White House Proposes Increase for Smithsonian

The White House's proposed increase for fiscal 2009 is a response to pleas from top Smithsonian officials for more aid to address a repairs backlog.
The White House's proposed increase for fiscal 2009 is a response to pleas from top Smithsonian officials for more aid to address a repairs backlog. (By Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)
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By Jacqueline Trescott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Smithsonian Institution, the largest of the cultural accounts in the federal budget, received a proposed overall increase of $33.8 million in the 2009 budget request the White House sent to Capitol Hill yesterday.

The Smithsonian survived an unusual year in which Congress sharply questioned the spending patterns and travel expenses of several of its top officials. Investigations were opened by Congress, the Smithsonian inspector general and the Government Accountability Office, as well as a Smithsonian-requested independent committee. Resignations of top administrators, including then-Secretary Lawrence M. Small, followed.

It looked like the Smithsonian's budget would be trimmed, as politicians warned the institution that it needed to shape up. But despite the turmoil, the Smithsonian received $682.6 million for fiscal 2008, which ends in October. That was a $47 million increase from the previous year. Yesterday's proposal for fiscal 2009 is a response to pleas from Smithsonian officials that more help is needed to reduce a backlog of repairs that totals $2.5 billion. The proposal includes $128 million for facilities, up from $105.4 million in 2008. That includes continued funding for improvements at the National Museum of Natural History and the National Zoo. In another category, the budget proposal gives the Smithsonian $69.1 million for maintenance, a boost from $51.4 million in 2008.

In another proposal, President Bush recommended substantial cuts in the 2009 and 2010 budgets of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. He proposed eliminating $200 million from the already approved $400 million for 2009 and $220 million from the $420 million passed by Congress for 2010. The CPB, which oversees and funds public radio and other public broadcasting operations, gets funding allocations several years in advance, although those can be changed. For the past eight years, Congress has overridden the president's cuts and restored full funding.

Ken Stern, the chief executive officer of National Public Radio, said in a statement: "Communities across the country rely on public radio as one of their most valuable local assets, and this value has been recognized for years with bipartisan endorsement of continued funding."

In the proposed 2009 budget, the National Endowment for the Arts lost some of the ground it had recovered since its near-death days of the 1990s.

President Bush yesterday submitted a budget of $128.4 million, which is the same amount he requested for fiscal 2008. However, Congress last year added $20.2 million for direct grants and a special program called "American Masterpieces." If the president's request stands, it would mean a cut of $16.3 million.

That move didn't sit well with some of the NEA's supporters. "On the heels of signing the largest Congressionally initiated funding increase for the arts in 28 years, President Bush has proposed a senseless $16.3 million cut," said Robert L. Lynch, the president of Americans for the Arts, an advocacy and lobbying group. " . . . After three years of minimal, but incremental, funding growth, we are sorry to see an attempt at this progress erased."

The budget requested $144.3 million for the National Endowment for the Humanities, an increase of $3 million over last year's presidential budget proposal.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services, the principal federal funnel for money to museums, received a proposed increase of $8.6 million to $39.8 million for museum programs. Ford Bell, president of the American Association of Museums, said yesterday: "It is a tough time for smaller museums. State budgets are really tight. That federal money gets spread around quite a bit. The museums need money for education, strategic development and collections conservation."

Bush's proposal reduces the budget of the Kennedy Center, which would get $33.3 million for fiscal 2009, down $9.3 million. But that reduction was expected. It reflects completion of the extensive rehabilitation of the Eisenhower Theater.

The National Gallery of Art is slated for $118 million, a razor-thin increase of $133,000 from $117.8 million in fiscal 2008. The president proposed a $46.8 million budget for 2009 for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, slightly more than last year's $44.8 million appropriation.

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