JUNE 13, 2000

Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to appear before your committee to present the views of the Department of the Interior on H.R. 4420, a bill to extend the authorization for the Southwestern Pennsylvania Heritage Preservation Commission for 10 years.

The Department would not object to H.R. 4420, if amended in accordance with this testimony.

Federal support for the Southwestern Pennsylvania Heritage Preservation Commission, and its designation as the lead agency for implementation of the America's Industrial Heritage Project, began in 1988 with the passage of legislation to establish the commission (Public Law 100-698). The purpose of the legislation was to bring together all levels of government to preserve and promote our nation’s rich cultural heritage associated with the iron and steel, coal, and transportation industries of the nine-county region in southwestern Pennsylvania known as the Allegheny Highlands. Over the last decade, the commission has made grants and loans to preserve sites and has coordinated the activities of Federal and non-Federal entities to further historic preservation and compatible economic revitalization in the region.

The work of the commission has been guided by the Action Plan-America's Industrial Heritage Project, a document produced in collaboration with the National Park Service in 1987. The plan documented potential historic sites related to the growth of industry in the region and suggested using these sites to promote tourism. Among the sites and entities that have benefited from Federal funding provided to the commission are the Johnstown Flood Museum, the Johnstown Area Heritage Association, the Altoona Railroaders Memorial Museum, and the Saltsberg Canal Park. Commission funding has also supported projects at four National Park Service units in the region—Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site, Fort Necessity National Battlefield, Friendship Hill National Historic Site, and Johnstown Flood National Memorial. Projects at those sites included completing park general management plans, renovating buildings, and conducting studies to document the significance of resources.

H.R. 4420 would extend the authority for the commission for an additional ten years, retroactive to November 18, 1998, when the original authorization for the commission expired. The legislation would also authorize $3,000,000 to be appropriated each year from Fiscal Years 2001 through 2010.

The Department does not object to extending authority for the commission if several changes are made to H.R. 4420 to make this legislation more consistent with authorizations Congress has passed in recent years for other national heritage areas. These changes will require several amendments to the 1988 legislation.

First, we recommend adding language to H.R. 4420 that would eliminate the authority of the commission to make loans that is contained in Section 104(a) of P.L. 100-698. The Administration objects to management entities for national heritage areas having such authority. No criteria or administrative guidelines have been developed for heritage areas to ensure that the taxpayers’ funds are being used properly. For heritage area management entities with limited administrative resources, it is a serious burden to set up payment schedules, underwriting, and loan servicing sufficient to provide confidence that a loan program is using Federal funds in an accountable manner.

Second, we recommend modifying the requirements for appointing members to the commission that are contained in Section 101 of P.L. 100-698. Section 101 requires the Secretary of the Interior to appoint members who are recommended by various entities, which is not consistent with the Appointments Clause of the United States Constitution. We recommend amending Section 101 to provide that the Secretary shall consider these recommendations only, and not be bound by them.

Third, we recommend requiring that the 1987 management plan for the commission be updated to guide the roles of the commission and the National Park Service for the next ten years. The new plan should include an inventory of resources that need to be protected, set forth policies and actions to protect and interpret those resources, and detail the way in which the work of different governmental entities will be coordinated. The plan should be developed with public participation and submitted to the Secretary for approval within two years after enactment of this legislation.

Fourth, we recommend authorizing the Secretary to provide technical assistance to the commission for the following purposes: 1) for the development of the new management plan; 2) for design and development of interpretive exhibits and programs, and 3) for preservation and restoration of properties on or eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.

Fifth, we recommend changing the authorization of appropriations for the commission contained in H.R. 4420 to make it consistent with the terms for funding contained in other national heritage area bills passed in recent years and under consideration by Congress this year. Thus, we recommend changing the bill’s annual authorization of $3 million for Fiscal Years 2001 through 2010 to $1 million. In addition, we recommend limiting the total authorization to $10 million. We support maintaining the requirement for a 50 percent non-Federal match which is contained in the original authorization. It is important to remember that Federal assistance for heritage areas was never intended to be permanent, and that Federal funding for well-established areas may need to be phased out to provide funding for newly established areas that need Federal assistance.

Sixth, we recommend conforming the timing of the existence of the commission to the timing of the authorization of appropriations for the commission. As drafted, H.R. 4420 would extend the commission from November 19, 1998 to November 19, 2008, but would authorize funding for the commission from Fiscal Years 2001 through 2010. We recommend resolving that inconsistency by starting the ten-year period of authorization for the commission from Fiscal Year 2001.

Finally, we recommend adding a provision that would help ensure that the use of any funds remaining after the commission expires is determined by an organization that is representative of the diverse interests of the region. Section 104(e) of P.L. 100-698 provides that when the commission expires, any remaining property or funds are to be transferred to other governmental entities, or to a non-profit organization, or a combination of the two. We recommend providing that funds may not be transferred to an organization unless the Secretary first determines that the organization is representative of the various interests of the region, just as the commission is.

We would be pleased to work with the subcommittee and the bill’s sponsor to develop the appropriate language to implement the changes described above.

Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to comment. This concludes my prepared remarks and I will be happy to answer any questions you may have.