Without much fuss or rhetoric, Rep. Sidney R. Yates (D-Ill.) told the new director of the Institute for Museum Services Monday just how he felt about her agency, which the Reagan Administration is seeking to abolish.
"I will tell you in all frankness, I will try to keep IMS going," said Yates, chairman of the House Appropriations interior subcommittee, which oversees the institute's budget.
Then, with an actor's timing, Yates smiled and added softly: "I wouldn't want you to lose your job."
Lois Burke Shepard, who until recently served as chairman of Republicans Abroad International as well as being director of Americans Abroad for Reagan-Bush '84, did not return the smile.
"As you know, Mr. Chairman, I'm a presidential appointee and support the President," replied Shepard, who was confirmed to the $68,000-plus directorship by the Senate on March 21.
Although their 20-minute encounter across the witness table was quite amiable, Shepard appeared a bit nervous. She was, after all, in an awkward position, having just submitted into the record a statement supporting the President's budget request that Museum Services be funded for fiscal 1987 "only as required to terminate the agency in an orderly fashion."
According to the White House Office of Management and Budget, that would mean $330,000, including Shepard's salary, for the new fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 to phase out the agency. For the last five budgets Reagan has targeted Museum Services for elimination. Only Congress has stood in the Administration's way.
Today, Shepard is scheduled to go before the comparable Senate Appropriations interior subcommittee chaired by Sen. James McClure (R-Ida.), who is also expected to recommend continuation of the agency.
The 10-year-old institute, the only federal agency providing operational support for basic museum services, currently receives $20.5 million. Until the mandatory 4.3% cut for most domestic programs March 1 under the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings budget-balancing law, Museum Services received $21.4 million.
Last month, when Yates heard public testimony on the various arts and humanities budgets, he allowed that he felt that $21 million would be needed "to perpetuate" the agency. Museum Services also has a conservation and a museum-assessment program.
Ironically, much of Shepard's formal statement praised the agency's work, which six weeks ago drew national attention as the subject of a CBS' "Sunday Morning" cover story focusing on museums in North Carolina.
"IMS is proud of the contribution it has made to museums, both monetarily and in helping them raise the consciousness of the public to the basic needs of museums," Shepard said.
"Over the past 10 years, IMS has provided $83.5 million in general operating support," the director continued. "In the past two years IMS has provided over $6 million in conservation funds. . . . General operating funds are particularly welcome because they allow museums the freedom to raise other easily attained 'glamorous' funds used for exhibits or special projects."
Shepard added that from 1978 on, the institute has provided operating support annually for about 10% of the nation's museums. The agency funds up to 10% of a museum's budget in general operating support with a current $75,000 maximum.
However, the director really came to say that it was time for the private sector to take over. She said private fund-raising activities are to be "commended and encouraged."
"It was never the objective of Congress or IMS to have museums across this country become dependent upon the federal taxpayer's money," she said. "IMS has been told time and again that the grants received have served as a type of seal of approval, allowing them to attract a greater proportion of private funding. But as any such mark of excellence it does not have to be repeated year after year."
But the tone of the hearing was that the agency would go on, and Shepard easily fell into step. She talked about the importance of conservation in "preserving the treasures of this country." Indeed, when asked about the agency's administrative funds, Shepard replied, "If Congress voted the same amount, they should be raised a bit."
She spoke about the need for more travel money to provide technical support for minority museums in making grant requests.
Yates did not seem impressed. He suggested technical assistance might be provided by New York's Metropolitian Museum of Art or the Museum of Modern Art to museums in their region and indicated that major museums in other parts of the country might do the same.
Shepard seemed to want to please. Asked whether she thought the Institute for Museum Services merited funding "granted the fiscal exigencies of the budget . . . ," Shepard replied: "If it were fiscally possible, yes."