Group in House Investigating Holdup of Funds for Libraries
Washington--A task force of members of the House Budget Committee has begun to investigate charges that the Reagan Administration may be illegally impounding federal funds appropriated by the Congress for fiscal year 1982--including funds to support public libraries.
In a hearing last week, state and local officials told the Task Force on Enforcement, Credit, and Multi-Year Budgeting that they had received lesser amounts of federal funds than were appropriated under the fiscal 1982 continuing resolution.
Including the libraries program, which is administered by the Education Department under the Library Services and Construction Act, funds are being withheld by the Administration from social-services, labor, energy, housing, and refugee programs, according to data compiled by the Budget Committee.
At issue is the legal right of the President to withhold appropriated funds, pending a rescission request to the Congress. The libraries program received $71.5 million under the continuing resolution, but the Administration has asked the Congress to reduce funding for the program to $51.8 million.
New York State officials told the committee members that the Education Department has refused to release the disputed $19.7 million in libraries funds since last October, even though the Administration's rescission request was not sent to the Congress until February.
New York and six other states--California, Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, Ohio, and Oklahoma--filed a lawsuit in federal court last month to recover the funds.
"The magnitude of the problem posed to the states ... cannot be underestimated," said Robert Abrams, the New York attorney general. "In New York alone, the withholding of over 25 percent of the funds appro-priated for already fiscally squeezed, vital library services means a $1.2-million deficit for scheduled programs. As a result, our libraries are severely strained in furnishing the essential educational, job-service, and related opportunities...."
Mr. Abrams claimed that withholding the funds is illegal because the libraries act is a "mandatory spending program," for which funds that are appropriated must be spent. He said that position is based on federal court decisions handed down during the Nixon Administration.
New York State's contention was also confirmed in two legal opinions rendered in February and March by the General Accounting Office (gao), the investigatory arm of the Congress, at the request of Representative Peter A. Peyser, Democrat of New York.
The gao also provided its opinions to the Office of Management and Budget. After receiving the first gao document, dated Feb. 5, the federal budget office announced that it would be releasing the disputed funds. (See Education Week, Feb. 17.)
The spokesman for the budget office, Edwin L. Dale Jr., later said that the announcement had been "premature" because the Administration disagreed with the gao opinion.
David A. Stockman, the budget director, declined an invitation from the committee members to present the Administration's position on the impoundment issue at the hearing last week.