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Home Publications Intro: Federal Stewardship Summary Report full text of summary report
Caring for the Past, Managing for the Future: Federal Stewardship and America's Historic Legacy
America's past is alive and is all around us. It affects our present lives, and it influences the course of the future. But honoring and appreciating the past does not mean immersing ourselves in it, much less freezing it as a series of static or interactive museum displays. We live very much in the present and build for the future, but we know that yesterday can enrich modern lives, as it gives us a better sense of where we came from and where we are going.
More and more Americans live and work in distinctive places with a patina of time and tradition. They participate in heritage-proud communities that offer a sense of place and stability in a rapidly changing world. They depend on their cultural heritage to reinforce their common values, their personal beliefs, and their own sense of worth. They visit historic places to learn from the past and to feel the presence of those who came before. Today, many citizens see historic resources as significant parts of an overall environment that is worth protecting and using to enrich their lives and those of their children and grandchildren.
In his remarks designating the President Lincoln and Soldiers' Home National Monument in Washington, DC, on July 7, 2000, President Bill Clinton observed that "Our compact with the past must always be part of our commitment to the future." In this spirit, the Council offers this report and its recommendations to improve Federal stewardship of our national patrimony.
As the new century opens, it is vital that we learn to appreciate and take better care of our rich heritage. The protection and enhancement of the Nation's patrimony needs to be viewed as a continuing national priority, and the Federal Government must get its own house in order and demonstrate its leadership and its commitment. Creative, cost-effective solutions to managing the resources that are part of the Nation's heritage must be developed, implemented, and sustained. Not only is it in the national public interest, it is the right thing to do for ourselves and for generations to come.
The occasion of the Millennium gives citizens an unprecedented opportunity to celebrate their heritage, but with that opportunity comes a responsibility. The American people must work to more effectively preserve important symbols and reminders of the Nation's past, and the Federal Government can help by fostering public appreciation of the values associated with them. Recent initiatives to raise awareness and funding for preserving some of the Nation's most important historic artifacts and properties, such as the Administration's "Save America's Treasures" program, represent important steps in this direction. So do educational programs that endeavor to help connect people to their family stories and community history, like the National Endowment for the Humanities' "My History Is America's History."
These initiatives are important steps and should be sustained. However, the Federal Government still needs to do more to take proper care of what it holds in trust for the American people. The Federal Government has a significant role to play in protecting and enhancing America's historic assets, from the national parks, forests, and museums that it operates, to the less obvious but no less important property holdings used to carry on the business of Government in office buildings, military installations, recreation areas, and research laboratories. These resources comprise a substantial part of the Nation's cultural patrimony. Federal stewardship and leadership can encourage others and set a standard of excellence for them to emulate, while offering opportunities for creative partnership in protecting America's heritage.
The National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), signed into law in 1966, declared that "the spirit and direction of the Nation are founded upon and reflected in its historic heritage," and that "the preservation of this irreplaceable heritage is in the public interest so that its vital legacy of cultural, educational, esthetic, inspirational, economic, and energy benefits will be maintained and enriched for future generations of Americans." The act went on to direct the Federal Government to be a good steward in managing the historic resources under its administration.
President Theodore Roosevelt understood the concept of stewardship. Asserting the importance of public land conservation at the beginning of the 20th century, Roosevelt called for responsible asset management and long-term enhancement of the value of those assets as key ingredients of public stewardship. It is both instructive and encouraging to see how far the Federal Government has come in implementing Roosevelt's vision and the intent and purpose of NHPA, even as it has continually fine-tuned and adjusted its methods and its focus. It is also daunting to see how far the Government needs to go in establishing public stewardship policies and making the commitments necessary to achieving those goals.
By law, Federal agencies must consider historic values in their planning and decision-making. Federal agencies that own or manage resources have stewardship responsibilities. These responsibilities, however, are seldom accorded a high priority by either policy-makers or managers. Under some circumstances, for instance, when they house important activities or serve critical public recreational or educational purposes, heritage assets may be viewed as integral parts of an agency's mission and ongoing programs. At other times, such resources may be viewed not as assets but as unneeded or obsolete management liabilities that strain agency budgets and manpower already stretched to the limit. Decisions made about the disposition of such resources may not fully take into account their historic and cultural significance, their potential use, or their overall value to local communities or the Nation. And often, in the face of other needs, Federal agencies overlook or misunderstand their responsibilities as good public stewards.
Once these historic resources have been neglected or abandoned, their many values are neither renewable nor recoverable. Once destroyed, a tangible reminder of America's heritage is lost, and with it the accompanying opportunities for public education, appreciation, and use.
The reasons leading to the situation described above are complex. The solutions are not straightforward. The independent agency charged with advising the President and Congress on historic preservation matters, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation has been studying for the past two years how the Federal Government could do a better job in caring for the historic resources it administers. The Council's contribution to the Millennium observance consists of offering sound historic preservation policies and implementation strategies we believe will serve future needs well into the 21st century.
The Federal Government must assert its role as first among equals in the care of public property. Partnerships with the public and private sectors are important, and communities need to be actively engaged in deciding what kind of future they want for their own past. However, the Council's focus has been on the Government's role in caring for its own lands, buildings, and facilities and how its leadership, commitment, and accountability in this regard could be improved.
The Council has devoted regular meetings to a focused examination of critical issues connected with the Federal role in historic preservation. Each meeting had an onsite component, so that Council members could examine first hand historic resources and issues of concern to Federal managers, those who work with them, and those who are affected by their actions. These meetings were held in Miami, Florida; Alexandria, Virginia; Santa Fe, New Mexico; Honolulu, Hawaii; Washington, DC; Knoxville, Tennessee; Phoenix, Arizona; and Portland, Maine. Information collected during meetings was augmented by agency presentations and written comments, public testimony, and targeted research on Federal policies and practices.
The Council solicited grassroots input from a broad range of government officials, interested organizations, and individuals via an interactive discussion forum on our Web site. Federal employees, State and local officials, citizen activists, Native Americans, historic preservation professionals, business owners, and members of the interested public shared ideas and opinions through this medium.
In addition to the Council meetings and the discussion forum, we targeted mailings to the heads of Federal agencies; interviewed Federal Preservation Officers; made public presentations at preservation conferences; and conducted electronic and documentary research on Federal activities. Referenced materials include previous special studies, annual reports, strategic plans, and budget documents. Key agency documents, including several focused reports on stewardship issues, investigative studies prepared by the General Accounting Office, and case studies from Council staff experience provided important insights.
Government policies and programs in many areas of American life significantly affect historic preservation. Many of these policies were established in the late-19th and early 20th centuries. The first National Parks and National Monuments, for example, were designated in the 1870s and 1880s. Civil War battlefields and Native American antiquities also benefited from early protection; the National Park Service was created in 1916 to administer many of these areas. During the 1930s and 1940s, the Federal Government became more involved in preservation, conservation, and public history through such New Deal programs as the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Works Progress Administration, and the Federal Writers Project.
In the wake of World War II and the population and development boom that followed, the effects of growth and new construction on America's cities, towns, and countryside energized concerned citizens, who began to seek a new and more comprehensive approach to preserving America's heritage. Thirty-five years ago, a special committee of the U.S. Con-ference of Mayors, in concert with the congressionally chartered, nonprofit National Trust for Historic Preservation, the White House, and several prominent members of Congress, produced a report and plan of action entitled With Heritage So Rich. This publication led to the drafting and passage of NHPA in 1966. For the first time, Federal law defined a comprehensive Government role in preservation policy, leadership, and program responsibility, and provided a public-private partnership framework to help implement that policy.
Over time, historic preservation has become a more routine and accepted part of local and regional planning, community development, and business enterprise, with many successes and much progress. Conflicts have largely shifted from central business districts and inner cities to the suburbs and beyond, as concern about growth management and sprawl have come to dominate modern debates about preservation and livability.
Today, a large percentage of public historic preservation activity is supported through Federal, tribal, State, and local levels of government and through a public-private partnership admin-istered by the National Park Service. This partnership involves State Historic Preservation Officers in each State and territory, Tribal Historic Preservation Officers certified by the National Park Service, and more than 1,100 Certified Local Governments. Partners oversee tribal, State, and local programs and administer annual Federal appropriations that require matching support. The National Trust for Historic Preservation leads a coalition of statewide and other preservation organizations and supports grassroots preservation efforts.
Policy-makers and preservation advocates sometimes overlook the fact that the activities of Federal land- and property-managing agencies have a combined impact on hundreds of millions of acres of public property and the communities that adjoin them. In this capacity as manager, the Federal Government often finds itself playing the role of guardian of America's collective heritage. This heritage is embodied in public architecture, historic technology, military installations, and other Federal assets. Cultural, archeological, and historic sites, and the events and eras of the past they embody, are critical to a proper telling of America's varied history and experience. Trails, vistas, and other marks of the past on the landscape are often preserved, in whole or in part, because their remnants are on public lands.
Federal agencies have historic preservation responsibilities for these resources mandated by a broad range of laws, executive orders, and policies, both Government-wide and agency-specific. Focused particularly on Federal agencies with management responsibilities for public lands, buildings, and facilities, these directives range from property-management concerns and antiquities protection to environmental review. Laws like NHPA were intended to establish a comprehensive framework for a national preservation policy. By law, all Federal agencies, including assistance and regulatory agencies, must consider the effects of their actions on historic resources and engage in public consultation with a variety of concerned parties as part of their decision-making. Agencies rely heavily on States and Indian tribes to assist with these efforts.
Only a few agencies, however, have well-developed and comprehensive preservation programs. Among the most significant of these are the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the various components of the Department of Defense, and the General Services Administration.
In addition to its own stewardship role, the National Park Service also sets certain Government-wide preservation standards and operates several programs to help coordinate Federal agency activities. The Park Service offers technical assistance and training, administers the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training, and oversees the National Register of Historic Places and National Historic Landmarks programs. These last two programs help participants identify, evaluate, and register significant historic resources. States and Indian tribes provide valuable expertise and assistance to the Park Service and other Federal agencies, particularly in identification and evaluation efforts.
It is true that the Federal Government sets aside many historic sites as public parks and monuments. Public museums preserve other aspects of the past. But Federal stewardship of the Nation's heritage is far more than establishing parks and museums. National Park units comprise slightly more than 11 percent of Federal lands, a small fraction of the total Federal holdings throughout the country. The remaining publicly owned and administered land and resources under the trusteeship of various departments and agencies accounts for nearly a quarter of the land area of the United States. They include numerous building complexes, structures, facilities, and other resources of many types. These resources also include a wide range of historic artifacts, archival materials, and public art.
In order to grasp the challenges as well as the opportunities associated with Federal stewardship of the Nation's heritage, it is necessary to appreciate the richness and diversity of Federal historic resources around the country. Brief consideration of some of the problems faced by the Federal Government in managing these resources is also required.
We found that while a large part of the Nation's heritage is in Federal hands, the Government does not always meets its basic public stewardship responsibilities to that heritage. Section 110 of NHPA directs Federal agencies to "assume responsibility for the preservation of historic properties which are owned or controlled by such agency," and to establish and carry out preservation programs to meet the purposes of the law.
During its two-year study, the Council drew a number of conclusions from our observations on Federal stewardship and how well Federal agencies meet their responsibilities.
The Federal Government owns, controls, manages, or administers a substantial and signifi-cant array of historic and cultural resources that collectively make up a major portion of the Nation's heritage. These resources include some of the most important historic properties in the Nation and are inextricably woven into the fabric of community life and experience throughout the country.
The Federal Government has a vested interest in its historic resources. In addition to their historical and cultural value, these resources include major public buildings, engineering works, military installations, and other capital improvements that embody a wide range of public values. The public value of these resources is enhanced by their unique historic qualities. Federally owned historic resources should be recognized and treated as both national and local assets, not only for the part they play in the infrastructure of the Nation, but also for their role in the local community.
These public values—and the long-term investments associated with them—demand that Federal managers do their utmost to care for heritage assets. In this way, they fulfill their stewardship responsibility to the American public.
As recently as the 1970s, there were few formal policies or programs for protecting and managing historic resources in Federal hands, aside from the units of the National Park system. Since then, there has been considerable progress in Federal attention to the preservation and use of these resources. Today, most Federal agencies with stewardship responsibilities have historic preservation programs—at least on paper. Major departments and independent agencies have designated Federal Preservation Officers, as NHPA requires. Many have made significant progress in inventory, planning studies, and onsite preservation, interpretation, and adaptive use of historic buildings, sites, and structures. Some agencies, such as the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service, have made creative use of volunteer programs, limited recreation funding, and heritage tourism opportunities to support their stewardship efforts. The military services have made good use of special program funding to experiment with collaborative and resource-based planning and maintenance initiatives.
Overall, though, most Federal agencies lack a unified strategy or implementation plan for identifying, evaluating, protecting, and managing the historic and cultural resources entrusted to their care. Preservation activities are largely decentralized and left to individual managers. Significant dedicated funding is virtually nonexistent, and money for preservation activities often must come from a variety of unrelated sources. Funding and other attention is not necessarily keyed to need or importance of the resources but to other factors that may be impossible to predict.
Historic preservation policies, procedures, and techniques vary greatly from agency to agency. Few comprehensive programs are in place that fully integrate preservation into agency missions and activities. None of these has sufficient funding or staffing.
Asset management problems related to funding shortfalls are growing daily. Maintenance is often deferred, and the backlog of deferred maintenance needs is increasing. In spite of this, cultural heritage program funding is not considered to be a high budget priority. For example, for the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service, the two public land-managing agencies with combined responsibility for more than 460 million acres of land and significant public recreation and interpretive programs, heritage funding amounts to less than 1 percent of their respective budgets. This translates into unmet needs and backlogs in inventory, evaluation, protection, and monitoring. In areas subject to significant population pressures and public recreation needs, similar difficulties are impacting interpretation, visitor access, and safety.
Nationally, of more than two million civilian Federal employees, only about one-tenth of 1 percent are trained cultural resource professionals who have these program responsibilities as their primary duty. Perhaps another one-tenth of 1 percent of employees are occupied with archival and museum preservation. More commonly, facilities management staff and environmental protection specialists are assigned related historic resource management, planning, or review responsibilities as an "extra" duty. Often these individuals have little expertise or training for this work, and its relationship to their principal duties is poorly defined.
"Corporate culture" and the perception that historic preservation is not part of their overall mission continue to be major obstacles to better stewardship by some Federal agencies. Many Federal employees work diligently and creatively to understand and care for the historic and cultural resources entrusted to them. Too often their efforts have not been adequately recognized or supported by supervisors and agency policy. Too much good work is not institutionalized but dependent on individual staff commitment and initiative. This is laudable but neither sustainable nor transferable.
Federal agencies need to demonstrate leadership in stewardship of historic resources by positive action and example. Leadership from both the Executive and Legislative Branches is critical to agency recognition and appreciation of the importance of maintaining this legacy for future generations. While many of the heritage assets under Federal care are well protected and managed and used for a variety of important public purposes, many more are not. With a few notable exceptions, individual Federal agencies have not met their responsibilities, and there is a lack of leadership and committed funding to reverse this trend. Many of the historic and cultural resources under Federal care are being neglected or are in danger of being lost entirely through lack of funds, ignorance, and inattention. In some cases, they are threatened with thoughtless development, insensitive uses, and poor management judgment. Commitment to stewardship, flowing from agency leadership, is the essential antidote.
By and large, Federal agencies do not have adequate information about the full scope, number, distribution, and condition of the historic and cultural resources they are supposed to manage. Federal holdings total more than 650 million acres of land and some 3 billion square feet of building space; less than 15 percent have been inventoried for historic and cultural resources. Without adequate baseline information, sound management is impossible. As a result, there are numerous examples of difficulties Federal agencies are having in keeping track of their historic resource inventory, assessing and understanding the condition of their assets, and taking corrective actions.
There is a clear need for Federal personnel to better understand the significance and impor-tant characteristics of their historic resource holdings and to use this information to manage them more effectively. For example, Federal stewardship would benefit from an objective evaluation of the way in which Federal managers make judgments about the significance and relative value of historic and cultural resources. This includes comparative study of the relative importance of historic resources throughout an agency's holdings, as well as cooperative projects that examine similar resource types across agency boundaries. Such studies should support management plans and audits to help establish resource protection funding priorities.
Only a small portion of the Federal Government's historic and cultural resources are managed primarily to preserve and interpret their historic and cultural values. The vast majority must serve the contemporary needs of Federal agency missions and programs. Federal agencies need to increase the use of historic resources to meet their respective agency missions, while maintaining those resources' essential integrity. Most Federal agencies do not have comprehensive plans to identify and preserve the best of these resources, the places and structures that define the national character, or established mechanisms to use key historic resources to meet their various missions.
All historic resources require consideration in planning, but they do not necessarily warrant uniform treatment or management. Unfortunately, budget and staffing problems have led to huge backlogs in evaluations of historic resources to determine their significance and value for agency uses. It is also one of the reasons for the enormous backlog in deferred maintenance, which is emerging as one of the most serious impediments to successful resource management. A further result is that Federal agencies warehouse, rather than actively manage, many of the resources under their care without consideration for their historic value.
Federal management of historic resources needs to be better supported, more proactive, and directly tied to comprehensive planning. Agencies need to operate more holistically. This is especially true when long-term facilities plans are prepared, land-use decisions that may affect historic resources are made, or multi-year budget needs are identified. Federal agencies are missing important opportunities to set and operate under priorities that have been developed in consultation with other interested parties and potential public and private partners.
There are few incentives to encourage Federal agencies to do a better job and devise more creative solutions to stewardship of historic resources. At the same time, there are impediments to preservation in some agencies' authorizing legislation, in the appropriations process, and in related policies that favor demolition, new construction, and replacement over repair, rehabilitation, and preventive maintenance of older structures and facilities. For example, many existing facilities held and used by these agencies are of historic significance yet the process of cost-benefit analysis, employing rigid funding formulas, rental and lease-return margins, floor-area ratios, and similar planning and accounting requirements takes no account of intangible values and often tips the scales against rehabilitation and use.
Federal agency missions also need to be viewed more broadly by managers as they relate to public trust and stewardship needs, if these and similar obstacles are to be overcome. Performance incentives should be identified to help Federal managers incorporate historic preservation into their work when it is called for. Historic and cultural values need to be addressed more fairly and openly in stewardship decisions, so they can be fully weighed in facilities development and land-use decisions.
The legal framework for Federal stewardship of historic resources is comprehensive, and there are numerous statutes addressing Government-wide responsibilities, as well as targeted agency resource management. Periodic oversight occurs through the appropriations process or congressional program reauthorization, supplemented by General Accounting Office studies. Most of these mandates are, however, self-policing. There is little accountability and few incentives through established performance standards, regular program monitoring, or reporting for meeting the requirements.
Currently, few Federal strategic plans and annual reports developed to comply with the Government Performance and Results Act specifically acknowledge historic resources, much less offer direction to their employees on their responsibilities for these holdings. Most do not set specific performance goals or measures that relate to legal stewardship mandates. Those that do, provide scant mention of stewardship requirements focused on heritage.
Accountability reports required under the Chief Financial Officers Act and other related financial management laws have also paid little attention to this issue until recently. However, in 1996 guidance was developed by the Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board (FASAB) for agencies to begin reporting on their heritage assets. This asset reporting, including listing of significant natural and cultural resources under agency administration, was intended to ensure that agencies assemble information on such assets, reveal and consider the manage-ment costs and liabilities associated with them, and characterize deferred maintenance needs. Early reports intended to comply with these standards have been seriously deficient and poorly documented by the agencies' own standards as well as those of the FASAB. Considerably more work is needed to develop accurate baseline information.
Federal agencies need to expand—and to focus—efforts to consult with concerned parties when deciding what resources are important, to whom they matter, and how they should be managed. This is particularly true when it comes to representatives of the communities in which resources are located. Public disclosure and consultation is required by law when agencies are considering various undertakings, but many agency managers view these requirements as time-consuming hindrances rather than opportunities for creative problem-solving. While Federal agencies must consult with a wide range of stakeholders when they make major land-use or property-management decisions, a number of agencies could make major improvements in the way they identify stakeholders and seek their views in planning and decision-making.
Understanding requires effective communication. Agencies need to develop mechanisms to better inform and engage communities and business groups, such as those involved with heritage tourism, in decisions about resource protection and access. They also need to develop better means for addressing the concerns and interests of groups who have a special affinity with particular historic and cultural resources, such as Indian tribes and other Native Americans.
Federal agencies need to enter into more public-private partnerships to leverage resources for promotion, protection, and enhancement of historic values. "Partnership" has become a popular term, but Federal agencies are not adequately exploiting the potential for collaboration with the private sector to preserve and use historic resources, often because of legal or administrative impediments. Some laws and policies that are intended to restrict questionable lobbying activities or potential conflicts of interest for Federal employees have the unintended effect of limiting the nature and extent of partnerships with the private sector.
Moreover, the most successful current partnerships and related agency program initiatives are neither well known nor widely emulated throughout the Federal Government. This is due in part to lack of staff and funding for proactive program planning but may also be attributed to poor information sharing and pooling of resources among Federal agencies or Federal, State, and local government organizations with similar missions.
We have concluded that change is warranted in a number of specific areas that are essential to better Federal stewardship. These areas fall under three broad themes: Leadership, Commitment, and Accountability.
The Federal Government must emphasize its role in protecting and preserving the Nation's heritage, and seek and advocate historic resource stewardship in partnership with non-Federal parties.
The Federal Government must provide consistent, reliable, and adequate funding to meet its stewardship responsibilities. It should also provide dedicated funds for historic resource stewardship, while removing obstacles to cost-effective care and use of resources.
The Federal Government must improve its accountability for historic resource stewardship and fully integrate historic resource management concerns with other priorities.
What We Will Do
The Council will work with Federal agencies, other appropriate public and private partners, and the President's Council on the Arts and Humanities to develop and present a consistent and powerful message linking American history, cultural values, and Federal stewardship. This message will promote historic preservation as a valid and important national priority.
The Council will work with the Administration and selected Federal agencies to promote appropriate policies and implementing guidance on property management, new facilities construction, and rehabilitation of existing facilities. We will give preference or equal weight to historic resources in management decisions and include allowances for a public interest component in cost-benefit analyses and other decisions involving the public trust.
The Council will also work with Federal agencies to develop administrative and other incentives for proactive Federal management planning that is responsive to historic resource management needs, promotes public-private partnerships, and increases effective public involvement in stewardship planning.
The Federal Government has a rich and varied array of historic resources under its care. They portray the major themes of American history, celebrating the achievements of the Nation and serving as important icons to communities across the land. Managing these unique public assets presents many challenges, but the Federal Government has the capability, if effectively mobilized, to ensure the sound stewardship of these irreplaceable resources for future generations. The Council's recommendations, amplified by the more detailed advice contained in our full report, provide a blueprint for meeting these challenges. We look forward to working with the Executive and Legislative Branches of Government, as well as many other public and private parties, to further the goal of effective Federal stewardship of our national patrimony.