Natural Resources and Environment:

How Much Are Agencies Doing for Archeological Preservation

Published: Jan 21, 1982. Publicly Released: Jan 21, 1982.

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In a recent report, GAO concluded that the national archeology program was not working well. GAO stated that the Department of the Interior must provide better leadership and direction to Federal agencies and States. Without better guidance, some Federal agencies could spend billions of dollars over the next 10 to 30 years for archeological surveys, many of which may not be necessary, while other agencies may not do enough to identify and protect archeological sites. GAO determined that Interior had not established good criteria for agencies to use in determining whether identified sites are important to the national heritage nor had it provided guidance on the extent to which archeological resources must be recovered, recorded, or preserved to comply with Federal laws and regulations. These problems have resulted in project delays, increased costs, and general confusion. GAO has recommended that legislation be changed to require Federal agencies to conduct archeological surveys on Federal lands only when a land-disturbing activity is planned, when the operation of existing projects may threaten resources, or on a sampling basis for general planning purposes. GAO has also recommended that Interior establish formal coordination procedures among Federal and State agencies performing archeological overviews and set forth detailed procedures explaining how to conduct archeological surveys. GAO found that practices followed by grantees, permittees, and licensees in identifying archeological properties in project areas varied widely. GAO recommended that Interior encourage State historic preservation offices to play a greater role in determining which archeological properties have State and local significance and are eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. Archeological data recovery practices differ among Federal agencies. A 1-percent funding limitation has resulted in agencies referring projects to Interior for mitigation without transferring sufficient funds to cover the cost. The 1-percent limitation is not sufficient for salvage work on many small projects, and seeking funds causes project delays which can significantly increase construction costs. Federal agencies often do not have enough staff to oversee archeological projects. A professional peer review system could mitigate monitoring problems on large and controversial archeological projects.

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