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Special Section: Archaeopolitics


The First Session of the 104th Congress: Examining National Priorities for Archaeology

Donald Craib and Ralph Johnson


By posing two broad questions, members of the 104th Congress have established the context in which historic preservation programs are being reviewed. The questions are: What benefits accrue to the public from the expenditure of its funds in historic preservation programs, and What is the appropriate federal role in the historic preservation system?

Congressional activity reflects the attempt to respond to these questions. For example, proposals have come forward to eliminate agencies or reduce their appropriations. Responsibilities may be transferred from the federal to state and local governments. Oversight hearings are scheduled for this fall to examine the role, performance, and continued authorization of preservation programs. Legislation has been introduced to address private property rights, risk assessment, grazing, and wilderness. If enacted, these various proposals could have detrimental effects on the archaeological record and the practice of archaeology.

SAA is the only archaeological organization with a full-time government affairs specialist on its staff. However, while we may be aware of a number of actions affecting archaeology on Capitol Hill, we can only lobby a few issues at one time. These are our priorities for the moment: appropriations for the historic preservation system, and the continuation of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

Broadly, SAA's goals have been to:

To achieve these goals, many strategies must be employed--from visiting with members of Congress and their staffs to mobilizing grassroots participation. While this limited space doesn't allow us to elaborate the full range of SAA's actions and communications during this session of Congress, the activities related to appropriations do provide a case study.

Back in April SAA began its effort to inform Congress about the importance of adequately funding programs essential to the historic preservation system. Then-president Bruce Smith testified before the House Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Interior and Related Agencies. His testimony was followed by several days of visits to congressional offices by Bill Lipe (SAA president), Judy Bense (SAA Government Affairs Committee chair), and Donna Seifert and Bonnie McEwan (Society for Historical Archaeology president and Government Affairs Committee chair), who were all in town for a three-day long lobbying blitz on Capitol Hill. Results from these meetings made it clear that many members of Congress and their staffs know very little about the federal historic preservation system, its public benefits, and how cuts in appropriations will impact programs in their districts. In order to provide information and illustrate the public benefits to them, Bill Lipe and Donald Craib over the past several months have made numerous visits to Capitol Hill to explain the federal preservation system to legislators and how severe funding cuts can have a detrimental impact on projects in their home districts. In addition, an action alert was sent to members of SAA's government affairs network (GAN) asking them to contact their members of Congress and explain the importance of continuing a federal role in historic preservation and how a reduced role would impact programs in their communities.

Meeting with members of Congress and their staffs can have beneficial consequences. For example, a meeting between Judy Bense and Rep. Joe Scarborough (R-Fla.) resulted in a joint visit to an archaeological site back in his district. Three days before the House voted on its appropriations bill, Donald Craib, Ralph Johnson, and Donna Seifert met with Rep. Phil English (R-Pa.) to discuss the House appropriations bill and to stress the important role that the Advisory Council plays in the historic preservation system. Days later during the House floor debate on the bill, Rep. English was one of two Republicans who took the floor and spoke in support of the Advisory Council, and he even mentioned the important role that it plays in the protection of archaeological sites!

Throughout the appropriations process the members of GAN have played an important and vital role in expressing SAA's position to members of Congress. GAN operates as the SAA's grassroots component of its government affairs program. Several action alerts and updates have been sent to GAN members asking them to contact their members of Congress and express the importance of adequate funding for programs in the historic preservation system.

Working with partners in the preservation community during the appropriations debate has certainly played an important role in the successes achieved so far. SAA, along with SHA, the American Cultural Resources Association (ACRA), National Trust for Historic Preservation, National Council for State Historic Preservation Officers, and others are members of the National Preservation Coordinating Council (NPCC), which acts as the formal coalition for the historic preservation community. This alliance enables its members to discuss issues, form a consensus, and then speak as one voice for the historic preservation community. In addition, SAA has worked on an ad hoc basis with SHA, the Society of Professional Archeologists, and ACRA by sending a joint letter to members of the Senate Appropriations Committee supporting the cultural resource budgets within the National Park Service (NPS), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS).

So far, the preservation community has been successful in securing adequate funding for programs--considering the mood of Congress. The greatest achievement to date has been the continuation of the Advisory Council in the House appropriations bill, which originally planned to fund it for just one more year with the intent to close it down after that. The following chart shows the level of appropriations that President Clinton recommended in his budget, and the amounts appropriated by the House and the Senate for NPS and BLM cultural resource programs, the Heritage Program of the USFS, the Historic Preservation Fund (HPF), the Advisory Council, and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). These numbers will undoubtedly change after the conference committee works out the differences in the two bills.

If you have comments about SAA's government affairs program, or would like to discuss any of these issues or strategies, please call us. SAA will continue to be vigilant in its efforts and will call on you in support of archaeology. Remember...it's only the first session of the 104th Congress!

Donald Craib is manager of government affairs and counsel for SAA, and Ralph Johnson is executive director.

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