National Park Cultural Preservation Programs in Tatters
NAPA Finds Historic Resources “at Risk” due to Low Support and Poor Leadership
Washington, DC — The National Academy of Public Administration is sounding an alarm bell about the dire and declining state of archaeological sites, artifacts, archives, museums and historic properties in the custody of the National Park Service. Restoring competent leadership to cultural resource programs will be one of the major challenges for the next National Park Service (NPS) Director, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
The National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA), a respected independent non-profit network of top public management experts, issued the report, Saving Our History: Review of National Park Cultural Resource Programs, in October 2008. Among its findings are –
- “The Panel finds troubling the fact that there are currently 2,811 historic structures of national significance in poor condition” [emphasis in original];
- “NPS is failing to fulfill its public trust for museum collections, because 45 percent of its collections are not cataloged. As a result, 56 million items are irretrievable and unavailable to park staff, researchers, and the public”; and
- NPS is unprepared to cope with a “tidal wave” of retirements of its cultural resource program staff.
“Protecting and enhancing our national heritage should be a paramount mission of our National Park Service rather than an afterthought,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “The next Park Service Director really needs to sit down with this report.”
Among the disturbing trends highlighted by NAPA are –
- NPS cultural resource staffing has fallen to its lowest level in more than a dozen years, suffering a 27% drop in the period from 1995 to 2007 compared to natural resource staff which grew 31% during the same period;
- Funding for NPS cultural programs has remained static while “the responsibilities of park cultural resource programs have grown substantially, including the addition of 30 new parks, which are predominantly cultural and historical in value”; and
- The NPS cultural program was hamstrung by a disastrous 2005 reorganization. The NAPA report characterizes Washington Office leadership as disengaged and ineffective.
The report concludes that it is “an urgent priority” for the Park Service “to transform [its] Cultural Resources into a high-performing organization, with close oversight by the NPS Director’s office”.
“The Park Service has treated its cultural and historic programs like a dusty attic which requires no attention,” Ruch added, pointing out that earlier this year PEER actually had to sue NPS to protect the Little Bighorn National Battlefield from being marred by construction of a 200-seat theater at the base of Last Stand Hill. “While this NAPA report cites resource shortages, far more damning is its indictment of agency leadership.”