White House budget cuts Save America’s Treasures and Preserve America grant programs, NARA and NHPRC avoid major hits

As noted by Andrew Hazlett (@theoccasional), the 2011 budget proposed by the White House cuts funding for the Save America’s Treasures grant program, as well as the Preserve America grants (both managed by the National Park Service). According to the White House statement (entitled “Tough Choices“):

Save America’s Treasures program was started to mark the millennium and was supposed to last for two years. Both programs lack rigorous performance metrics and evaluation efforts so the benefits are unclear.

In 2009 Save America’s Treasures grants were awarded for preservation and digitization of archival collections, as well as preservation of historic buildings and artifact collections. For an excellent and lengthy analysis of the reasons these cuts don’t make sense, see “On the Hill: Short-Sighted Budget Slashes Preservation Funding” from the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s PreservationNation blog. Which reads in part:

But here’s the biggest irony in the President’s Budget Request (and a little-known fact). Technically speaking, SAT and the other core national preservation programs under the HPF cost the American taxpayer nothing. You see, this account, by law, is funded by the revenue received from offshore oil and gas leases on the Outer Continental Shelf. Years ago, Congress had the foresight to place historic preservation in this dedicated account along with other ‘conservation’ activities. Their rationale was that as non-renewable resources are expended (such as fossil fuels), some of the associated revenue should help pay for the conservation and preservation of other non-renewable resources, such as sensitive ecosystems and nationally-significant buildings, collections, and objects.

Makes sense, right? Well, the problem is that both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue have budgeted much of this money for purposes other than historic preservation, and that simply has to stop. In fact, some of the other conservation activities that are funded by oil and gas leasing revenue are increased substantially in this Budget Request, just as we were slashed. It seems to me that preservationists need to make it loud and clear to their lawmakers as to why we need every penny of the $150 million that we’re supposed to get from Washington every year.

The final irony is that, among federal programs, SAT stands out as a model of efficiency and effective spending. You see, every grant recipient under this program is required to find a dollar-for-dollar, non-federal match. To date, SAT has raised more than $350 million in non-federal and private funds. As a result, SAT has been enormously successful in leveraging private-sector financing and creating productive and sustained partnerships with large corporations, foundations, and individuals that provide matching contributions.

The justification provided–lack of “rigorous performance metrics and evaluation efforts”–is an interesting one. If this is indeed the real reason for the cuts, is this a sign of things to come for other funding for the arts and humanities? What are the implications for the funding for PAHR? In a press release issued yesterday, NARA was pleased to announce that although their proposed FY2011 budget had declined 2% from the previous year, it does include an increase of 2.6% for “Operating Expenses,” which means:

The OE increase will also allow NARA to hire 57 new full-time staff members to support a variety of programs. Resources have been provided to staff and operate the new National Declassification Center (NDC). The President established the NDC within NARA to overhaul the government’ system of declassifying material. A new ‘holdings protection team’ has been created to protect NARA holdings from internal and external threats. This team will develop loss prevention training and conduct compliance inspections. Staff resources under the Information Security Oversight Office have been increased for the Controlled Unclassified Information Office to support expanded mission requirements. Finally, this increase in OE funding will support 12 new entry-level staff archivists, which will enable NARA to continue building a cadre of new archivists to address the agency’s growing records management workload.

Funding for the Electronic Records Archives (ERA) remained stable. Funding for NHPRC was requested at $10,000,000, which appears to be largely the same as last year. I still wonder, though, whether the administration’s emphasis on “rigorous performance metrics and evaluation efforts” will have wider implications for our field. Another reminder that the need to be able to demonstrate the value of what we do is steadily increasing.

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3 thoughts on “White House budget cuts Save America’s Treasures and Preserve America grant programs, NARA and NHPRC avoid major hits”

  1. The most interesting part of this story is not that funds for humanities are being cut (what else is new?), but reason being given: lack of metrics. Whether this reason is real or a subterfuge, I think it verifies a trend toward being required to quantify our worth in number format that many of us have already experienced. I will be interested to see if, in this environment, archivists begin to use standardized tools like those developed under the Archival Metrics project (http://archivalmetrics.cms.si.umich.edu/) so that administrators/funders aren’t able to use the “lack of metrics” reason to cut funding in the future.

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