Vol. VIII, No. 2

August, 1995

Saving Our Nation's Cultural Heritage

by Susan C. Jones

This summer Congress has been examining the funding for programs used to preserve culture resources. Those programs have been authorized under a series of acts, and most of the agencies that oversee their enforcement are in the Department of the Interior, for example the Park Service and Bureau of Land Management. The legislation sets down guidelines for preservation and authorizes the Department of the Interior or other agencies to enforce them, but the funds required to enforce the provisions of the legislation must be appropriated each year. So it is possible to eviscerate legislation without voting to do so; the required funds may be eliminated instead.

The National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) deals with cultural resources (archaeological sites and historic structures). Section 106 of the act insures that historic values are given consideration along with economic and other public values before any proposed undertaking, but, unlike the provisions for endangered species and wetlands protection, it does not include a mechanism to stop development; it only requires that issues be discussed and impacts examined. The NHPA applies to federal land, federally funded projects, and projects which require federal permits for other reasons (wet-land encroachments, for example). Private land and non-federally funded projects do not come under its jurisdiction unless a federal permit is required. The NHPA itself is scheduled for reauthorization this fall; changes are inevitable.

Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act also gives a major role to state and local preservation agencies, and regulations to implement NHPA provide guidelines for the federal government's consultation with state and local preservation groups. Some funds authorized for enforcement of the provisions of the NHPA go to the Historic Preservation Fund, and money from the Historic Preservation Fund partially supports a State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) in each state and territory. SHPOs, which receive matching state and local money, are under state control; their officers are appointed by the governors. These local groups have been given power to identify historic places, evaluate eligibility for the National Register, help developers who seek tax credits for rehabilitation of historic structures, provide local input to federal projects with the ability to alter federal plans if they detect problems, and act as ombudsmen for private preservation groups. The Historic Preservation Fund also includes allocations for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, grants for archaeological preservation programs of Native American tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations, and grants to protect historic properties associated with historically black colleges. The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation is responsible for overseeing the enforcement of the NHPA and coordinates efforts between and among the various levels of governments. The review/enforcement process for the National Historic Preservation Act is thus highly dependent upon funding for both the Advisory Council and the Historic Preservation Fund.

Of course, other federal agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management and the United States Forest Service contribute to the current federal system for cultural resource management. In particular, the cultural programs under the National Park Service provide technical support and other forms of assistance to federal and state agencies and the private sector on issues of historic preservation. The National Register, the Historic American Building Survey, the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training, and Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act assistance grants are among the resources administered by the Park Service.

This summer appropriations for (1) the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, (2) the Historic Preservation Fund itself, and (3) Park Service, Forest Service and BLM cultural programs were slated to be cut or eliminated. Each area provides highly leveraged federal dollars to support state and local preservation efforts so that reductions in appropriations will have a dramatic effect on the total supply of money available. All come under the Department of the Interior and were part of the omnibus funding bill for the Department of the Interior and Related Agencies. (Note that the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities are "related agencies" and are also covered by provisions in this bill.)

On July 14, the House voted to restore the funding for the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and defeated an attempt to eliminate funding for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The votes showed unexpectedly strong support in Congress for the concepts embedded in the NHPA. Unfortunately, the budgets of the BLM, Park Service, and Forest Service were drastically cut in the respective subcommittee recommendations.

Both House and Senate appropriations bills for the Department of the Interior and Related Agencies have been passed by their respective Appropriations Committee, but the final compromises between Senate and House versions have not been struck. Both versions have cuts in funding, but neither completely eliminates funding. The various items under the Historic Preservation Fund were negotiated individually. The National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Senate Appropriations Committee agreed to phase out federal funds for the Trust, starting with a reduction from the $7 million proposed to $5.6 million for next year; the House cut the request in half for next year ($3.5 million) and proposed to eliminate all funding in future years. The remainder of the Historic Preservation Fund appropriations (the SHPO budget and grants to historically black colleges and Native American and Native Hawaiian programs) has fared somewhat better. The Senate would cut the original request by 5% to $32.712 million, and the House proposes to keep funding at the current level ($34.4 million). The Advisory Council secured its previous funding level in the House ($3.063 million), but the Senate voted to cut this by $500,000. However, through hard work and diligence on the part of various preservation groups, the Advisory Council continues to exist. The Senate Budget Committee's original proposal called for its elimination in 1997 while the House had originally called for its elimination in the current budget year.

The initial proposals for cuts in these programs were reduced in response to lobbying and the support shown by concerned citizens. The outcry from the subscribers of the various electronic bulletin boards, alerted to the daily votes by tireless efforts on the part of American Cultural Resources Association (ACRA), CEHP, Inc., the Society for American Archaeology (SAA), the Society of Historical Archaeology (SHA), and other preservation groups contributed to this victory - or perhaps one should say to reducing the scale of the defeat.

Attacks on the NHPA can also come in other forms. Although the act does not cover private actions per se, there is an important exception - those private actions that require federal permits. Any reduction of the number of private actions that require federal approval, reduces citizens' abilities to review the impact of those private actions. Thus, elimination of environmental impact reviews at the federal level can affect requirements for involving federal standards in historic preservation issues. Similarly, reductions and eliminations in Federal loan programs may eliminate the need for review in some instances, since such loans are defined as federal funding.

It is obvious from this summer's activities that there is a major assault on federal support for preservation of our cultural heritage, no matter what its ethnic associations. The assault seems to target little- known programs without much thought to their impact on the infrastructure which protects the physical reminders of our past. To some extent, by attacking the funding and not the programs themselves, Congress hopes to avoid the bad publicity of voting against preservation of the symbols like the Liberty Bell and popular tourist attractions such as Mesa Verde National Park.

The reauthorization of the NHPA is scheduled for this fall. The federal support structure responsible for aiding historical preservation deserves and needs periodic review and should be responsive to changes in public priorities, but until a public review of the process and impacts of proposed changes can be evaluated, the current system should not be summarily rejected as redundant or unnecessary.

For further information and advice on current lobbying efforts, contact one of the above organizations, or ACRA's world wide web home page: http://www.mindspring.com/~wheaton/ACRA.html. (A few systems will choke on the tilde; if you have trouble with this address, check with your systems administrator.)

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