2009 Section 3 Report

February 15, 2009
2009 Section 3 Report cover


Executive Summary

This is the second triennial Report to the President required under Executive Order 13287: “Preserve America,” addressing the state of the federal government’s historic properties and their contribution to local economic development. Signed by President George W. Bush on March 3, 2003, EO 13287 reaffirmed the federal government’s responsibility to show leadership in preserving America’s heritage by “actively advancing the protection, enhancement, and contemporary use of the historic properties owned by the federal government, and by promoting intergovernmental cooperation and partnerships for the preservation and use of historic properties.”

Information in this document came primarily from the progress reports submitted to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) in September 2008 by real property managing agencies within the executive branch, as well as stewardship meetings with policy and preservation officials committed to the stewardship of these important properties. Agency reports focused on progress made in identifying, protecting, and using historic properties in their ownership. They also provided examples of how they have leased federal historic properties, creatively used others, established public-private partnerships, and supported heritage tourism programs and local economic development.

In coordination with the Secretary of the Interior, represented by its Heritage Asset Partnership and the National Park Service’s Federal Preservation Institute, the ACHP reviewed these Section 3 progress reports to measure the critical progress federal agencies have made in the last three years. The ACHP is pleased to report that 21 agencies submitted reports on or near the September 30, 2008, deadline.

The 2008 progress reports demonstrate that many federal agencies continue to embrace partnerships with non-federal entities to protect historic properties and bring significant social and economic benefit to local communities. While many agencies have more fully embraced partnerships with state, tribal, and local communities, there is demonstrated interest by local communities to further expand these partnerships and embrace the opportunities that these properties provide to local communities. Greater awareness of and appreciation for the value of the resources under federal ownership will undoubtedly foster better management practices that benefit agencies, the American people, and the historic properties themselves.

In addition to the information federal agencies provided on the identification, protection, and use of historic properties, many agencies reported on emerging issues in the management of historic properties that will require new strategies. Because these issues affect property-managing agencies in different ways, they were not reported on uniformly in the progress reports. They include the following:

  • Inventory Reduction. Since 2006, the federal government has further transformed its real property holding and encouraged agencies to dispose of assets that do not support mission need. Many federal agencies are confronted by the prospect of disposing large numbers of non-essential or under-performing buildings, facilities, and structures no longer critical to agency mission, many of which are historic. Agencies report that donation; sale; transfer to other federal, state, tribal, or private entities; leasing; and demolition are all utilized on a case-by-case basis. Few agencies report, however, that the reduction process is guided by the initial consideration of the value historic properties may possess, or a complete awareness of the benefit these properties may have for retention, when screening properties for potential disposal.
  • Energy Efficiency and Sustainability. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 established broad directives to federal property managers to reduce energy consumption and increase the energy efficiency of federal buildings in the next 20 years. Agencies faced with meeting these standards will need to assess the energy efficiency and performance of current property holdings, including historic buildings. Agencies are under pressure to dispose of older, underperforming buildings to make way for new, more energy efficient buildings. In meeting these goals, agencies will need to consider the benefits of retaining and rerofitting historic buildings using new technologies that can transform many underperfoming historic buildings into better performers while preserving other heritage values.
  • Preserving Legacy Buildings. Federal agencies that own iconic historic buildings report that they have experienced decreasing levels of funding to support the repair and alteration necessary to ensure these buildings remain occupied and viable. Often considered to be the most recognizable public buildings in federal ownership, these structures include monumental courthouses, custom houses, and agency headquarters, as well as administrative buildings, post offices, residences, and health care facilities owned by other federal agencies, most of which were constructed to high architectural standards and with recognizable artisanship. These buildings remain profoundly important symbols of federal stewardship and community pride. With increasing material costs and shrinking maintenance budgets, federal agencies lack flexibility to leverage the value of these assets and risk losing legacy buildings they can no longer afford to maintain.
  • Growth in the Modern Era. American infrastructure underwent substantial growth in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s as the result of social and economic programs to expand and stimulate the economy. Known by some in the 1960s as the “Great Society,” the economic expansion of this time resulted in the construction of many federally owned buildings throughout America. Similarly, economic growth in the Cold War Era produced many defense-related structures on federal lands. New federal military housing, post offices, administrative complexes, courthouses, research facilities, dams for energy production and water retention, office complexes, and other federal facilities were built to accommodate an expanding economy and population. Agencies report that, over the next 10 years, many of the buildings and structures in their ownership constructed often to utilitarian standards during this period will reach 50 years of age and will require evaluation for eligibility to the National Register of Historic Places. Anticipating this challenge, agencies should consider programmatic approaches to the identification and evaluation of property types for which there are numerous examples of similar design and construction.

In assessing the progress federal agencies have made over the last three years and the challenges noted above, the ACHP has made six key findings about the current state of federal historic property stewardship along with recommendations on how agencies can continue to improve their performance in these areas. These findings are summarized as follows:

  • Many agencies have not developed strategies for evaluating modern-era properties in their inventories that will soon reach 50 years in age and have not developed plans to address the stewardship needs of under-performing and non-mission critical historic properties within these inventories.
  • Agencies would benefit from guidance on how to consider the benefits of retaining and converting historic buildings and structures into better energy performers to meet the goals of the EISA, as well as guidance on how to promote the development of a sustainable federal infrastructure that recognizes the economical and environmental value of retaining historic properties.
  •  Federal agencies that own legacy buildings and other iconic and monumental historic buildings and structures are not receiving adequate reinvestment funding to conduct needed repairs and alterations to keep these properties occupied and viable. Federal agencies would benefit from improved flexibility in using public-private partnerships through Section 412 of General Provisions, Consolidated Appropriations Act, Section 111 of the National Historic Preservation Act, enhanced use leases, and similar authorities, consistent with agency mission and governing laws, for the preservation and use of these and other federally owned and controlled historic buildings and structures
  • Many agencies confronted by multiple federal reporting requirements continue to provide incomplete Section 3 progress reports, use and define terminology describing their inventory of historic properties differently, and struggle to provide comprehensive and complete information regarding the historic properties in their inventory.
  •  Agency strategic plans, prepared by senior policymakers, frequently do not address historic property management needs or establish goals for improvement.
  •  While federal agencies and the historic properties under their ownership or control have tremendous potential to contribute to local economic development through job creation, publicprivate partnerships, property management practices, and participation in local and regional heritage tourism initiatives, they have not systematically done so.

The recommendations accompanying the findings in Chapter 6 offer a range of actions for the ACHP and its partners to further the goals of EO 13287, the NHPA, and real property management. The ACHP is committed to assisting federal agencies in moving forward with these recommendations so that future actions proposed by the Administration, and agencies themselves, recognize historic properties as important public assets worthy of full consideration in federal property management.