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At NARA, Making Tough Choices in the Budget

by David S. Ferriero, Archivist of the United States

One of the biggest challenges facing the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) this year has been the preparation of its 2012 budget request which must be submitted to the Office of  Management and Budget (OMB). As you may know, NARA—like all non-defense, non-security, discretionary-funded federal departments and agencies—has been asked to make significant reductions to its FY 2012 budget request.

NARA’s appropriation for the previous fiscal year, which ended September 30, was $469.87 million. President Obama’s request for NARA in FY 2011, which began October 1, is $460.29 million, a two percent decrease. So far, action in Congress on FY 2011 requests has not been encouraging, not just for NARA, but across the government.

Now, we have been instructed by OMB to cut an additional $41.7 million in FY 2012 from the FY 2011 request—a 9.1 percent decrease. Also, we have been asked to identify five significant program terminations, reductions, and administrative savings to further reduce agency costs. In addition, we must submit an alternate plan that identifies an additional $23.5 million in cuts, bringing the potential reduction to $65.2 million, or 14.2 percent from the FY 2011 requested level.

Identifying reductions in our budget totaling $41.7 million, let alone $65.2 million, will not be easy. We must weigh the cost savings of reducing or eliminating a program or activity against the benefits of each as they relate to our core missions. Details of these cuts will be embargoed until the president sends his FY 2012 budget request to Congress next February.

We hope OMB recognizes that such heavy budget cuts will be very detrimental to a small agency that is not program-heavy, but service oriented. Nonetheless, we must comply with the guidance and propose some serious reductions in agency activities.

For starters, I have directed all senior managers to look for ways to reduce spending in their respective areas. And President Obama’s Open Government Initiative, which calls for more transparency, participation, and collaboration in government, as well as my own inclination in this situation, made it important to also involve our staff. After all, agency staff at each of our forty-five locations—from Atlanta to Anchorage and Boston to California—knows that they will have to continue performing our core missions under much tighter fiscal constraints.

We used a software application called IdeaScale to enable staff to submit ideas for budget cuts and allow other staff to comment and vote on those ideas. At the end of this “budget brainstorming” exercise, we had 371 ideas and 921 comments from 794 individuals. Each of these suggestions is being evaluated as we continue working on our budget submission to OMB later this year.

Although we do not yet know which programs and activities at NARA will be reduced or eliminated, we do know that Congress is not waiting for President Obama’s FY 2012 budget request to begin making cuts; they are already underway. For example, the Senate Appropriations Committee, in its version of our spending bill, has already cut $13.5 million from the $85.5 million President Obama requested for the Electronic Records Archives for the coming fiscal year.

Many of the appropriations subcommittees in both the House and Senate have less money to spread around among the departments and agencies they fund, and thus they are not able to provide the level of funding the president has requested. However, the Obama Administration’s concerns and the equally strong concerns in Congress over the nation’s budget deficits at the federal level, are similar to what has already occurred at the state and local government levels, where drastic cuts have been made in many programs and services.

What we at NARA must do, however, is continue with our core mission: to preserve and make accessible the important records of our government that document the rights and entitlements of our citizens, hold our government officials accountable, and provide a complete record of our nation’s history.

About the Archivist

David S. Ferriero is the tenth Archivist of the United States. Prior to his confirmation in 2009, Ferriero served as the Andrew W. Mellon Director of the New York Public Libraries. For more information about NARA, visit http://www.archives.gov and read the archivist's blog at http://blogs.archives.gov/aotus.