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H.R. 1522, National Historic Preservation Act Reauthorization

 

STATEMENT OF ROBERT A. PECK
COMMISSIONER

PUBLIC BUILDINGS SERVICE
GENERAL SERVICES ADMINISTRATION
BEFORE THE
SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS AND PUBLIC LANDS
COMMITTEE ON RESOURCES
UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

OCTOBER 21, 1997

 

MR. PECK- Mr. Chairman, Mr. Faleomavaega, and Members of the Subcommittee, as Commissioner of the Public Buildings Service, I am pleased to appear before you today to support extending the authorization for the National Historic Preservation Fund and to discuss our historic preservation program in the General Services Administration.

We are proud that the President has announced his intention to designate the Administrator of the General Services Administration - Dave Barram - as a member on the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

Our historic preservation program has been a success because of our partnership with the National Park Service in the Department of the Interior, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, our client Federal agencies, and with States, local governments, Indian tribes, and the private sector.

In planning renovation, construction, and property disposal, GSA works hard to preserve the architectural, cultural, social, and historical integrity of affected buildings, neighborhoods, archeological sites, American Indian sacred sites, and other places of cultural value. Our agency is committed to a strong policy of support for the vitality of our central cities and to the preservation of our cultural heritage.

Of the 1800 buildings in our inventory, two hundred are on the National Register. We have approximately another 200 buildings that are eligible for listing. Twelve are individually listed National Historic Landmarks. We are proud of our record at GSA in stewardship of our inventory.

Let me cite a few good examples of stewardship, starting with one near and dear to my own heart. I grew up in Washington, and the D.C. Preservation League Don't Tear It Down, as it was then called - led to the preservation of the Old Post Office Building, an 1899 neo-Romanesque structure. It was renovated, successfully preserved, and reopened in 1983. In St. Paul, Minnesota, an almost identical GSA building was rehabbed. In San Francisco, we rehabbed the U.S. Court of Appeals. If you get to San Francisco, please go see it. It is magnificent. We infilled the courtyard, with the appropriate approvals, with a very modern addition that is intriguing and compatible with the architecture.

GSA is rehabbing courthouses where we can. We are not abandoning them. Where we build new buildings, we believe we are building landmarks that people in the next century will be fighting hard to save. Every building that we build, every building that we own has to be regarded as an investment in our country, in our communities, and in our citizens.

My point, obviously, is that we have a long history of Federal government architecture. We have built a magnificent legacy for our people. I think that in partnership with local communities we can take that legacy a bit further.

Going back some 20 years, the Congress and the President enacted a law called the Public Buildings Cooperative Use Act. That law allowed "mixed uses" in Federal buildings by encouraging the location of commercial, cultural, educational, and recreational activities in the buildings. It also directed the Administrator of General Services, when acquiring, constructing, or renovating public buildings, to acquire and use space in historic buildings. What that act really did was to kick off a renaissance in GSA in stewardship of our historic buildings.

GSA's "Public Buildings Heritage Program" is designed to inform the public through interpretive exhibits - of the history and importance of Federal public structures. We have installed interpretive exhibits - developed in cooperation with local preservation organizations -- in Federal buildings across the nation. Our goal is to have interpretive information in all GSA National Register Federal buildings.

Similarly, our "Good Neighbor Program" is kicking off a new community spirit in GSA. The program emphasizes that our buildings are and should be vital components of their communities. Consistent with security concerns and the operational needs of the Federal agencies in our buildings, we can provide free or at-cost space to qualified organizations for cultural, recreational, or educational use.

The National Historic Preservation Act provides for alternative uses of historic properties. Section 111, which we strongly support, allows a historic property to be outleased, provided the lease will adequately ensure preservation of the property. Rents collected from GSA's outleased historic properties can be used exclusively for preservation of its historic buildings. We are working to identify and encourage new outleases in historic buildings which we no longer need to house Federal agencies. For example, we are soliciting offers to preserve and develop the General Post Office, also known as the Tariff Commission Building, which is a National Historic Landmark.

In accordance with Executive Order 12072, we are telling Federal agencies that our first obligation is to find them space in the central business areas of cities. Unless their mission - and, sometimes these days, their security requirements do not allow them to go downtown, or if the economics just don't make sense at all, we will look for spade in central business areas.

Executive Order 13006 -- on which we were happy to work with the National Trust for Historic Preservation -- takes that further and asks us to use space where we can in historic districts and in individual landmark buildings. We work hard in the Public Buildings Service to make sure that we use the historic resources that are available and that what we are doing responds to local plans.

I do not believe that it is necessary to codify Executive Order 13006. 1 firmly believe that GSA and other Federal agencies will vigorously and effectively implement the President's directive to give first consideration to historic properties in historic districts when appropriate and feasible -just as we have vigorously and effectively implemented the location requirements of Executive Order 12072. Executive Order 12072 consistently has been construed by the Federal courts as a Presidential directive that has the force and effect of law. I am confident that Executive Order 13006 will be similarly construed as a directive that has the force and effect of law.

Furthermore, I am concerned that Section 1 of H.R. 1522 establishes a priority for historic properties without taking into consideration the requirements of the Rural Development Act (which requires agencies to give first priority to locating Federal buildings in rural areas) and the location policy in Executive Order 12072. Currently, GSA reconciles these mandates according to the mission and requirements of its client agencies. Section 2 of Executive Order 13006 provides the necessary flexibility and discretion in locating Federal facilities on historic properties. I believe that some clarification is needed to ensure the effective implementation of our historic preservation objectives together with our rural and urban location policies.

We need a partnership because we are a customer service agency. We service Federal agency clients. Sometimes to get them to go into old buildings and into downtowns, we need to convince them, as you would any firm thinking about locating in your town, that this is a good place to be. It can be done. Even in an era of very tough security requirements following the bombing of the Oklahoma City building, this can be done. Public buildings are not just places where the public business is conducted. They are a part of the nation's legacy -- a symbol to the American people in each community of our democratic form of government.

We are stewarding our properties, I believe, in an appropriate way. We are not only building for the people of the United States of America, we are reinvesting and preserving for the people of the United States of America.

This concludes my testimony, Mr. Chairman, and I would be happy to answer any questions which the Subcommittee may wish to address.