How can the National Park Service enhance training regarding historic preservation for federal agencies? Who is the audience? What are its needs? How should training be delivered? Where should we start? These were the questions to which Kate Stevenson, associate director of the National Park Service for cultural resource stewardship and partnerships, wanted answers.
She recognized that interagency training was perhaps the principal remaining mandate of the National Historic Preservation Act yet to be fulfilled. In the spring of 2000, she asked me to explore the potential for a significant new training initiative. Thanks to the generosity of the U.S. General Services Administration, I was detailed to the National Park Service to work on this.
As I prowled the halls of the federal agencies, seeking insights, guidance and ideas, I realized there was no historic preservation information on the walls or on the tables of the various offices where senior officials greeted me. Posters and mugs and leaflets for saving energy, protecting endangered species, equal employment opportunities and alternative dispute resolution techniques were strewn around-yet nothing on historic places or the agencies preservation responsibilities.
Could it be that senior executives were unaware of the responsibilities given to every federal agency by the National Historic Preservation Act? Could this be a reason why the Federal Preservation Officers have trouble getting funds for their agencies’ historic preservation programs, for hiring staff and for integrating preservation requirements with their individual missions?
As I hopped from office to office for the 15-minute meetings, there was never time to talk in-depth about aspects of the National Historic Preservation Act, Section 110, Section 106, or any of the other passages of brilliant legislation. No one had time. In-depth conversations were to be held with the technical staff, since they already knew a great deal on the subject. And, indeed, that was true. Most agencies had at least one person in Washington who had extensive technical knowledge of archeology, historic buildings, adverse effects, and even cultural landscapes.
After reporting my experiences to Kate Stevenson, she decided to establish the Federal Preservation Institute with five major components.
First, we wanted to stay in contact with our primary user group, the Federal Preservation Officers. We created the Federal Training Working Group as the forum to meet monthly to exchange information on important current issues, program developments, and training. A critical feature of each gathering is a short training presentation on a specific topic, such as emerging technologies beneficial to historic preservation. In the first year, 36 different agencies and six organizations, including the National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers, the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation were represented at these meetings.
Second, the Federal Training Working Group confirmed our experience that training is least available for senior executives, political appointees, and those engineers, foresters, lawyers and others who are collateral duty professionals. So we decided to make awareness for senior officials our first priority, and, through the collaborative efforts of 18 federal agencies, we produced a briefing brochure,
Historic Preservation: A Responsibility for Every Federal Agency (pdf).
Third, we learned that no one has very much time for training and that the faster we can deliver the essential message, the more likely it will reach its audience. So we decided to develop a series of online “get smart quick” information sites. Rather than have these buried beyond the reach of Google, we entered into a partnership with George Mason University to develop an internet learning portal that is a semantic website connecting users to specific information that they need. The first topic for the “get smart quick” series is consultation with Native Americans on cultural resource issues that we are developing in collaboration with Northwestern State University of Louisiana.
Fourth, we recognized that there are “hot topics” in preservation that spring up. Federal agencies need information and training that improve their responsiveness and can contribute to timely identification of sound alternatives in problem-solving. So, we are initiating a series of conferences in January 2002 on “Balancing Public Safety with Protection of Historic Buildings.” The focus will be integrating protection of historic places into preparedness plans. Speakers from Congress, the Architect of the Capitol, federal agencies, and state and local leaders are participating in this dialog.
Fifth, and finally, we are identifying the specific historic preservation tasks common to Federal Preservation Officers and their staffs so that training in the necessary knowledge and skills can be obtained. We want to identify currently available training as well as ways to address training gaps. This work builds on previous interagency work at the National Park Service and will be available to all on our website in about a year.
Though the Federal Preservation Institute is brand new, we hope it is well on its way to respond to the mandates in the National Historic Preservation Act for the Secretary of the Interior and the National Park Service to take a leadership position in development of training for federal agencies. Through the work of Kate Stevenson, the Institute has been staffed, its needs integrated into the budget, and its programs are expanding. For more information, e-mail us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Constance Ramirez is Director of the Federal Preservation Institute.