Citizens Against Government Waste: The Prime Cut Series (#7)

Citizens Against Government Waste: The Prime Cut Series (#7)

Eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the
National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)
1-Year Savings: $414 million
5-Year Savings: $2.1 billion

Created in 1965, the NEA and NEH are the perfect examples of the government dabbling in fields that should be left entirely to the private sector. More than 50 years later, all efforts to reign in NEA and NEH spending have been rebuffed because special interest groups and their political allies have long fought for every drop of funding.

For example, then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) helped defeat H.R. 1, the full-year continuing resolution for FY 2011, which, among other spending reductions, defunded the NEA and the NEH. On March 8, 2011, Sen. Reid described the proposed termination in a Senate floor speech as “mean-spirited,” stating that, were it not for the NEH’s federal money, the Cowboy Poetry Festival and “the tens of thousands of people who come there every year, would not exist.” This earned Sen. Reid CAGW’s Porker of the Month in March 2011.

Former Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) identified dozens of absurd NEA and NEH expenditures in his 2016 “Wastebook: Porkemon Go,” like $206,000 for monkey puppet shows and $1.7 million for a Hologram Comedy Club. Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) identified additional silly spending in his 2017 “Federal Fumbles,” like a $30,000 NEA grant for the production of Doggie Hamlet and $20,000 for an adult summer camp focusing on climate change art. The 2019 version of Sen. Lankford’s report disclosed a $50,400 NEH fellowship paid to a professor at Sonoma State University to examine “the ways Russia used its wine industry to befriend Europe during the Russian Empire and the Soviet eras.”

Plays, paintings, pageants, and scholarly articles, regardless of their merit or attraction, should not be forcibly financed by taxpayers. Actors, artists, and academics are no more deserving of subsidies than their counterparts in other fields; the federal government should refrain from funding all of them. Anything else is anathema to taxpayers.

Unfortunately, legislators doubled down on funding for the NEA and NEH in the CARES Act, providing $75 million for each. The $150 million in funding added 36.2 percent to the $414 million provided for the two entities in the FY 2023 appropriations bills. The relationship between NEA and NEH funding and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic has yet to be established.

Eliminate Regional Development Agencies, Including the
Appalachian Regional Commission, the Delta Regional Authority,
the Denali Commission, and the Northern Border Regional Commission.
1-Year Savings: $287.1 million
5-Year Savings: $1.4 billion

The federal government operates a number of independent agencies that provide region-specific grants for infrastructure projects, economic development, and local capacity building. Each of former President Trump’s budgets from FY 2018 through FY 2021 proposed the elimination of the Delta Regional Authority, the Denali Commission, and the Northern Border Regional Commission, stating that they are duplicative of other federal programs. The FY 2021 budget noted that money for the three commissions “is set aside for special geographical designations rather than applied across the country based on objective criteria indicating local areas’ levels of distress.”

The Denali Commission, created by Congress in 1998 to build infrastructure in rural Alaska, has been targeted for elimination by multiple administrations. Former President Obama recommended eliminating funding for the commission in his FY 2012 budget. His administration argued that Denali projects are not funded through a competitive or merit-based system, and that at least 29 other federal programs could fulfill the commission’s mandate. The commission’s IG, Mike Marsh, stated in September 2013 that “I have concluded that [my agency] is a congressional experiment that hasn’t worked out in practice. … I recommend that Congress put its money elsewhere.”

A September 2014 GAO report found that the Denali Commission IG provided extremely limited oversight of the commission’s major programs during FYs 2011-2013. According to the report, “analysis of the 12 inspections completed by the IG found that the IG provided oversight for $150,000 of the $167 million in grant funds disbursed during fiscal years 2011 through 2013.” The amount of funding inspected by the IG added up to less than 1 percent of grants awarded by the Denali Commission over this period.

Given that the state of Alaska’s oil revenues pay for an annual dividend to each resident of the state (in 2023, Alaskans will receive $1,300 each), an additional subsidy is hard to justify. The commission’s statutory authorization expired on October 1, 2009. It is time for the federal appropriation to disappear as well.

The Delta Regional Authority has also been frequently criticized. In addition to being targeted for elimination by the Trump administration, former President Obama’s FY 2017 version of Cuts, Consolidations, and Savings proposed a $3 million annual cut. Moreover, each of the Republican Study Committee’s budgets from FYs 2017 through 2024 called for the termination of regional commissions.Regular readers of CAGW’s Congressional Pig Book know that these programs have long been heavily earmarked. The Appalachian Regional Commission has received 14 earmarks totaling $413.8 million since FY 1995 for projects in Alabama, Kentucky, and West Virginia. Since FY 2000, members of Congress have added 31 earmarks costing $343.1 million for the Denali Commission, including Senate appropriator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), former Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), and the late Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska). Since FY 2003, legislators have added 18 earmarks for the Delta Regional Authority costing $177.9 million.

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