Cultural Resources:

Problems Protecting and Preserving Federal Archeological Resources

RCED-88-3: Published: Dec 15, 1987. Publicly Released: Dec 15, 1987.

Contact:

James Duffus, III
(202) 512-7756
contact@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed three federal agencies' management of archeological resources on federal lands to determine: (1) the extent of looting that has occurred; (2) what the agencies are doing to prevent looting of resources; and (3) what actions the agencies are taking to remove and properly preserve artifacts.

GAO found that: (1) looters are destroying valuable scientific information at archeological sites; (2) agency officials believe that enforcement efforts have prevented casual looting, but problems still exist with commercial looting for profit; and (3) although looting of artifacts from National Park Service (NPS) land has been minimal, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Forest Service are experiencing a high level of commercial looting. GAO also found that: (1) funding constraints and staffing shortages have hampered agencies' ability to protect archeological sites; (2) the agencies were not taking necessary precautions to ensure the preservation of artifacts they sent to curators; (3) the agencies did not institute any procedures for determining the adequacy and ability of facilities responsible for curating artifacts, and seldom inspected the facilities; and (4) NPS has an estimated 15.5 million uncataloged artifacts collected from both federal and nonfederal lands.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture should direct the heads of the respective agencies to develop agency-wide guidelines that: (1) provide field offices criteria on when to prepare looting incident reports, for example, amount of disturbance and how recently the incident happened; and (2) require field offices to periodically revisit recorded sites to update site records.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Funding to establish a department-wide system (NIBERS) for recording looting incidents and other violations has been suspended.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture should direct the heads of the respective agencies to develop plans for surveying those areas not scheduled for project development, including prioritizing these areas based on their archeological resource potential and then preparing a schedule for surveying those areas having the highest priority.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Publication of a final rule has been underway since late 1988. Since it has not yet been finalized, this recommendation should be closed.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture should direct the heads of the respective agencies to develop plans for surveying those areas not scheduled for project development, including prioritizing these areas based on their archeological resource potential and then preparing a schedule for surveying those areas having the highest priority.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Forest Service believes that its Forest Land Management Plans are adequate for prioritizing and scheduling non-project-related surveys. This could be true for individual forests, but it does not result in an agency-wide plan/schedule.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture should direct the heads of respective agencies to be consistent with other priorities for available funds and staff, and ensure that a reasonable number of these surveys are carried out each year.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Since final rule has been in development since late 1988 and it has yet to be published, the recommendation should be closed.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture should direct the heads of respective agencies to be consistent with other priorities for available funds and staff, and ensure that a reasonable number of these surveys are carried out each year.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: At least two Forest Service regions have established targets as to the number of acres of land in non-project areas that are to be surveyed each year. The Forest Service's Chief Archeologist said that other regions may also do this, but it is not being comtemplated at the servicewide level. Congress added $3 million for non-project surveys in 1988 and the Forest Service allocated additional funds.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture should direct the heads of the major land management agencies in their departments to jointly develop an agreement for funding and staffing an office that would: (1) compile and analyze looting incident information submitted by the individual agencies; and (2) conduct undercover investigations using its own staff or the agencies' law enforcement staffs.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The agencies have increased their sharing of intelligence operations and cooperate on law enforcement on an ad hoc basis. However, the agencies have no plans to set up a joint office.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture should direct the heads of the major land management agencies in their departments to jointly develop an agreement for funding and staffing an office that would: (1) compile and analyze looting incident information submitted by the individual agencies; and (2) conduct undercover investigations using its own staff or the agencies' law enforcement staffs.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The agencies have increased their sharing of intelligence operations and cooperate on law enforcement on an ad hoc basis. However, the agencies have no plans to set up a joint office.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director, NPS, to study and, if deemed appropriate, develop and submit to the congressional legislative oversight committees proposed legislation that would amend the Archaeological Resources Protection Act to improve its effectiveness by: (1) lowering the $5,000 threshold for felony prosecutions; (2) inserting an attempt clause that would prohibit attempts to dig or sell artifacts from federal lands; and (3) providing for a system requiring the certification of the origin of artifacts from private land.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Congress passed and the President signed into law legislation that implements this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director, NPS, to finalize and issue the proposed regulation on curation and exchange of archeological collections promptly and ensure that it includes sections addressing agency internal controls over artifacts and combined or single-agency inspections of curatorial facilities having artifact collections from more than one federal agency.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Regulations were published in the Federal Register in October 1990 which establish controls in accounting for the artifacts and inspections of facilities housing these artifacts.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Chief, Forest Service, to adopt Interior's curation regulation when it is issued.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Forest Service's Chief Archeologist said that the Forest Service has adopted the Interior curation regulation.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture should direct the heads of their respective agencies to coordinate to ensure that the curation regulation is implemented consistently with regard to requirements placed on nonfederal curatorial facilities.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to Interior officials, it will take about 4 years to implement this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture should direct the heads of their respective agencies to coordinate to ensure that the curation regulation is implemented consistently with regard to requirements placed on nonfederal curatorial facilities.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Since Interior will take about 4 years to implement this recommendation, the Forest Service's action will be delayed also.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture should direct the heads of their respective agencies to enter into an agreement whereby one or more qualified individuals are designated to conduct inspections of nonfederal curatorial facilities on behalf of the other agencies.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Forest Service's Chief Archeologist agreed with this recommendation and said that he believes that the Forest Service should be the agency designated in some instances, however, Interior's delay has put this on hold.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture should direct the heads of their respective agencies to enter into an agreement whereby one or more qualified individuals are designated to conduct inspections of nonfederal curatorial facilities on behalf of the other agencies.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to Interior, it will take about 4 years to implement this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture should direct the heads of their respective agencies to ascertain and request the funds and staff needed to establish complete and accurate records of artifacts removed from their lands and to inspect curatorial facilities in accordance with the regulation and implementing instructions.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to Interior, it will take about 4 years to implement this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture should direct the heads of their respective agencies to ascertain and request the funds and staff needed to establish complete and accurate records of artifacts removed from their lands and to inspect curatorial facilities in accordance with the regulation and implementing instructions.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Database has been started, therefore, this recommendation should be closed.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture should direct the heads of their respective agencies to use information included in the facilities' plans for correcting deficiencies noted during the agencies' initial inspection of these facilities, and summarize and report to Congress the: (1) magnitude of the deficiencies at nonfederal curatorial facilities; and (2) total cost and federal share of the cost of correcting these deficiencies.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: This recommendation cannot be implemented until Interior has defined the certification and inspection process. Interior will take about 4 years to do this.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture should direct the heads of the respective agencies to develop agency-wide guidelines that: (1) provide field offices criteria on when to prepare looting incident reports, for example, amount of disturbance and how recently the incident happened; and (2) require field offices to periodically revisit recorded sites to update site records.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Guidance was developed in March 1990 in the form of a Forest Service Handbook, which requires monitoring and reporting on curatorial facilities.

    Recommendation: The Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture should direct the heads of their respective agencies to use information included in the facilities' plans for correcting deficiencies noted during the agencies' initial inspection of these facilities, and summarize and report to Congress the: (1) magnitude of the deficiencies at nonfederal curatorial facilities; and (2) total cost and federal share of the cost of correcting these deficiencies.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to Interior, it will take about 4 years to implement this recommendation.

    Aug 11, 2014

    Jul 28, 2014

    Jul 16, 2014

    Jul 15, 2014

    Jul 9, 2014

    Jun 30, 2014

    Jun 16, 2014

    May 22, 2014

    May 21, 2014

    May 19, 2014

    Looking for more? Browse all our products here