Becoming Better Stewards of Our Past

March 01, 2004

Executive Summary

The National Historic Preservation Act directs the Federal Government to administer federally owned, administered, and controlled historic resources in a spirit of stewardship. Executive Order 13287, issued in 2003 as part of the Administration’s Preserve America initiative, reaffirms this mandate. Section 4(e) of the order requires that the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation make recommendations to the President and Federal agencies on further stimulating initiative, creativity, and efficiency in the Federal stewardship of historic properties. This report embodies those recommendations.

Section 4(e) recognizes that, notwithstanding the progress that Federal agencies have made in caring for their historic properties during the past several decades, there remains pressing need for agencies to be more enterprising, inventive, and productive. Funding and staffing for historic resource management are chronically inadequate, and agencies often lack sufficient institutional and organizational support for historic resources.
Despite this, however, there are many success stories, and they provide the underpinning for the  recommendations of this report. 

To further stimulate initiative, creativity, and efficiency in the Federal stewardship of historic properties, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation recommends the following:

Partner With Non-Federal Parties

• Federal agencies should partner with non-Federal parties, including the private sector, to find sustainable uses for federally owned historic properties that are unused or underused.

• Federal agencies should partner with non-Federal parties to preserve federally owned historic properties
and (where appropriate) promote them and interpret them to help educate the public.

Work Smart

• Federal agencies should increase opportunities for volunteers to contribute to the stewardship of federally owned historic properties.

• Federal agencies should investigate nontraditional funding sources and new ways of using conventional funding authorities for the stewardship of federally owned historic properties.

• Federal agencies should fully exploit the potential for technology to improve the stewardship of federally owned historic properties. 

• Federal agencies should strategically consider the transfer, exchange, or disposal of federally owned historic properties as a way of ensuring their long-term preservation. 

Enhance the Preservation Ethic

• Federal agencies should demonstrate continued internal leadership commitment to stewardship of federally owned historic properties, with sustained involvement of policy-level officials and development of agency preservation policy.

• Federal agencies should have recognition programs in place to honor and publicize agency achievements in the stewardship of federally owned historic properties and the contribution of volunteers and individual agency staff.

• Federal agencies should encourage agency policymakers and staff to increase their understanding of federally owned historic properties and to build skills in their stewardship.

• The Federal Government should create or enhance accountability systems to measure success in the stewardship of federally owned historic properties.

The Preserve America initiative provides a context for the Federal Government to foster implementation of these recommendations. It offers a framework for oversight of agency efforts under Executive Order 13287, as well as opportunities to promote exchange of information among agencies and develop new tools to  assist agencies.

The recommendations of this report are not panaceas. It is important to note that implementing them requires that the Federal Government sustain an investment in human and financial resources. But, as evident from the examples cited in this report, solid support of partnership development, resourceful management, and cultivation of the preservation ethic is worth the investment.