The White House and Congress are prepping for unprecedentedly large reductions in federal spending. According to The Hill, the new administration has embraced a proposal from the Washington, D.C.–based Heritage Foundation. The foundation’s “Blueprint for Balance,” also known as the “skinny budget,” calls for $10.5 trillion in cost savings over the next decade. While the plan purports to target redundant and underperforming programs, which would be admirable if true, it unfortunately also targets programs that are vital for the built and natural environments.
In the “Blueprint,” federal transportation funds will be “restricted to issues strictly of national importance,” meaning zero dollars for local and state projects. The Federal Transit Administration, which supports local transit systems, safety, and research, will be phased out over a five-year period (savings: $4.013 billion). Amtrak will be defunded entirely ($519 million), as will D.C.’s Metro system ($153 million), the National Infrastructure Investment Program ($510 million), and the New Starts Transit Program, which supports building new transit projects ($2.221 billion). In justifying that last cut, the “Blueprint” states that “the Obama Administration has used New Starts to advance its ‘smart growth’ (read: anti-driver) agenda.”
The “Blueprint” targets climate programs that regulate greenhouse gas emissions and promote resilience and green infrastructure ($3.682 billion), as well as the Environmental Protection Agency’s Sustainable and Healthy Communities research program ($12.4 million). It also has the U.S. withdraw support from international collaborations in areas such as biodiversity, climate change, and desertification ($172 million); the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ($10 million); and the Paris Climate Change Agreement ($235 million).
The Department of Energy will be particularly hard hit. Among the programs on the chopping block are the four Energy Innovation Hubs ($25 million) and the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, which manages the Solar Decathlon and funds research in wind, solar, and geothermal energy, and in building and weatherization technologies ($1.990 billion). The “Blueprint” would eliminate the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts ($302 million combined). The latter supports organizations such as the Chicago Architecture Biennial, the Frank Lloyd Wright Conservancy, the Society of Architectural Historians, and the Storefront for Art and Architecture, along with numerous museums, local architecture foundations, and design schools around the country.
While weighing the necessity for these and other cuts, consider that last year the Defense Department buried an internal study that identified $125 billion in purely administrative savings. According to The Washington Post, “The plan would not have required layoffs of civil servants or reductions in military personnel. Instead, it would have streamlined the bureaucracy through attrition and early retirements, curtailed high-priced contractors and made better use of information technology.” Even a skinny government can afford to support design thinking, climate stabilization, building science, and energy conservation. It’s simply a question of priorities.