The National Endowment for the Humanities followed its sibling, the National Endowment for the Arts, to its annual House budget hearing yesterday and sailed through the first session with comparative ease.
After the questioning was over, Rep. Sidney Yates (D-Ill.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee on Interior and Related Agencies, told Humanities Endowment Chairman Joseph Duffey, "I don't think you're quite as embattled as the Arts (Endowment)."
Rep. Yates said that Arts Endowment Chairman Livingston Biddle Jr. "looked more harassed," when Biddle appeared before the committee last week.
The hearing did produce a few previews of an apporpriations committee report on the Humanities Endowment schedule to be released today. A similar report released last week was highly critical of the Arts Endowment.
The House report apparently gives the Humanities Endowment good marks on the issue of whether Endowment panelists attempt to influence votes for grant applicants with which they are affiliated. Said Yates: "The investigative staff said it did not observe any questionable behavior" on that count.
But Yates also read a portion of the committee report that said investigators were "unable to discern any Endowment program designated for future dramatic fiscal growth." This was attributed in the report the the "uncertainty" of Endowment officials. They are "merely reactive to the wants of the field," according to the report, and sometimes they are "captive" of elements "expressing scholastically transitory movements."
Yates asked Duffey to specify more explicitly why the Endowment budget should not be cut, warning that "there will be an attmept on the floor, I have no doubt, to cut back the budget about 5 percent."
The individual project most questioned by Yates was the Endowment's participation in the recent public television production of Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter." Endowment officials denied that they ever financed cost overruns on such productions, said they had no supervision over the script once production began and suggested that questions about the show should be answered by public television officials or the show's producers rather than themselves.
At one point Duffey read aloud a passage from Hawthorne's book in order to justify the gold hue of the television production's "A. He interrupted himself to say he didn't know how much of this Yates wanted to hear.
"Anything that will make our hearings more interesting," said Yates.
The hearing continues today.