|NASAA Testimony; Chu Nomination|
Following a lengthy recess for Easter and Passover, Congress returned to session in May for what is expected to be a busy work period. As I have mentioned in earlier columns, Congress is attempting to pass a budget under regular procedure for the first time since 2009. Last month, the House of Representatives took an important step, holding hearings to consider President Obama's fiscal year 2015 budget proposal. These hearings traditionally serve as Congress's first step in setting spending levels for each federal agency.
Because the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) is currently without a chair (information on the progress of that process is below), the House Appropriations Committee decided not to invite the agency to testify on the president's $146-million budget request. In the absence of such a hearing, the committee held open hearing and invited members of the public to submit testimony on the NEA and the president's budget request. NASAA CEO Jonathan Katz submitted testimony to the committee urging Congress to support funding the NEA at $155 million for FY2015.
NASAA felt that it was especially important to support the NEA through testimony this year because the arts endowment is potentially vulnerable without an agency head to advocate on its behalf. In his testimony, Jonathan made the following points:
- He thanked Congress for its continued support of the federal-state partnership at the NEA, which allocates 40% of its grant funds directly to state arts agencies. This unprecedented arrangement permits funding from the agency to spread throughout the country, expanding access to the arts for everyone. Last year, the NEA issued 2,100 grants. State arts agencies complemented those with more than 22,000 grants to organizations, schools and artists in more than 5,000 communities throughout the United States.
- He encouraged Congress to support the inclusion of art and design in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education programs.
- He urged Congress to once again oppose the Obama administration's request to eliminate the Arts in Education program at the Department of Education. In each of its six budget proposals, the Obama administration has proposed eliminating this successful program and instead has suggested the creation of a broader funding pool (with fewer funds available for more programs). NASAA and other arts advocates have worked with Congress to defeat this proposal in previous years, and it is a priority to do so again this year.
Chu Nomination Advances
In addition to keeping a close watch on the federal budget process, NASAA is pleased to report that Dr. Jane Chu, the Obama administration's nominee to lead the NEA for the remainder of the term, was in Washington, D.C., last week to meet with staffers who work for members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee. The HELP Committee has jurisdiction over Dr. Chu's nomination, and this meeting serves as an important step in the vetting process. While the process can always change, at this time it appears that as long as members of the committee are satisfied with the answers she gave to staff last week, as well as in writing to follow-up questions, the HELP panel will move to expedite her nomination by holding a vote on her selection sometime this month.
At the urging of several NASAA members, senators sitting on the HELP Committee asked Dr. Chu directly about the federal-state partnership and sought her support for continuing the historically strong and productive relationship between the NEA and state arts agencies. In the meetings, which are off the record, Dr. Chu reportedly responded favorably. Senators also have asked her follow-up questions about her interest in working with state arts agencies, and her response to those questions will be part of the public record. To date, NASAA is pleased with Dr. Chu's interest in working with state arts agencies and her support for the federal-state partnership. We are also grateful that, after a considerable delay (Dr. Chu was nominated in February), the Senate appears poised to approve her nomination. The agency has operated without a confirmed chair since December 2012, when Rocco Landesman stepped down.
As the advancement of both Dr. Chu's nomination and the federal budget indicate, May could be a critical month for the NEA. If you have not done so already, please contact your members of Congress and urge them to support funding the NEA at $155 million for fiscal year 2015. Beyond that, please urge their support for the federal-state partnership at the arts endowment.