Institute of Museum and Library Services News

Wisconsin Public Library Data

Some of the wealthiest museums and universities in America are pocketing millions of dollars in federal money, courtesy of working-class Americans.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), an independent federal agency founded in 1996 to provide tax dollars to libraries and museums, annually approves grants to museums with hundreds of millions of dollars in assets and universities sitting on multibillion dollar endowments.

Harvard University, which has a $32 billion endowment, received two taxpayer-funded grants from the IMLS this year totaling $200, 000.

IMLS also gave the American Museum of Natural History $148, 000 this year to subsidize preservation efforts related to the museum’s collection of Siberian artifacts. The prominent Manhattan museum is one of the wealthiest in the world. According to its most recent IRS filings, the museum is sitting on $1.2 billion in assets and took in $197 million in donations and other revenues in 2012 alone.

Ellen Futter, the museum’s president, collects a salary and benefits package worth $1.2 million a year.

For most taxpayers, $148, 000 is a lot of money. But for the Central Park West institution, it amounts to little more than pocket change — less than 1/10th of 1 percent of the museum’s annual intake.

IMLS‘ trickle-up theory of grant-giving literally takes money from struggling American taxpayers to fill the coffers of cultural and educational institutions that appear able to operate just as well without the public funds. For subsidizing the operations of the already rich, the Institute of Museum and Library Services has earned the Golden Hammer, The Washington Times’ weekly award given to examples of waste, fraud or abuse of tax dollars.

In a statement, Giuliana Solitario Bullard, the public affairs specialist for IMLS, said the goal of the grants is “to add value to the museum and library experiences of all Americans, wherever they live. We look beyond the individual libraries and museums to see how the projects will serve people.”

David Williams, the president of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance, an Alexandria, Virginia-based taxpayer watchdog group, said he was not surprised the institute was not more forthcoming.

“It’s no wonder they didn’t try to justify giving hundreds of thousands dollars of taxpayers’ dollars to museums with hundreds of millions of dollars in the bank. They can’t, ” said Mr. Williams.

“There’s no way to justify taking money from taxpayers who are living paycheck to paycheck and giving it to institutions that have more money than God, Bill Gates and Oprah combined, ” he joked.

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