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Year of the Museum

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, today the Senate considers The Year of the Museum resolution which asks for Congress to support the goals and ideals of the Year of the Museum and asks the President to call upon Americans to observe this year with appropriate programs and activities.

I encourage citizens to utilize and support their local museums which serve as a wonderful resource for communities. There is great value for citizens in the arts, historic collections and museums. They are a reflection of our culture and people, and are important to our history and national identity. Children and young learners benefit tremendously from art programs in the schools. These activities make for well rounded citizens, tomorrow's leaders. Museums play an important role in our lives.

The Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, which I chair, held a hearing on Federal funding of museums this week and found that Federal support of the arts and humanities, which includes museums, has increased 25 percent in the last 5 years. During a time of tremendous financial challenge, we must exercise thrift and frugality with taxpayer money.

Why not hold museum and arts funding steady at current levels? I believe that budget increases for nonessential activities during a time of great challenge to our Nation are indefensible. It is Congress that holds the purse strings and, frankly, we have been unwilling to make the tough decisions today for the future well-being of our grandchildren.

As a government we have spent over $7 billion on such programs and institutions since 2001, but where in the Constitution does it allow the Federal Government support museums and the arts by taxing citizens to pay for museums in other cities and States? Essentially taxpayers are being forced to subsidize museums they do not attend. Museums spend $21 for every visitor while only earning $5.50 in revenue per visitor according to the American Association of Museums.

I remind my colleagues that the current fiscal environment of war, Katrina and Social Security and Medicare insolvency is a very serious situation. One criticism of the President I have is that he has not asked the American people to sacrifice during wartime. We cannot, as a government, do everything we would like to do. I think the American people would be very forgiving and willing to make sacrifices if only asked. During a time of war Presidents Roosevelt and Truman slashed nondefense spending by over 20 percent. It can be done.

There are several opportunities for Federal funding of museums through competitive grants administered by the Institute for Museum and Library Services and the National Science Foundation which are peer reviewed and grantees are held accountable and must meet financial management requirements as well as other conditions.

Museum earmarks, however, proliferate, especially in the home States of members of the powerful Appropriations Committee. This year 69 percent of museum earmarks went to their home States. These museums get to cut in line and skip the competitive application. Favored projects receive money without having to compete with the other museums. These projects have not had to demonstrate their merit or worth to a community, but get a cash award nonetheless. There is something wrong with this system. What's more, several museums split their earmark requests across bills in the same year to hide the true cost. The same museums request earmarks every year, and get them. Since 2001, over 860 earmarks have been handed out to museums.

I support the ideals of the Year of the Museum, but I ask my colleagues to exercise fiscal restraint and stop focusing on political expediency and start thinking about future generations.

Given the local nature of most of the grants and earmarks, it is difficult to defend the expenditure of taxpayer dollars to benefit a small group of people in Muskogee, St. Louis, or Anchorage. If a community truly wanted such an institution or program, they would and should find a way to pay for it with local and State money, or through admission fees.

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