Section 110: An Introduction

By Special Contributor posted 07-02-2015 14:12

By John H. Sprinkle, Jr., Ph.D.

As we approach the 50-year mark of the enactment of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), the Preservation Leadership Forum has enlisted the help of preservation practitioners to take a close look at how the NHPA is used to protect historic places. Earlier this year we took a look at Section 106, and today we're kicking off a series on Section 110, a provision that requires federal agencies to establish a historic preservation program for the identification and protection of historic properties under their direct control or ownership. In this first post, John Sprinkle, describes the origin of Section 110 and its impact on historic preservation practice since its implementation in 1980.

It started with a memo:
Ernest: Attached are my thoughts about the bill I’m concocting ... you may recognize a few pilfered phrases. Best, Loretta.

 The St. Louis Post Office took center stage during the discussions surrounding the creation of Section 110. It was a critical example of what should be done with surplus federally owned, historically significant buildings that are proposed for sale, transfer or demolition. | Credit: Matthew Black via Flickr under Creative Commons.
Nixon's Executive Order 11593 directed federal agencies to inventory and evaluate their historic properties, since many agencies were unaware of the historic significance of the buildings they occupied.  The proposed demolition of the federally owners St. Louis Post Office took center stage during the discussions surrounding the creation of Section 110. | Credit: Matthew Black via Flickr under Creative Commons.
In early 1976, Loretta Neumann, Congressman John Seiberling’s legislative director, sent Ernest Connally, the head of historic preservation programs at the National Park Service, a two-page list of ideas for amending the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA).1 While the “new preservation” envisioned in 1966 was still partially under construction, Neumann and Connally sought to improve the NHPA by:
  • Restating, in one place, federal historic preservation policy found in the Antiquities Act of 1906, the Historic Sites Act of 1935, and the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966;
  • Recognizing the expanded definition of historic preservation from a Williamsburg-like “museum concept” to one that included “whole neighborhoods, the quality of the built environment, the preservation of diversity and the fabric of our cultural heritage”;
  • Documenting the expanding role of numerous federal agencies (other than the National Park Service) in the practice of historic preservation;
  • Outlining how the Park Service’s primary mission as a land management operation had tended to bury its wider responsibilities to support the identification, evaluation, recognition, and stewardship outside of park boundaries; and
  • Reaffirming the goal to “harmonize the policies of government” so that historic preservation “aspects of a project or program are given their rightful status in the decision making process.”2

Drafted while the rehabilitation tax credit program (known by some as the “Preservation Revolution of 1976”) was still being debated in Congress, these forward-looking proposals served as the foundation for the 1980 amendments to the NHPA, which included the addition of Section 110.3

Earlier attempts to expand federal agency participation in the protection of historic and cultural resources had fallen short. In 1971 President Nixon issued Executive Order 11593 authorizing protection of the nation’s cultural and historic sites by federal agencies, as called for by the National Environmental Policy Act. But by the mid-1970s, it was clear that Nixon’s Executive Order had not been successful in stimulating expanded federal agency participation in the broad mandates outlined in the National Historic Preservation Act. Its directive to identify, evaluate, and nominate all federally owned historic properties within a two-year period appears remarkably naive to modern ears. And yet it was the unintended consequences of this executive action—the requirement to treat any unevaluated property as potentially eligible for the National Register—that created the cultural resource management industry as we know it today. President Nixon’s call for a “truce between the bulldozer of progress and the treasures of the American past” needed more than executive action, it required a legislative mandate.4

Section 110, which codified many of the provisions of E.O. 11593, requires that each federal agency establish a historic preservation program for the identification and protection of historic properties under their direct control or ownership. Successful historic preservation programs demonstrate reasonableness and flexibility to ensure full and fair consideration of alternatives for preserving historic places. Whatever its mission, every agency must have an effective historic preservation program. Agency programs are measured against the seven standards articulated in the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards and Guidelines for Federal Agency Historic Preservation Programs.5

Federal historic preservation programs are coordinated by the agency’s Federal Preservation Officer (FPO), a position formally established by NHPA Section 110(c).6 While FPOs may have other official duties, they should have substantial experience administering federal historic preservation activities. To be effective, each Federal Preservation Officer should have agency-wide authority and the staff and fiscal resources necessary to design and implement the agency’s historic preservation program. In 2011 Federal Preservation Officers celebrated four decades of cooperation and collaboration that have served to strengthen and enhance federal historic preservation programs.7

 The San Francisco Mint was recently placed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places List. | Credit: Sanfranman59 on Wikimedia Commons
The Old San Francisco Mint, a former GSA property, was protected by Section 110 during a preservation fight to save it in 2003. Now owned by the City of San Francisco, the building was recently placed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of 11 Most Endangered Historic Places because its future is still uncertain. | Credit: Sanfranman59 on Wikimedia Commons
With the introduction of Section 110, several studies of its implementation by federal agencies and impact on historic properties were undertaken during the decade after the 1980 amendments.8 As a result, the 1992 amendments to the National Historic Preservation Act added greater agency responsibility for the consideration of historic properties during project planning.9 In the mid-1990s, the Park Service completed a comprehensive review of federal agency historic preservation programs.10 More recently, the Preserve America Expert Panel noted “Federal Preservation Officers are not fully effective within their agencies” and recommended further efforts to ensure full implementation of Section 110’s multiple provisions.11 Addressing one of the Act’s long-neglected provisions, Section 110(h), in December 2008 the Secretary of the Interior established the first national award program for historic preservation, which serves as the only congressionally mandated, cabinet-level recognition program acknowledging the dedication and expertise of historic preservation professionals within federal, tribal, state, and local government agencies.12

Since the 1980s, historic preservation professionals have had ongoing discussions about the relationship between Sections 106 and 110 of the National Historic Preservation Act—a relationship that has at times landed in the courts for further elaboration.13 Keep in mind that Section 106 is a procedural regulation that requires federal agencies to consider the impact of specific projects on historic properties, while Section 110 provides substantive standards and guidance for successful federal historic preservation programs.

As the preservation movement matures into middle age, it appears, as evidenced by the series of reports generated as a result of the Preserve America Executive Order,14 that, while Section 110 requires federal agencies to identify historic properties under their jurisdiction or control, most agencies “will continue in austere budget circumstances to rely primarily on the Section 106 process to inventory their historic properties on an as needed basis.”15

Now, almost 40 years after Loretta Neumann’s initial note to Ernest Connally, Section 110 of the National Historic Preservation Act remains a sweeping mandate with still-unrealized potential, representing an aspirational series of objectives for the federal agencies that stand at the center of the national preservation partnership.

John H. Sprinkle, Jr., Ph.D. is the Bureau Historian in the Park History Program at the National Park Service. He is also the author of "Crafting Preservation Criteria: The National Register of Historic Places and American Historic Preservation."

The views and conclusions expressed in this post are those of the author and should not be interpreted as representing the opinions of the National Park Service or the United States government.


1. John F. Seiberling, Jr. (1918-2008) represented Ohio’s 14th district in Congress from 1971 to 1987, where he was among the most influential historic preservation advocates. Barry Mackintosh, “The National Historic Preservation Act and the National Park Service: A History,” National Park Service, 1986.

2. Loretta Neumann to Ernest Connally, 2.18.1976, NPS Harpers Ferry Center, Ernest A. Connally Collection, Box 2, “Seiberling Bill I, 1977.” To address some of the concerns regarding the dual role of the Park Service, Neumann recommended the establishment of a separate “Historic Preservation Agency” within the Department of the Interior.

3.In addition, the 1980 amendments created Certified Local Governments and added requirements for “owner consent” to National Register and National Historic Landmark designation.

4. Richard M. Nixon, “Statement on Executive Order 11593,” May 13, 1971.

5.The Secretary of the Interior's Standards and Guidelines for Federal Agency Historic Preservation Programs Pursuant to the National Historic Preservation Act. 63 Fed. Reg. 20,495 (Apr. 24, 1998).

6. The ACHP maintains a list of designated FPOs. See Thomas F. King, “The Federal Preservation Officer, Responsibilities and Qualifications: A Report and Recommendations to the National Park Service.” CRM: Cultural Resource Management, 1993. The National Park Service’s Federal Preservation Institute addressed FPO qualifications in two of its “Facts for Feds” publications: “Federal Preservation Officer Qualifications,” and “KSAs for FPOs: How to Hire a Qualified Federal Preservation Officer,” 2008.

7. Federal Preservation Officer Forum, “Fortieth Anniversary Meeting,” Nov. 3, 2011. FPOs were formally established with the 1980 amendments. After EO11593 was created, the NPS hosted meetings of all State Liaison Officials (now SHPOs) and Federal Liaison Officials (now FPOs) as part of the ACHP meetings. The first meeting of the SLOs/FLOs occurred in the fall of 1971. The FLOs continued to meet during 1972 to plan for implementation of the EO.

8. General Accounting Office, “Cultural Resources: Results of Questionnaire on Federal Agency Preservation Activities,” 1985; GAO, “Cultural Resources: Implementation of Federal Historic Preservation Program Can be Improved,” 1988. See also Bruce Noble, “Federal Agency Historic Preservation Issues in the 1990s” (Mar. 20, 1991).

9. See: Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, “Federal Historic Preservation Case Law Update, 1996-2000: Supplement to Federal Historic Preservation Case Law: Thirty Years of the National Historic Preservation Act

10. National Park Service, “1996 Survey of Federal Agencies’ Federal Historic Preservation Programs as they Relate to Section 110 of the National Historic Preservation Act,” Sept. 16, 1996. This study was prepared at the request of Rep. James Hansen.

11. Preserve America Expert Panel, “Executive Summary: Recommendations to Improve the Structure of the Federal Historic Preservation Program” (Feb. 20, 2009) .

12. Implementation of the program is described in Departmental Personnel Bulletin 08-12, dated August 14, 2008.

13. See, e.g., National Trust for Historic Preservation v. Blanck, 938 F. Supp. 908 (D.D.C. 1996), aff’d mem., 203 F.3d 53, 1999 U.S. App. LEXIS 29703 (D.C. Cir. 1999).

14. Executive Order 13287, 68 Fed. Reg. 10,635 (Mar. 3, 2003).

15. Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, “In the Spirit of Stewardship: A Report on Federal Historic Property Management,” at 35 (2015). This is the most recent triennial report from the ACHP to the President, as called for in the Preserve America Executive Order.

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