Consistent with its responsibility to advise the President and Congress on historic preservation matters and to recommend adoption of related policies, the ACHP has regularly prepared special reports and studies and provided ongoing review and testimony on legislation. The agency has also promoted executive action and public-private partnerships to advance preservation, and recommended policies governing its own and others’ work on matters ranging from preservation and affordable housing to treatment of human remains.
Congressional reports and advice requested by Members of Congress or through legislation or committee have focused on a broad range of issues. ACHP advice has included views on the national preservation program’s operation, the historic preservation review process and proposed legal waivers from environmental review procedures, mining in the national parks, historic preservation funding, preservation tax incentives, research and technical facility preservation, post office preservation, and disaster funding. The ACHP has also regularly provided its recommendations and input on a broad range of pending legislation, assisted in drafting legislation, and worked on follow-up studies. In 1972, for example, the ACHP worked with the General Services Administration (GSA) and others on legislation for dealing with historic preservation and surplus federal property, resulting in passage of the Surplus Property Act (P.L. 92-362). The ACHP also assisted the Department of Transportation in 1975 on a special report on historic railroad station preservation under the AMTRAK Improvement Act of 1974, and worked again with GSA to identify suitable historic public buildings under the Public Buildings Cooperative Use Act of 1976. In 1983, the ACHP prepared a special report on “Federal Tax Law and Historic Preservation.” This report helped influence the Tax Reform Act of 1986, which was a basis for today’s successful historic preservation tax credits.
As one of its original statutory responsibilities, the ACHP prepared and distributed “Guidelines for State Historic Preservation Legislation” in 1972. The same year, the ACHP assisted in drafting the World Heritage Convention that was adopted by UNESCO. In 1975, the U.S. Senate requested a report on the status of historic preservation in the United States. The resulting product, “The National Historic Preservation Program Today,” was published in 1976 and provided a basis for amendments to the NHPA later that year. In 1981, the ACHP’s views were requested on the cultural heritage consequences of a pending termination of the U.S. trusteeship of the Pacific Islands of Micronesia, which it provided in a special report, and the termination included provisions for continuing historic preservation support for the Pacific entities.
Such authoritative analyses and advice laid the groundwork for periodic ACHP assessments and expert examination of the national historic preservation program and implementation of the NHPA. The ACHP’s annual reports regularly reported on issues associated with national preservation policy and program implementation. In 1986, the ACHP prepared a special 20th anniversary report and accompanying staff assessment on the NHPA and its operation. The assessment included a detailed look at roles and responsibilities in the law’s implementation; how historic resources were identified and considered in planning; the adequacy of federal programs, funding mechanisms, coordination, and program leadership; and participation by Indian tribes and other Native Americans. The assessment also looked briefly at public outreach as well as the U.S. role in international preservation activities.
In the late 1990s, the ACHP’s programmatic work with the U.S. Coast Guard on repair, maintenance, automation, and continued operation of historic lighthouses helped inform the National Lighthouse Preservation Act. This legislation in 2000 provided for the sensitive transfer of lighthouses to non-federal and non-governmental organizations while maintaining their use as aids to maritime navigation.
Over the course of its history the ACHP has also advanced several Presidential executive orders and participated in a number of White House and interagency initiatives. These have included executive direction on locating federal facilities on historic properties in the nation’s central cities (1996); creation and implementation of the American Heritage Rivers Initiative (1996-1998) and the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative (2010-2011); and serving on the Tourism Policy Council (2006-2010), the White House Council on Native American Affairs (2013-2017), the Council on Climate Preparedness and Resilience (2013-2016), and the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council (2016-present).
In 2002-2003, the ACHP developed Executive Order 13287 and a related program initiative for a new White House-led preservation program called Preserve America, with community and volunteer group designations, presidential awards, and grant funding. The executive order was the most comprehensive executive action dealing with historic preservation in three decades. The program was announced in 2003, and several components of it including recognition of communities and volunteer efforts in preservation remain active in 2017. A Preserve America Grants program established in 2006 and administered by the National Park Service resulted in $21.7 million in Congressional appropriations for matching grants in 49 states between 2006 and 2010. To date, 906 communities in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and two U.S. territories have been designated as Preserve America Communities, along with 58 agencies and organizations that have been recognized for their volunteer preservation support as Preserve America Stewards. Twenty Preserve America Presidential Awards were also presented at the White House from 2004-2008.
For the 40th anniversary of the NHPA in 2006, the ACHP organized a preservation summit to develop ideas and actions for improving the national program. The ACHP, along with other agencies and non-governmental partners, has implemented many of them. Two of the summit panels, “Determining What’s Important” and “Involving All Cultures,” stressed the value of preserving cultural diversity, Native American interests, and the heritage of underrepresented communities through preservation policy and programs. Since then, the ACHP has been very active in advancing these goals, developing a policy and plan for building a more inclusive preservation program, participating as a named member of the White House Council on Native American Affairs (2013-2017), promoting the 2008 U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and taking part in the White House Summit on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (2015), among other actions.
In 2016, the ACHP developed additional recommendations for addressing current and future preservation program needs (see the Future Directions section of this website). An amendment to the NHPA sought by the ACHP and contained in the National Park Service Centennial bill signed into law at the end of 2016 made the Chairman of the ACHP a full-time, Senate-confirmed presidential appointee for the first time, and designated the National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers as a full voting member of the ACHP.