June 25, 2017

Federal Budget Compromise Keeps—and Boosts—IMLS Funding

UPDATE: Trump’s FY18 budget request to Congress, released May 23, proposes to cut nearly all funding for IMLS, NEA, NEH, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, among many severe cuts to social service and non-millitary domestic programs. The proposed budget would keep ten percent of IMLS’s budget for costs necessary to shut down the agency.

In a last-minute decision to avoid a government shutdown, Congress announced on May 1 a bipartisan compromise on president Donald Trump’s proposed budget that will not only save the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), but will add an additional $1 million to the agency’s funding—some 75 percent of which is slated specifically for libraries. The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2017 would also increase the budgets for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities by nearly $2 million, and preserve current funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Trump’s preliminary budget, released on March 16, had proposed deep cuts across domestic spending, including eliminating support for IMLS and other arts and culture agencies. The $1.1 trillion spending package, which will keep the government open for the remainder of FY17—through September 30—secures nearly $5 billion in new and domestic spending. Among other line items, it would boost the annual IMLS budget to $231 million over both the FY17 requested and FY16 enacted budgets. The agency has been operating at its FY16 appropriation of $230 million since October 1, 2016.

OVERALL GAINS FOR IMLS

The main increase to IMLS funding under the new agreement would be seen in programs authorized by the Library Services Technology Act (LSTA), which would increase overall from $182,429,000 to $183,572,000. Grants to states would see a gain of more than $1.2 million, and Native American and Native Hawaiian services would increase by more than $200,000; National Leadership Grants would decrease by $314,000, and the Laura Bush 21st Century Library Program would remain at 2016 and 2017 levels. Museum services would see a similar pattern. However, these overall gains would be offset by nearly $2 million in cuts to funds allocated for program administration.

“ALA is pleased that the FY17 budget proposed by Congress contains a $1 million increase in funding for the Institute of Museum and Library Services,” said American Library Association (ALA) president Julie Todaro in a statement May 2. “In congressional meetings on Capitol Hill today, participants in the 2017 National Library Legislative Day [NLLD] from all 50 states are saying ‘thank you’ to members of Congress for making our nation’s libraries a priority this year.”

Looking ahead to renewed budget battles come October, however, Todaro added, “This opportunity to say thanks is also a chance to voice our unequivocal opposition to threats to cut funding in FY2018.”

DISCORD ON THE HILL

Led by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the bill represents cooperation between Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate in order to avoid a government shutdown when a stopgap funding bill would expire on May 5. Reported discord between Trump and Washington Republicans over government spending priorities, including the proposed United States–Mexico border wall and cuts to programs such as the National Institute of Health, helped bring about the compromise.

“I think we had a strategy and it worked,” Schumer told the Washington Post. “Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate were closer to one another than Republicans were to Donald Trump.”

The package would also protect funding for the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Health, Planned Parenthood, and Affordable Care Act subsidies, as well as preventing cuts to sanctuary city funding. The Education Department is one of the few to see a budget reduction—at $68 billion, it would be $1.2 billion lower than 2016 levels and $2.3 billion lower than president Barack Obama’s proposed funding. But Pell Grants for college tuition would receive a small boost, as would special education. Republicans were able to secure several wins of their own, including a $12.5 billion in new military spending and $1.5 billion more for border security. (A full breakdown of the package can be found here.)

While the spending bill is not uniformly popular throughout the GOP, the deal is expected to be approved in the coming week.

ADVOCACY FOR THE WIN

The reprieve for IMLS coincided with NLLD, when more than 500 library supporters—the highest attendance in a decade—gathered in Washington to meet with lawmakers and advocate for federal support to libraries. The two-day event brought together librarians, trustees, patrons, and library supporters to receive advocacy training and issue briefings, meet with their members of Congress, and hear Washington Post writers talk on how libraries can engage with their local editorial boards. A simultaneous Virtual Library Legislative Day allows advocates to contact Congress by calling or emailing during the week of May 1–5.

“We had a very good response here on the Hill from a variety of people,” Todaro told LJ. “We’re not only meeting with state people from individual districts, but also with [the Senate Committee on] Appropriations, and it has been very valuable for us to find out what their needs are.” These meetings give ALA members the opportunity to respond in greater detail to questions about IMLS services; Todaro outlined the agency’s role in supporting tribal libraries and blind and visually impaired library services.

NLLD follows six weeks of efforts mobilizing supporters of IMLS since the preliminary budget was announced. Advocates including ALA, the Public Library Association, the Chief Officers of State Library Associations, national nonprofit political action committee EveryLibrary, and many more set up webpages with information on how to contact elected officials and track “Dear Appropriator” Letters in support of LSTA.

In a statement issued in March, IMLS Director Kathryn K. Matthew wrote, “our agency will continue to work closely with the Office of Management and Budget [OMB]. More importantly, we will continue to remain steadfast in our work on behalf of the millions of Americans touched by the services of libraries and museums each day.”

IMLS continues to work on its strategic plan and aggregate its impact data to provide to OMB. Todaro feels that Congress’s interests in libraries right now lie in the areas of “economic development, workforce development, veterans, digital inclusion,” she told LJ. “It’s exciting to have real numbers and real data to share with them about what things mean overall in the country as well as what they mean individually in libraries.”

However, the battle is not yet won. Trump has threatened a government shutdown come October. And while a new spending bill would still require 60 votes to pass in the Senate—where Republicans hold a majority of only 52–48—libraries and their allies should continue to advocate for IMLS funding.

“Now is the time to show our elected leaders how their constituents in every single congressional district rely on our services,” said Todaro. “Now is the time to galvanize library users, to contact our elected leaders and to invite members of Congress to visit our libraries during the next congressional recess over Memorial Day week. It is up to us to show Congress that libraries may be one of our nation’s best investments.”

Lisa Peet About Lisa Peet

Lisa Peet is Associate Editor, News for Library Journal.

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Comments

  1. I read the reduction in admin funding as a clear rebuke of the way in which IMLS has managed federal funds over the past few years. While they are comfortable with the way in which State Library Administrative Agencies are managing the federal formula grant money, they are not happy with IMLS leadership, particularly with the conduct of the National Leadership Program for Libraries – AKA the federal cash cow for the Digital Public Library America. And why should they be? The way IMLS has funneled money to DPLA is unconscionable. They have given hundreds of thousands of dollars in direct non-competitive grants (see: LG-00-14-0179-14); through the regular “competitive” process and to organizations that partner with DPLA. Congress is finally putting a check on IMLS’s gross mismanagement of public funds. The ties between IMLS leadership and DPLA are well established.

  2. Here is a list of grants (using IMLS’s grant number system) were DPLA is either listed as the lead agency or primary partner.
    • LG-00-12-0759-12
    • LG-00-14-0179-14
    • LG-70-15-0006-15
    • LG-70-15-0002-15
    • RE-00-15-0116-15
    • LG-70-15-0006-15
    • LG-00-15-0263-15
    • LG-72-15-0114-15
    • LG-72-15-0197-15
    • LG-70-16-0023-16

    Really? Seven grants in 2015 alone? Hmmm isn’t that the same year that Maura Marx, former ED of DPLA, served as the interim director of IMLS?

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