President’s FY 2012 Budget Request: Highlights of Major Provisions Affecting Historic Preservation

On Monday, February 14, President Barack Obama's FY 2012 budget request was sent to the Hill with some painful cuts to the Historic Preservation Fund – the backbone of the national historic preservation program. 

With the elimination of Save America’s Treasures and Preserve America grants, the Historic Preservation Fund would be reduced by 23 percent and – through Save America’s Treasures specifically – end the federal government’s sole grant program for bricks-and-mortar preservation projects. It is important to note, however, that other critical components of the Historic Preservation Fund would receive essential and long-overdue increases. While these relatively nominal “bump ups” fall far short of reprogramming lost grant funds back into core historic preservation accounts, they will help State Historic Preservation Officers (increased by $3.5 million over last year) and Tribal Historic Preservation Officers (increased by $3 million over last year) carry out the their mandates under the National Historic Preservation Act.

Amid reductions in funding for other programs that further the federal government's stewardship role in protecting America’s national heritage, there were some noteworthy bright spots in the President’s budget plan. Cultural resource management on Bureau of Land Management land would receive a 50 percent increase. This account manages over 263,000 documented cultural properties and an estimated 4.5 million more properties. Only 8 percent, however, of Bureau of Land Management land is surveyed. This is the largest recommended increase for this program in years and – if enacted – would initiate cultural resource surveys, preserve sites, expand interpretation, and help build partnerships to promote public investment in the management of Bureau of Land Management recourses. The Obama Administration has recommended a 22 percent increase over current levels for the National Landscape Conservation System, which is comprised of some of the most spectacular scenic, historic, cultural, and natural Bureau of Land Management sites in the nation. This includes over an $8 million (26 percent) increase for National Monuments and National Conservation Areas. 

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has made increased funding for public lands a top priority and sees the increased funding for the National Landscape Conservation System and Bureau of Land Management cultural resource management, along with slight gains in the State and Tribal Historic Preservation Officers budgets, as a tremendous step in the right direction. Overall, however, the National Trust is concerned that the proposed funding reductions elsewhere diminish a comprehensive and holistic national focus on what is truly needed in preserving the places, objects, and buildings that reflect America’s heritage. Significant reductions in the National Park Service Cultural Resource Stewardship and Construction accounts, Heritage Area funding, and Community Development Block Grants (widely used for neighborhood preservation projects) would curtail progress over the years since the National Historic Preservation Act was signed into law.

Historic Preservation Fund and Core Programs

Overall decrease of $18.5 million (23 percent) from current levels by eliminating Save America’s Treasures and Preserve America grants. State and Tribal Historic Preservation Officers were increased slightly by $3.5 and $3 million respectively in conjunction with the Historic Preservation Fund proposal outlined in the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative. Funding for Heritage Areas from the National Recreation account was reduced by over half to $8 million. Lastly, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation would receive $6.1 million, a slight increase over last year of $5.9 million. The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation is the independent federal agency that is in charge of Section 106 reviews and advises the President and Congress on national historic preservation policy. 

National Parks and Historic Resources

Cultural Resource Stewardship: While the Obama Administration provided a small increase of $35.1 million (2 percent) for the operations of the National Park Service, it cut almost $200 million (1 percent) from the Cultural Resource Stewardship account. This is significant because this account has lost over 27 percent of its budget between FY 2005 – FY 2008, including 300 full-time cultural resources employees. This would continue to place historic and cultural resources throughout the National Parks System at risk because of the significant loss of funding for cultural resources staff.

Construction: The National Park Service Construction account was significantly reduced by 35 percent from $233 million to $152 million. This account pays for important maintenance projects and will only increase the already huge deferred maintenance backlog for historic structures of national significance. There are 2,811 historic structures of national significance in poor condition in the National Parks System and $159 million in deferred maintenance involving cultural landscapes. Additionally, of the substantial deferred maintenance needs for National Park Service, $3 billion is for the 27,000 historic and prehistoric structures listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Challenge Cost Share Program: The Obama Administration reinstated the Challenge Cost Share funding program following its recommendation to zero out the program last year. Challenge Cost Share provides funding to the Bureau of Land Management at $11 million and the National Park Service at $2.3 million to leverage private funding and program support from groups that share the agencies’ missions to preserve natural and cultural resources through a dollar-for-dollar matching. 

Battlefields and Land Acquisitions: As a part of the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative, the President’s budget proposal would provide $160 million for National Park Service federal land acquisition, an increase of $73.7 million over current levels. Included within the proposal is $10 million – a $1 million increase over current levels – to provide matching grants to states and local entities to preserve and protect Civil War battlefield sites outside the National Park System. Additionally, level funding at $3 million was provided under this account for the preservation of Japanese confinement sites.

Public Lands and Bureau of Land Management

Bureau of Land Management Cultural Resources Account: Cultural resource management on Bureau of Land Management land would receive a 59 percent increase. This account manages over 263,000 documented cultural properties and an estimated 4.5 million more properties. Only 8 percent, however, of Bureau of Land Management land is surveyed. This is the largest recommended increase for this program in years and – if enacted – would initiate cultural resource surveys, thereby stabilizing and restoring sites, expanding interpretation, and helping to build partnerships to promote public investment in the management of Bureau of Land Management recourses.

Bureau of Land Management National Landscape Conservation System: The Obama Administration has recommended a $15 million increase (22 percent) over current levels to protect some of the most spectacular scenic, historic, cultural, and natural sites in the nation. This includes an $8 million (26 percent) increase for National Monuments and National Conservation Areas.   

Bureau of Land Management Recreation: An increase of $7 million in recreation resources management to support the development and implementation of travel management plans to improve the management of off-highway vehicle use. Over the past few decades, off-highway vehicle use has become one of the most significant and widespread threats to cultural resource on public lands, making remote areas of the backcountry more accessible and vulnerable to cultural resources looting and damage. 

Community Development Block Grants and Neighborhood Preservation

Community Development Block Grants, a program that is widely used in multiple-property redevelopment in historic neighborhoods, was cut significantly by $300 million (6.7 percent).

Transportation and Historic Resources

The Obama Administration’s FY 2012 budget proposal includes a framework for a new transportation authorization that would reform the way federal transportation dollars are spent. As a part of this proposal, the current Transportation Enhancements program that provides enormous federal support for historic preservation projects would be reorganized under a new “Livability Program,” which is proposed to receive funding of $4.1 billion in 2012 and $28 billion over six years. It is uncertain if all categories of the current Transportation Enhancements program would be included. Legislative language for this proposal is forthcoming, as the current transportation law has expired and is operating under short-term extensions.