On the Hill: A Look Back at 2016 and the 114th Congress

By Tom Cassidy posted 02-14-2017 16:39


Every quarter we’ll bring you the latest information related to historic preservation and public policy. In this issue we’re taking a pause in our work to protect historic preservation priorities in 2017 to acknowledge some of the work that occurred in 2016.

As Washington, D.C., adjusts to a new political reality, there is great uncertainty as to how the 115th Congress and President Donald Trump will address the nation’s agenda, including key preservation issues such as tax reform and preservation funding. As we begin our 2017 work, it is important to note both the successes we achieved during the 114th Congress, which concluded in December 2016, and the significant unfinished business that needs to be addressed this year.

Historic Preservation Fund: Success in the Centennial Act!

The preservation community’s most significant legislative accomplishment occurred when President Barack Obama signed into law the National Park Service Centennial . The bill includes a provision championed by Congressional Historic Preservation Caucus co-chairs, Reps. Michael Turner, R-Ohio, and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., to extend congressional authorization of the Historic Preservation Fund until . The National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers led our community’s effort on this vitally important legislation. 

The Centennial Act also included two provisions championed by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) with broad support throughout our community. First, the chairman of the ACHP will now be a full-time position subject to Senate confirmation. Second, the chairman of the National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers will now be a member of the ACHP. 

The Centennial Act also formally establishes the National Park Centennial Challenge Fund to address the $12 billion deferred maintenance backlog in our national parks, a priority for the National Trust. The fund matches private contributions with dedicated federal funding to finance signature park construction and maintenance projects. 

HPF Funding

While we did achieve significant provisional increases in HPF funding in 2016, their future is uncertain. The House FY17 Interior appropriations bill would increase HPF funding by $18 million over FY16’s enacted funding level of $65.41 million. That increase would include an additional $2 million for Tribal Historic Preservation Officers (THPOs), an additional $5 million for State Historic Preservation Officers (SHPOs), an additional $3 million for grants to tell the story of the Civil Rights Movement, $5 million for historically black colleges and universities, and $5 million for the long-dormant Save America’s Treasures program. The Trust led our community’s support for three successful House floor amendments that provided increases for three of the HPF programs—SHPOs, Civil Rights, and HBCUs. 

The Senate FY17 appropriations bill would provide an additional $1 million for SHPOs and an additional $2 million for Civil Rights Movement grants. However, it is uncertain whether these successes will be enacted into law. Congress adjourned without passing the appropriations bills funding government agencies, instead passing a continuing resolution that funds government operations at current spending levels until April 28, 2017. At present it is unclear how the Congress will complete the FY17 funding situation.

Historic Tax Credit

Throughout 2016 the National Trust advanced our Prosperity through Preservation to raise awareness of and build support for the federal historic tax credit on Capitol Hill. This work became especially important after Republican leadership in the House released the “A Better ” tax reform blueprint in June, which generally called for the elimination of tax credit programs in order to lower rates and simplify the tax code. While the blueprint did not specifically recommend repealing the historic tax credit, it became clear that the program was very much at risk. 

With the support of preservation and business leaders from around the country, we were able to visit with more than 350 offices on Capitol Hill last year to convey the value of the historic tax credit. When the Ways and Means Tax Reform Subcommittee held a hearing to solicit ideas on Fundamental Tax Reform Proposals, the Trust organized a national sign-on letter allowing businesses and preservation organizations to register their support for the historic tax credit. Within a week more than 300 signatures were delivered to the committee. 

The Trust also worked to support cosponsorship of the Historic Tax Credit Improvement Act (HTCIA), introduced by Reps. Mike Kelly, R-Pa., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., (H.R. 3846) and Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Ben Cardin, D-Md. (S.2655). The legislation attracted the support of 52 House cosponsors, composed of a solidly bipartisan 26 Republican and 27 Democratic members. Significantly, the HTCIA was supported by 17 members of the House Ways and Means Committee, including 10 Republicans, as well as seven of nine members of the Tax Reform Subcommittee. In the Senate the bill attracted strong bipartisan support from eight influential senators.

Many anticipate that the Republican-controlled 115th Congress will move quickly to advance tax reform as a top legislative priority. In response, the National Trust, National Trust Community Investment Corporation, and the Historic Tax Credit Coalition have intensified and expanded our work with partners to protect the historic tax credit and ensure that it remains a permanent part of the tax code.

Antiquities Act

The Antiquities Act, which provides the president the executive authority to create national monuments on federal land, is among the nation’s most significant preservation laws. It is also controversial. Despite efforts from opponents, the Antiquities Act survived the 114th Congress unscathed. Nearly two dozen bills and amendments were introduced to limit the Antiquities Act, but few advanced beyond introduction and none made it to the president’s desk.

President Obama used this authority more than any other president, including to protect such National Trust National Treasures as Fort Monroe, Chimney Rock, and Pullman. And, on January 12, 2016, President Obama designated the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument, which includes the A.G. Gaston Motel. Defending this act is a priority of the National Trust.

Bears Ears National Monument

Throughout the first half of 2016, the Trust continued to work with Reps. Bishop, R-Utah, and Chaffetz, R-Utah, on legislation to protect world-class cultural resources in southeast Utah, including Bears Ears. Ultimately, the Utah Public Lands Initiative introduced in July failed to sufficiently protect the area and would not have generated the broad-based bipartisan support necessary. The Trust then urged the president to designate Bears Ears a national monument, and led a letter signed by 18 national, regional, and local organizations representing archaeologists, anthropologists, THPOs, and other preservationists. On December 28, President Obama designated the Bears Ears National Monument.

National Defense Authorization Act

For several years in a row, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., has introduced the Military LAND Act, which would allow federal agencies to object to the designation of federal properties on the National Register of Historic Places for reasons of national security. The Trust has worked closely with national partners to oppose this legislation, arguing that it is unnecessary. While the Military LAND Act was incorporated into the version of the FY17 National Defense Authorization Act that was passed by the House, it was not included in the Senate version of the bill and was dropped during conference negotiations. Congressman Issa has introduced the Military LAND again this session, and preservationists will need to work together to oppose the legislation.

Willamette Falls Locks

The historic Willamette Falls Locks, opened in 1873, were named a National Treasure by the National Trust in 2012, after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers closed the locks because of their state of disrepair. The Trust and our partners support the repair and reopening of the locks in order to achieve the cultural, economic, commercial, and recreational goals of state and local stakeholders. Funding to study the condition of the locks was included in the president’s FY16 and FY17 budgets. Most recently $280,000 was included for this project in the FY17 Energy and Water Appropriations bill, which is still pending congressional approval.

Historically Black Colleges and Universities Reauthorization

The National Trust and the United Negro College Fund have been actively supporting Rep. Jim Clyburn’s, D-N.C., legislation to reauthorize the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Historic Preservation . The legislation passed the House last year, and we expect reintroduction soon.


Petersburg National Battlefield

In December, completing a multiyear campaign led by the Civil War Trust, Congress passed legislation to expand the boundary of Petersburg National Battlefield in Virginia by more than 7,000 acres. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., and Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., were the champions of this National Trust–supported legislation. 

The National Trust was actively engaged in several other significant legislative actions that were unsuccessful in 2016 but will be the focus of our attention again this year. 

Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park Boundary Revision Act

The National Trust named Ocmulgee a National Treasure last December. We are collaborating with the National Parks Conservation Association, the Ocmulgee National Park & Preserve Initiative, Historic Macon Foundation, the Creek Nation, and other partners to expand the boundary of this significant Native American landscape in Georgia. Legislation introduced by Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., passed the House last year. Similar legislation introduced by Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., was favorably reported by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. In January Rep. Bishop reintroduced his bill, which has already passed the House. 

Great Bend of the Gila National Monument Establishment Act

The National Trust, Southwest Archaeology, and other local and tribal partners have supported Rep. Raul Grijalva’s, D-Ariz., legislation to protect archaeological, cultural, historic, and other resources across 84,000 acres of public lands along the lower Gila River in southwest Arizona. This remarkable landscape holds remnants of 12,000 years of human history, including petroglyphs, geoglyphs, ancient trails, historic roads, and a civil war site. The National Trust named this area a National Treasure in 2013. We expect this bill to be reintroduced soon. 

African American Civil Rights Network Act

The National Trust joined with the National Parks Conservation Association, the NAACP, and the National Urban League to support this legislation, introduced in the House by Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-Mo., and in the Senate by Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. The House held a hearing on November 30, and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee favorably reported the bill on September 8. We expect this bill to be reintroduced soon. 

Tom Cassidy is the vice president for government relations and policy at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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