House Appropriators Give Library Hard Budget News

Posted April 29, 2009 at 6:39pm

House appropriators hinted Wednesday that they might cut funding for an exchange program that hosts emerging leaders from the former Soviet Union and was founded by the Librarian of Congress.

Congress created the Open World Leadership Center at the behest of then-Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Librarian of Congress James Billington, a renowned Russia expert.

Since then, much of its funding has come from the legislative branch appropriations bill — an arrangement that Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) has questioned since she became chairwoman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch in 2007.

At a hearing Wednesday, Wasserman Schultz gave Billington a hypothetical ultimatum: $14.4 million for Open World’s operating costs or $15 million to modernize the Library’s technology infrastructure.

“That is a choice we’re going to have to make. We just don’t have that many places to find $15 million,— she said. “Just food for thought.—

Open World Executive Director John O’Keefe told members that the program helps legislative officials in America and the former Soviet Union learn from each other.

But subcommittee ranking member Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) pointed out that he wasn’t even aware of the program before joining the committee, and Wasserman Schultz suggested most of the center’s activity focuses on the judicial branch.

Open World officials have tried to get funding from other places in the past, but so far those efforts haven’t led to anything.

This year budgets are tight and Wasserman Schultz referred to Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) recent instructions to committee chairmen to cut wasteful spending.

But Wasserman Schultz has been critical of Open World in past years, yet still funded the program. Aderholt suggested the officials could work harder to recruit Members.

“Considering that the legislative branch appropriates the money, I think there should be more of an effort to reach out to and get Members involved,— he said.

But appropriators said something will have to be cut. The Library of Congress is asking for almost $700 million for fiscal 2010. That’s a 10 percent increase over 2009.

Last year, Congress essentially funded the Library’s total request. But Wasserman Schultz was less optimistic this time around.

“I don’t imagine we’re going to be able to do quite as much in this fiscal year,— she said.

During Wednesday’s hearing on the LOC’s budget, appropriators also turned a critical eye on the Congressional Research Service and the Copyright Office — two agencies under the jurisdiction of the Library.

Some lamented the fact that the CRS no longer automatically includes in their reports “side-by-sides,— or line-by-line comparisons of the differences between proposed bills. CRS Director Dan Mulhollan promised to include such detail for any members who requested it.

Others questioned the Copyright Office’s growing backlog of claims. One year ago, the office had a pile of 231,000 unprocessed claims; today, it has 500,000.

The backlog emerged after the office switched from a paper-based system to an electronic one. While electronically submitted claims are faster to process, paper ones are significantly slower. Right now, the split is 50-50.

Marybeth Peters, Register of Copyrights, promised that the office was “working down the backlog— as people began to use the electronic system more and staff became increasingly comfortable with electronic filing.