The Omnibus will fund the government through September 30, 2017, and includes 11 appropriations bills, as well as supplemental funding for defense, disaster relief, border security, Puerto Rico, and veterans. The most important provisions for the preservation community are found within the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies appropriations.

Credit: Architect of the Capitol

Department of the Interior

Overall, funding for the Department of the Interior increased slightly to $12.25 billion.

Historic Preservation Fund

The Historic Preservation Fund (HPF) received near historic funding levels at $80.91 million. This is the highest funding level since FY01’s $94.1 million and represents an increase of 23.7 percent over last year’s enacted level of $65.4 million. (FY13 funding was $106 million but included $50 million for disaster relief.) Of this, state historic preservation officers will receive their highest funding level, $47.93 million—$1 million above FY16 enacted—since the FY79 appropriation of $50.2 million. Tribal historic preservation officers will receive their highest funding levels ever: $10.49 million, which is $500,000 above FY16 enacted.

The Save America’s Treasures program received $5 million, its first funding since FY10. Preservation grants to historically black colleges and universities will receive $ 4 million, their first funding since FY09. And a newer program of competitive grants for the National Park Service (NPS) Civil Rights Initiative will receive $13 million, a significant increase from the $8 million it first received last year. For the fourth successive year, competitive grants for communities underrepresented on the National Register of Historic Places will again receive $500,000. 

National Park Service

The NPS received an increase of $81 million over last year’s $2.91 billion.

  •  Deferred Maintenance: The National Trust has had a particular focus on two accounts that are essential to reducing the maintenance backlog of historic structures in national parks: the Repair and Rehabilitation account and the Cyclical Maintenance account. We successfully advocated in FY16 for $212.35 million for these two programs, an increase of $35 million over the previous year’s level. This year the accounts totaled $251 million—an increase of $38.7 million or 18 percent. In the two years during which we have focused on these accounts, funding to them has increased by a total of 41.6 percent, which is a significant accomplishment in challenging fiscal times.

    On a related note, Sens. Warner, D-Va., and Portman, R-Ohio, have introduced S.751, the National Park Legacy Act of 2017, which would provide a dedicated funding source for park maintenance. There are currently 10 other bipartisan cosponsors.
  • Historic Leasing: The Omnibus includes language encouraging historic leasing of buildings in national parks and directing the NPS to report on its progress toward expanding historic leasing. That reporting is to describe (1) buildings that are high-priority candidates for leasing, (2) buildings that are currently leased, (3) buildings that have been improved using the historic tax credit (HTC), and (4) impediments that inhibit the enhanced use of leasing. 
  • Other NPS Preservation Programs: These, which include NPS Cultural Programs, National Heritage Programs, and National Battlefield Programs, received level funding. 
  • The NPS Centennial Challenge: This program received $20 million, an increase of $5 million over last year.

Bureau of Land Management

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is funded at $1.25 billion for FY17, which is an increase of $15 million above FY16 levels. 

  • National Conservation Lands: Total funding for BLM’s system of National Conservation Lands is a little more than $69 million, a slight increase from last year’s levels. The National Trust had supported President Barack Obama’s requested $14 million increase for National Conservation Lands, but it was not included in the Omnibus. With only a small increase to BLM overall, level funding is a reasonably good outcome. 
  • Cultural Resources Management: Funding for BLM’s cultural resources management is held level from last year at $16.13 million. The National Trust had advocated for a $1.2 million increase, consistent with President Obama’s budget request, but it was not included. 
  • Bureau of Land Management Foundation: The Omnibus provides for the establishment of a nonprofit Bureau of Land Management Foundation to support the mission of the BLM and assist with (1) reclamation and conservation activities; (2) activities relating to wild, free-roaming horses and burros; and (3) the stewardship of cultural and archaeological treasures on public lands. 

Land and Water Conservation Fund

The Land and Water Conservation Fund is funded at $400 million, which is a reduction of $50 million from FY16. Of that funding, $110 million is directed to the stateside Land and Water Conservation Fund. The Forest Legacy Program will receive $62.38 million, and the American Battlefield Program will receive $10 million, all of which are similar to last year’s levels. 

Total federal land acquisition—including the Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, NPS, and BLM—is reduced to about $189 million compared with $227 million enacted last year. Culturally significant acquisitions include $3.3 million for lands within BLM’s Agua Fria National Monument in Arizona, site of more than 450 Native American structures and numerous petroglyphs, and $400,000 for lands within Idaho’s Nez Perce National Historic Park. 

National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities

Each agency received an increase of $2 million over its FY16 level of $148 million. 

Prospects for FY18

The FY18 budget process will be one of the most challenging and uncertain in memory. Earlier this year, the president released his “skinny budget,” which calls for sharply reduced funding for all domestic programs, including a 12 percent decrease for the Department of the Interior. The proposal would, among other things, eliminate funding for National Heritage Areas, as well as for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Few observers expect that Congress will enact funding at these levels.

The president is expected to release his full budget proposal, with programmatic details, later this month—much later than normal. Congress is also behind in setting an FY18 budget resolution, which is expected to include budget reconciliation instructions on tax reform. A senior Republican appropriator has already publicly raised the possibility that there is not enough time to complete the appropriations bills before September 30 and that a continuing resolution will be necessary. Meanwhile, the president tweeted last week that the country “needs a good ‘shutdown’ in September.” It is likely to be an unusual budget year.

Tom Cassidy is the vice president for government relations and policy at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

#Advocacy #repairbacklog #Economics #congress #NationalParkService #HistoricPreservationFund #appropriations #BLM #PublicLands

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