Now that the National Endowment for the Arts has decided to get nasty with the Maryland State Arts Council, the state agency should take the more diplomatic path and quietly resolve this seven-month bureaucratic squabble over accessibility of council offices for the handicapped.
For months, the NEA and the state arts council have been engaged in a volleyball match over the council's compliance with a 1973 law barring funds for any group that discriminates against the handicapped. The state finally acknowledged shortcomings in the council's offices and pledged changes. That didn't satisfy the NEA, which insisted on immediate compliance and explicit details. It suspended $550,000 in NEA grant money pending completion of this work.
How much better it would have been had the NEA continued its dialogue with state officials. No one disagreed that the offices must be made accessible to those with disabilities. It boiled down to state bureaucrats being unable to give federal bureaucrats the precise details in the precise form required, or to perform the repairs immediately. Of course, arts council leaders didn't help matters by failing to respond to NEA requests for information promptly and not giving the federal agency more specifics on planned office changes. Still, the matter could have and should have been resolved without threats and funding suspensions.