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Request for Smithsonian budget calls for increase of $59 million

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The Obama administration is seeking a $59 million budget increase for the Smithsonian Institution next year, including money to advance one of the president’s education initiatives and to continue work on the National Museum of African American History and Culture, scheduled to open in 2015.

The $869 million budget request for the Smithsonian in fiscal 2014, announced Wednesday, includes a first-time addition of $25 million for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs. As part of a consolidation of STEM programs, the administration intends to allocate $180 million that had been divided among 11 agencies to just three: the Education Department, the National Science Foundation and the Smithsonian.

“It makes it clear that the Smithsonian is an educational organization,” said Linda St. Thomas, a Smithsonian spokeswoman.

The budget proposes $55 million for the construction of the Museum of African American History and Culture, which broke ground on the Mall in 2012, and $21 million to plan, design and fabricate inaugural exhibits and educational programs. There is also a one-time $2.7 million increase for storage and care of the museum’s collections.

Like all federal organizations, the Smithsonian has been operating under the terms of January 2013 resolution that fixed its budget at the 2012 level, about $810 million. In the meantime, a $41 million cut became effective March 1 as part of the across-the-board reduction in funding to federal agencies known as the sequester. The Smithsonian is absorbing the cut through delays in repairs, equipment purchases and maintenance.

The budget calls for an additional $3 million to fund a possible 1 percent cost-of-living increase for the Smithsonian’s federal employees in January, although there have been no federal cost-of-living increases in the past three years. About two-thirds of the Smithsonian workforce — roughly 4,400 people — is paid through the federal budget. An additional 2,000 employees, including executives and senior staff members, are paid through non-federal Smithsonian trust funds whose sources include philanthropy, Smithsonian Enterprises and endowments.

The budget request includes $8 million for a two-year renovation that is scheduled to close the Renwick Gallery beginning in early 2014. Funding for other revitalization projects would include $24 million for renovation of the west wing of the Museum of American History; $17.7 million for improvements to the Museum of Natural History, including HVAC renovations; and $15 million for repairs and upgrades at the National Zoo and its facilities in Front Royal, Va.

The budget requests $2.3 million to digitize collections and Smithsonian expertise to make them easily accessible online; $500,000 is requested for the initial phase of a Smithsonian-National Science Foundation project to build a telescope in Greenland to observe black holes.

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