Forum Journal & Forum Focus

Program Leadership and Administration 

12-09-2015 17:35

One of the most innovative and successful aspects of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 has been the creation of a strong partnership between the public and private sectors at all levels of government: national, state, and local. Like most institutions this partnership has gone through inevitable passages in movement toward maturation. We find ourselves now at a watershed point, particularly in the area of leadership, where the movement is asking what form and direction that leadership should take as we move from the adolescence of the movement`s development into what should and can be a vigorous adulthood of enhanced historic preservation. A number of recent initiatives have offered the partners a chance to nurture a period of exciting growth for the movement.

In December of 1984 at Saratoga, New York, the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers (NCSHPO initiated an assessment of the needs of preservation relative to the state programs. The study was at first a reaction as the other partners were to conclude later, the "pain" being experienced by the states as a result of severe budgetary reductions at a time when the needs of their constituents were increasing. Additionally, the National Park Service, which oversees the program, was imposing greatly expanded demands and new programs on the states. The NCSHPO soon decided that instead of concentrating on the problems of the states alone, that it would be a better use of its resources to develop comprehensive proposals aimed at how to best reorganize the nation`s preservation movement for the 21st century. Two years were spent developing a comprehensive legislative package which, in addition to other improvements, called for it`: strong independent new leadership and a true historic presertion trust fund.

Hearing the pleas of the state offices and wishing also to plan for the future, both the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) and Preservation Action in early 1987 began a comprehensive effort to gather information and advice on the status of the movement from their "grass-roots" memberships. Preservation Action called in the troops from all around the country to assess the delivery of preservation services. The NTHP at about the same time took its Program Council to the people, holding regional meetings in every section of the country. All this was aimed at determining preservationists` to. needs and ascertaining where they felt the movement should be headed. Both groups underscored the need for strong dynamic leadership at the federal, state and local levels but also noted the lack of effective leadership from the federal partner.

In the area of leadership and program administration the Challenge concluded that "the nation`s historic preservation community is committed to advocate and achieve stronger and more visible leadership within the federal government that will promote the protection, enhancement and study of the nation`s historic resources. Changes in the conduct of federal government historic preservation activities are required to meet this end.

"At the same time, the historic preservation community reaffirms the federal-state-local governmental partnership with the private sector that has successfully fostered historic preservation activities. In addition, the historic preservation community continues to support the principle that preservation decision-making should be implemented by the partner which is most effective and which is closest to the resource."

At the end of the October 1987 Trust annual meeting, the Forum members met to consider specific proposals in the area of leadership and program administration. The group arrayed all conceivable options which might be employed. They then proceeded to examine the liabilities and assets of each, trying to determine which offered the greatest opportunity for growth and enhancement of the total national program. Excitement grew as it became apparent that the entire group was moving toward a preferred solution which all seemed to choose as their first option. It was felt that the movement had matured to the point where a holistic approach to the conservation and preservation of resources, both cultural and natural, should be undertaken; and therefore, the group agreed to pursue a proposal to create a new federal heritage agency.

This new agency would be headed by a chairman and board. The chairman would be appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate, thus giving the national preservation community the ability to strongly influence the selection of an aggressive and dynamic leadership. The agency would be tripartite in that it would have three semiautonomous branches: 1) Historic Preservation, 2) Recreation and Conservation, and 3) The National Park Service.

The Historic Preservation Branch would include the existing National Park Service`s "external" program functions including the National Register, archeology, HABS/HAER, and grants administration. In addition to traditional grants to the states and National Trust, the new agency would develop cooperative agreements with all partners to assure that preservation is fostered at all levels of government and in the private sector. This would allow for a continuous assessment and improvement of the delivery of preservation services so that decision-making relative to cultural resources can be implemented by the partner "which is most effective and which is closest to the resource."

Each of the three branches would be run by its own director and advisory panel. Specific policy and budgetary decisions would be made individually in each branch of the agency. In the historic preservation branch the director and advisory panel would carry out the functions now administered by the President`s Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. The heritage agency chairman, the three branch directors, and advisory panel members from each branch would come together to function as an advisory board determining overall agency policy.

The real strength of this outline for leadership and program administration is that it allows both areas of conservation, natural and cultural, to identify and promote aggressive leadership and goals. It also provides the tools for a united preservation community to press for strong and effective leadership in periods similar to the 1980`s where political forces have not supported the provision of such leadership.

If we are to secure the kind of dynamic leadership desired and the improvements in program administration identified in the important meetings held in the last year, what are we called to do? The Preservation Forum continues to meet and move forward aggressively, hoping to arrive soon at a legislative agenda which can be adopted and supported strongly by all its participants. In the meantime there are a number of initiatives on the horizon which bode well for generating a national call for reexamination of the nation`s preservation efforts.

The NCSHPO`s membership has directed its officers to seek introduction in Congress of the legislation it has developed. The conference`s philosophy is to begin the dialogue between Congress and the broader preservation community on the needs of the movement. Leadership and organization are only two of many initiatives in this comprehensive reorganization of the 1966 NHPA.

As recently as February 18, 1988, another initiative surfaced concerning preservation leadership. On that day the National Parks and Conservation Association (NPCA), after an exhaustive study of the National Park Service`s operation, called for withdrawing that agency from the Department of Interior and forming an independent agency. This step means that both the natural and cultural components of resource conservation and preservation are moving in the same direction: an independent heritage agency. Another initiative is anticipated soon from Senator Wyche Fowler of Georgia.

As different members of the Forum make their rounds on Capitol Hill testing the mood of Congress for undertaking an assessment of the direction of and support for national historic preservation efforts, most are encouraged by the number of congressmen who support historic preservation and want to see it improved. Most agree that we need good leadership and program administration to have a successful national program. The members of the National Preservation Forum feel that the more initiatives introduced in Congress the higher the discussions will be elevated. The Forum supports the concept of getting all the ideas on the table for discussion. As those discussions proceed, the Forum`s meetings will provide a platform where all the partners can come together to back the ultimate package of legislative needs. The Challenge makes one thing clear: "If we are to realize fully the benefits of historic preservation and ensure their enjoyment by all Americans, we need to have strong national leadership. The need for such leadership stimulated the adoption of the National Historic Preservation Act and remains necessary today."

Publication Date: Spring 1988


Author(s):F. Lawrence Oaks