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S. 1365, S. 1434, and H.R. 834, National Historic Preservation

 

STATEMENT OF ROBERT A. PECK
COMMISSIONER

PUBLIC BUILDINGS SERVICE
GENERAL SERVICES ADMINISTRATION
BEFORE THE
SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, HISTORIC PRESERVATION AND RECREATION
COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES

OCTOBER 21, 1999

 

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee, my name is Robert Peck and I am the Commissioner of GSA's Public Buildings Service. Thank you for inviting me to comment on bills before Congress that would extend the authorization for the National Historic Preservation Fund and enact other related provisions.

The Administration supports the reauthorization of the Historic Preservation Fund and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation through fiscal year 2005. The Administration strongly believes that these programs need to be reauthorized as soon as possible and hopes that Congress will pass a measure before it adjourns this year.

We believe that historic properties, sites and districts are vital parts of the country's rich buildings heritage and are critical to the healthy civic life of our nation's communities. GSA has 455 buildings either listed on, or potentially eligible for, the National Register of Historic Places. These buildings provide about one fourth or 55 million square feet of the space in our inventory. Another way that GSA promotes the revitalization and sustainability of older urban areas is by leasing historic buildings in central cities when operationally and economically prudent. GSA continues to place a high priority on the continued use and diligent stewardship of our historic buildings inventory.

I want to raise with you, however, a significant programmatic concern with section 6 of S. 1434 and section 5 of H.R. 834. As currently drafted, these sections would codify a portion of Executive Order (EO) 13006. While we strongly support this Executive Order, we do not support its codification in this form. These bills would require agencies, where operationally appropriate and economically prudent, to give first consideration to historic properties in historic districts, and then to historic properties outside of historic districts. This codification of only the location priorities in EO 13006 would have the adverse affect of 1) superceding the Administration's urban location policy contained in EO 12072; and 2) ignoring Section 601 of Title VI of the Rural Development Act of 1972, which requires agencies to give first priority to locating Federal buildings in rural areas. The manner in which the existing laws and Executive Orders are drafted and implemented permits GSA to reconcile these mandates according to the mission and requirements of our client agencies.

Not only would the bills, as drafted, render the real estate decision-making process more inflexible, the proposed codification of only select provisions of the Executive Order would adversely affect our ability to fully integrate the use of historic properties into our day to day real estate business. Codification, in general, tends to result in agencies following a rigid set of rote procedures. Codification of only select provisions from the Executive Order may defeat the open-minded, flexible, creative decision-making and design that is necessary when encouraging the continued viability and development of historic properties and that is found in EO 13006.

1 note in passing that, in response to codification, agencies generally tend to establish procedures that will withstand judicial scrutiny when measured against a statute's standards. In other words, agencies may be predisposed not to locate in a historic building, and therefore not use creative energy to try to find ways to utilize the building. Codification could potentially encourage agencies to only meet the "operationally appropriate and economically prudent" standard.

In addition to the location codification concerns, I am also concerned about the provision in section 5 of H.R. 834 that states that "any rehabilitation or construction that is undertaken affecting historic properties must be architecturally compatible with the character of the surrounding historic district or properties." I believe this language is too restrictive and open to considerable interpretation. As already required by the National Historic Preservation Act, GSA takes into account the effect of any rehabilitation or construction work on historic properties and works with State Historic Preservation Officers to address local preservation concerns. We do not support additional restrictions, and therefore recommend that this portion of section 5 be deleted from the bill.

In summary, Mr. Chairman, we support S. 1365. We also support S. 1434 and H.R. 834 and seek amendments that remedy the concerns previously noted. We stand ready to assist the Committee in drafting language that will preserve the priorities and guidance contained in EO 13006 and Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, while allowing us to balance stewardship with our obligation to provide suitable housing to our Federal agency clients. Again, thank you for inviting GSA to provide a written statement.