It Will Cost 25% of the NEA and NEH’s 2017 Budget Just to Shut Them Down

It will cost $71 million to shut down the NEA and NEH; it cost $300 million to keep them running this year.

President Donald Trump has proposed eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts and other cultural agencies.

Turns out that going out of business is very expensive. In the wake of the release of President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget proposal, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) have been forced to determine just how much it will cost them. The two organizations—which would be eliminated under Trump’s proposed budget—published reports today that outline exactly what resources would be needed to shut themselves down in an orderly fashion.

The total amount of money requested to fund the wind-down of these agencies—$71 million—is nearly 25% of their total budget last year (just under $300 million). Trump’s proposed 2018 budget, which includes major spending increases for the military and border security and dramatic cuts to domestic programs, totals $4.1 trillion.

For its part, the NEA requested $29 million from Congress in the 2018 budget. A 36-page appropriations request by the organization includes a detailed breakdown of how the funds would be distributed for expenses related to personnel, real estate, equipment, contracts, records management, and funding. (The agency requested the majority of the funds, $22 million, to support its current level of 155 staff members through March 31, 2018, after which it would reduce staff to 70.)

A spokeswoman from the NEA tells artnet News that such a report is standard procedure. “As all federal agencies and departments are part of the executive branch and led by the president, we work in close coordination with the White House and the Office of Management on budget requests,” she says. “In addition, agencies and departments are forbidden from lobbying on their own behalf. So the NEA can educate, but we cannot advance our own cause.”

The NEH, meanwhile, requested $42.3 million to manage its shutdown. The NEH’s deputy chair Margaret Plympton, who stepped in as interim head following chairman William Adams’ abrupt resignation on Monday, says in a statement: “This amount includes funds to meet matching grant offers in effect as of October 1, 2017, as well as funds to cover administrative expenses and salaries associated with the closure.”

According to the agency’s 15-page appropriations request, there are no plans to make new grants or matching offers after the start of the 2018 fiscal year. But “NEH will require funding to support a reduced staffing level and administrative costs needed to effectively shut down operations,” the report states. Approximately 95 staff members would be terminated within the first six months of the 2018 fiscal year; another 50 would remain on board to oversee the dissolution of the agency.

But Plympton notes that the shutdown of these agencies is hardly a done deal. (Congress determines the US budget—the president’s proposal is considered more as a collection of policy objectives than realistic marching orders.) “As NEH awaits Congressional action on the President’s proposed budget, the agency is continuing normal operations and will be making the next round of FY 2017 awards following the meeting of the National Council in July,” she says.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), which would also be eliminated under Trump’s proposed budget, requested $23 million to begin the wind-down of its operations. In a statement posted to its website, the IMLS notes that it will also honor all awards made to date, but its 2018 request includes no funding for additional grant programs, which in the past have supported 123,000 libraries and 35,000 museums.

Although federal laws prohibit these organizations from lobbying on their own behalf, plenty of supporters have spoken up in the wake of the budget’s release. Laura Lott, the president of the American Alliance of Museums, says in a statement that “the details of this budget proposal are as appalling as the outline released in March.” In addition to the shutdown of IMLS, the NEH and the NEA, “the Trump Administration has proposed many other significant funding cuts that would hurt museums and the communities they serve.”

In a joint statement, the Association of Art Museum Directors said it “strongly opposes the proposed federal budget” but has “been heartened by widespread, bipartisan support in Congress for the NEA, NEH, and IMLS, and the statements of senior appropriators and others who have publicly advocated for these agencies. We urge these elected representatives to continue their stand for the NEA, NEH, and IMLS, which provide vital services for people across the nation.”

Indeed, Trump’s proposal marks the beginning—not the end—of negotiations. Congress will consider the budget proposal over the next few months. The back-and-forth is expected to continue up until the deadline of October 1, when the new fiscal year officially begins.


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