World Heritage USA Advocacy Update February 2023

By Tom Cassidy, Chair, Advocacy Committee

Last summer, US/ICOMOS (now also known as World Heritage USA) and a group of other preservation minded advocacy groups transmitted a request to Senate appropriators in support of the World Heritage Program and the Biden Administration’s FY 2023 State Department budget request that would fully fund United States contributions and arrearages to UN related accounts, including the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the World Heritage Fund. We also supported the Administration’s request for the statutory waiver of several laws that prohibit the US from providing funds to international organizations such as UNESCO. A copy of our letter is here.

At the end of the year, as part of the FY 23 Omnibus Appropriations Act, we were delighted to see enactment of the long-sought authority for the President to waive prohibitions of funding of UNESCO upon a finding that to do so would enable the United States to counter Chinese influence include or to promote other national interests of the United States. The specific waiver authority is:

SEC. 7070. The President may waive section 414 of Public Law 101–246 and section 410 of Public Law 103–236 with respect to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization if the President determines and reports in writing to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, and the appropriate congressional committees that to do so would enable the United States to counter Chinese influence or to promote other national interests of the United States: Provided, That the authority of this section shall cease to have effect if, after enactment of this Act, the Palestinians obtain the same standing as member states or full membership as a state in the United Nations or any specialized agency thereof outside an agreement negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians: Provided further, That the authority of this section shall sunset on September 30, 2025, unless extended in a subsequent Act of Congress.

There were also significant funding successes.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick Leahy included this short but impactful statement in his summary of the legislation: “Contributions to International Organizations: The bill fully funds U.S. assessed contributions to support the regular budget of the UN and other international organizations.”

Some relevant funding details:

  • Title I provides $1,438,000,000 to meet annual obligations of membership in international multilateral organizations. This is $220 million less than the Administration’s $1,658,239,000 request, which the Administration stated would fully fund U.S. assessments to the organizations within the account. The legislation also includes $150 million for funds potentially subject to the existing prohibitions of funding such organizations as UNESCO. It is unclear how the Administration will allocate this shortfall from its request.
  • Title V provides $508,600,000 for specified International Organizations and Programs, an increase of $85 million from the FY 22 enacted level of $423,000,000 and a sharp increase also from the President’s request of $457,200,000. The legislation identifies a number of specific programs, such as $15 million for the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and $10.2 million for UN Environmental Programs.
  • In addition, the National Park Service Office of International Park Affairs, the key agency that implements the World Heritage program within the United States, received a modest increase in its budget to $1.99 million.

A significant amount of work remains to implement this remarkable legislation and funding, including supporting a specific Presidential request to provide funding for UNESCO, ensuring that the World Heritage Committee receives funding, and addressing the issue of past dues. And, of course, the FY 24 appropriations season (with all of its uncertainties) will begin in March when the President submits his budget request.

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