Preservation and Conservation Programs also Come Out Winners in Omnibus Appropriations
Federal preservation and conservation programming and funding once on the chopping block will live to fight until another budget, with healthy bumps in many cases.
Last month President Trump signed his second omnibus bill. The biggest omnibus spending bill in U.S. history, the Friday morning funding measure rejected most of the recommendations made in the President’s first and second budget requests sent to Congress since his election, both of which would have made deep cuts to federal spending across the board. EPA, HUD, development finance programs and most other redevelopment support mechanisms would have been eliminated or crippled, as BL has covered previously.
Like other domestic spending, preservation, conservation and development finance programs could have also taken major hits or been zeroed out compeltely if the Trump administration had its way, which might have threatened operations on public lands (currently suffering a massive deferred maintenance backlog) and funding critical to historical and cultural preservation projects at both the federal and state level (because the federal government provides substantial funding to state and tribal historical and cultural preservation programs). But in the end, after no less than five continuing resolutions kicking the can down the road—with two federal government shutdowns interspersed for good measure—Congress ultimately loosened the purse strings and actually increased funding for many high priority and high need areas.
Agencies engaged in preservation and conservation get financial support
As BL wrote in its flash analysis of the omnibus bill, HUD's Community Development Block Grant (CDBD) program will actually get a nearly 10% boost—up to a total allocation of $3.3 billion, or $300 million more than FY17. HUD's tenant-based rental assistance program will receive $1.72 billion more than last year, or $22.01 billion in total. And even the Treasury Department’s Community Development Financial Institutions Fund, recently nearly killed in the administration's FY18 budget with a reduction of -$220 million to just $14 million, will continue on with an additional $2 million in FY18 or $250 million total.
The perpetually resource-strapped National Park Service (NPS) got a $255 million boost in funding over the prior year, $185 million of which is targeted towards ameliorating a long backlog of deferred maintenance projects. As we wrote, this is “really just a small down payment on the estimated $18 billion NPS reports as needed for all deferred maintenance, the additional funding will patch some of the most dangerous conditions on park roads and other vital public NPS infrastructure.” Elsewhere in the 2,232 page omnibus bill, Congress also gives the Department of Transportation $300 million for projects in national parks and other public federal land.
Overall, the omnibus bill grants $13.1 billion to the Department of the Interior including a $79 million spending bump for the Bureau of Land Management and $75 million more for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which grants NPS, Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM), and other federal agencies the ability bring lands under public stewardship, was increased from $400 million to $425 million. LWCF is an important mechanism for growing the public portfolio of preserved and culturally relevant places. The LWCF funds specific acquisition grants through the American Battlefield Protection Program, for example, which received $10 million in the omnibus bill.
Other cultural programs received funding as well, despite repeated threats to cut or eliminate many programs in recent years. NPS cultural programs received an additional $500,000 over the prior year—or $25 million total. The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) will receive funding to $152,849,000 million and the National Endowment for the Humanities will receive a strikingly similar figure of $152,848,000 million.
BLM will be busy buying land and building some new monuments.
BLM’s cultural resources management program receives a $1 million increase to $17.1 million in the omnibus. The BLM oversees the largest, most diverse, and most scientifically important collection of historic and cultural resources on our nation’s public lands. The cultural resources program funds important activities, including National Historic Preservation Act Section 106 reviews of land-use proposals, compliance with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, and government-to-government consultation with Indian tribes and Alaska Native governments.
The omnibus also maintains BLM’s funding from FY17 for national monuments, National Conservation Areas, wilderness, wilderness study areas, National Scenic and Historic trails, and the Wild and Scenic Rivers System ($36.8 million). And, notwithstanding specific threats to zero federal funding for the 49 National Heritage Areas, the omnibus even found some additional funding for these popular public attractions by a half million to provides $20.3 million for the Heritage Partnership Program.
There were many specific cultural, conservation and preservation earmarks in the omnibus as well, including the Holocaust Memorial Museum, which received $59,000,000 (of which $4,000,000 is slated for the Museum’s repair and rehabilitation program). And the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission received $1,800,000 for necessary expenses with an additional $45,000,000 for the design and construction of a memorial in honor of Dwight D. Eisenhower. There is also $10,032,000 for planning and interagency coordination in support of Everglades restoration project. And the omnibus includes funding for several new parks too, such as the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument and Freedom Riders National Monument.
The omnibus also permanently (re)authorized the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act (FLTFA), which is a land exchange program that allows proceeds from sales of certain public lands to be used by BLM to acquire priority conservation lands. High priority lands targeted for acquisition by the FLTFA must be within or adjacent to national parks or other public lands in the American West and must preserve historic and cultural resources, conserve wildlife habitats, provide recreational access, or create other similar ecofield benefits. Like expanded LWCF acquisition funding noted above, the FLTFA’s permanent authorization will help the government sustain important public land acquisitions going forward without Congress necessarily appropriating additional or specific funds (presuming the preceding sale of public land that would generate such working capital would also not require Congressional approval).
History still has a future
Another threatened elimination candidate, the Historic Preservation Fund (HPF), also emerged as a clear winner. The 2018 omnibus bill allocates $96.9 million for the HPF—an increase of $16 million over the prior year and the highest amount ever appropriated to the program by Congress. The Save America’s Treasures program, which was funded for the first time last year after a seven year capital drought and provides grants for the preservation of nationally significant sites, structures and artifacts (per Sec. 7303 of the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009), was more than doubled to $13 million—$8 million more than FY17.
The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation receives $6.4 million—a small decline from FY17, and a notable exception as such in this omnibus bill.
Within the overall HPF funding in the omnibus, there is $5 million for preservation grants to states, local governments, tribes, or nonprofits for the revitalization of historic properties of national, state, and local significance. There is also $5 million for historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs)—$1 million more than FY17. Competitive grants “to preserve the sites and stories of the Civil Rights movement” received $13 million in funding. And other competitive grants “for the survey and nomination of properties to the National Register of Historic Places and as National Historic Landmarks associated with currently under-represented communities” will receive $500,000 in funding.
The conservation, preservation and development finance communities starred dim prospects down hard over the last year or so. Many programs faced total elimination. But through the tumult of continuing resolutions and shutdowns, most of these revitalization programs are better for the battle. Several substantial funding increases are the result of the legislative sausage making and once-threatened programs are renewed or better, e.g. the historic tax credit.
In signing the omnibus, President Trump vowed he would never to sign another bill like it again. But it wasn't his first omnibus but his second and with lots of winners coming out of the end of a rather messy process, and with little apparent political cost to representatives in Congress, it won’t be long before another fiscal year looms larger and the work begins on yet another belt-busting omnibus budget buffet. Call it the new bipartisan budgetary normal in Washington D.C.
After all, Fiscal Year 2019 begins October 1. And we already know the administration’s budget request for FY19 rehashes many of the same drastic cuts it’s proposed previously—and Congress has rejected. The sides seem likely to line up along battle lines redrawn in similar fashion, setting the stage for yet another omnibus deal. Will it take five continuing resolutions and two government shutdowns to get a deal again? With the November elections looming largest of all in the eyes of every pol in Washington, signs point to “no.”
What is "Historic Preservation"?
Historic Preservation, or heritage conservation, refers to efforts to preserve, conserve and protect buildings, objects, landscapes or other built-environments of historical significance. In seeking to conserve the built-environment, Historic Preservation is distinct from similar efforts to preserve or conserve natural places or greenfields, such as primeval forests or wilderness areas. Unlike a Heritage Site, a site where Historic Preservation is a concern or motivating factor can include a far larger number of sites than those which have received official historical designations. Use the Historic Preservation tag on BL as one of the many tags in our handy Taxonomy to post any kind of property, project, RFP, RFQ or RFI or planning effort where historic preservation is relevant.
What is a "Heritage Site"?
A Heritage Site is a property that has a historical or cultural preservation or conservation certification of some kind, or some other archaeological or heritage designation, which limits or "locks in" its future land use (restricting certain types of development and/or land uses). The best evidence that a property is a Heritage Site would be a letter from a state historic preservation office or similar local authority determining the property's status or potential impact on other Heritage Sites. Use the Heritigate Site tag on BL as one of the many tags in our handy Taxonomy to post any kind of property, project, RFP, RFQ or RFI or planning effort where the relevant real estate has obtained a preservation or converstation designation.
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