The Fight for Historical Archaeology in the 113th Congress

Federal legislation and regulatory policy is responsible for the majority of historical archaeology that occurs in the United States.  From compliance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act for federal undertakings to research support at universities to public lands management, the federal government touches the lives of historical archaeologists throughout their careers.  Ensuring that Members of the 113th Congress understand the scientific and public value of historical archaeology is, therefore, critical to the health of the profession.

The Society for Historical Archaeology educates Members on Capitol Hill on the value of historical archaeology through the activities of the government affairs committee.  Your government affairs committee works with our consultant, Cultural Heritage Partners, PLLC, to formulate both defensive and pro-active strategies to encourage Congressional actions that cause no harm and ultimately advance our profession.  Working together with our historic preservation partners , we amplify our impact and ensure that our voices are heard in Washington.

As we determine our legislative agenda for the new Congress, we are calling on SHA members to share with us the issues that most concern you.  Here are some of the issues we worked on last year:

  • Titanic legislation.  During the 100th Anniversary year of the sinking of the famed ship, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation passed S.2279: R.M.S. Titanic Maritime Memorial Preservation Act of 2012.  This legislation would protect the Titanic wreck site from salvage and intrusive research, and would provide the Secretary of Commerce with authority to monitor and enforce specific rules to protect the public’s interest in the wreck site and collection.  Unfortunately Congress became gridlocked during the session and both chambers did not pass the law.
  • Support for the Veterans Curation Program:  SHA supports funding for this Army Corps of Engineers program that trains and employs veterans to rehabilitate the Corps’ extensive archaeological collections. The skills veterans gain through the program help to prepare them for future gainful employment.
  • Advocating for Historic Preservation in the Transportation Bill.  Last year Congress passed a new transportation bill called MAP-21.  Working together with our partners in the preservation community, we worked to ensure that Section 106 compliance was included in the bill and that historic preservation programs were not unduly impacted.

As we look to the new Congress, we are interested in which of the following issues are of most concern to you, and where you would like us to expend our limited resources:

  • Pursuing legislation to protect underwater cultural heritage.  Building on our educational campaign in Congress about protection for the Titanic wreck, there may be opportunities to pass new legislation to protect broader classes of underwater cultural heritage.
  • Protecting Section 106.  Particularly as the Republican-controlled House seeks to relax federal regulation, advocacy to ensure that Section 106 is protected and that State Historic Preservation Offices are funded to carry out their duties may be critical.
  • Advocating for federal research funding.  With the country facing major budget cuts, including the automatic “sequester,” we can work to ensure that federal research dollars for historical archaeology and the protection of historic archaeological sites on federal lands are not on the chopping block.
  • Protecting historic archaeological sites impacted by energy development.  Significant developments of solar and wind farms as well as shale oil and gas are expected over the next few years, both on public and private lands.  SHA may wish to argue at the federal level for safeguards to protect archaeological sites, since no such protection currently exists outside of federal lands.
  • Addressing the curation challenge.   There is an urgent need to address curation of government collections.  SHA can take a more active role in helping shape regulations and advocating for funding for curation activities.

With a focused agenda and strong partnerships, we can have an impact in Washington and advance our interests as a profession.

Are there other issues we should be considering?  Email Terry Klein or Marion Werkheiser.