STATEMENT OF KATHERINE H. STEVENSON, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, CULTURAL RESOURCE STEWARDSHIP AND PARTNERSHIPS, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS AND PUBLIC LANDS, HOUSE COMMITTEE ON RESOURCES CONCERNING H.R. 1606 TO AMEND THE OMNIBUS PARKS AND PUBLIC LANDS MANAGEMENT ACT OF 1996 TO AUTHORIZE ADDITIONAL APPROPRIATIONS FOR HISTORICALLY BLACK COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES.
Thank you for the opportunity to present the Department of the Interior’s views on H.R. 1606, which authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to make matching grants of $530 million to historically black colleges and universities to preserve and repair buildings listed on, or eligible to be listed on, the National Register of Historic Places under the authority of Section 507 of Public Law 104-333. The bill also includes a provision that would permit the non-Federal matching share to be reduced from 50 percent to 30 percent of total costs of the project.
In 1988, the National Park Service cosponsored a survey and assessment of historic properties on the campuses of historically black colleges and universities. The intent of the survey was to identify, assess, and prioritize historic properties and initiate a coordinated effort to support the restoration of the properties that were deemed the highest priority. Building on this survey, the General Accounting Office conducted a study in 1997-98 to identify historic properties at the 103 historically black colleges and universities, and to provide cost estimates for these restorations. Respondents identified 712 historic properties (mostly buildings), of which 323 were already on the National Register of Historic Places. According to the information provided, an estimated $755 million is needed to restore and preserve the 712 historic properties.
In Section 507 of Public Law 104-333, Congress authorized $29 million, which was eventually appropriated for the preservation and restoration of historic buildings at historically black colleges and universities, and specified that of the amount to be appropriated, $23 million in grants would be earmarked for thirteen particular colleges and universities. Since this law was passed, the Administration included funding for this program in its annual budgets. Funding provided in the fiscal year 2001 Interior Appropriations Act, Public Law 106-291, completed the 12 ongoing projects authorized in the 104th Congress.
The Department has major concerns with H.R. 1606. First, we are concerned that when funds are appropriated to carry out this Act, it would reduce the overall amount of funds available from the Historic Preservation Fund to States and Indian tribes. The Department strongly supports the principle that States – not the Federal government – are best suited to determine the highest priorities for awarding grants under the Historic Preservation Fund. Under the current competitive process, the Department allocates funds to States and Indian tribes who approve grants to projects that meet certain criteria. There are many very worthy projects, including numerous other historic buildings, in need of assistance from the Historic Preservation Fund.
Second, the Department believes that the provision to lower the non-Federal matching share under H.R. 1606 is unnecessary. The 50 percent non-Federal matching share for grants under the Historic Preservation Fund is required under the National Historic Preservation Act. We recognize that, in some cases, raising a 50 percent non-Federal matching share can be difficult. In fact, under Public Law 104-333, the Secretary currently is authorized to waive the matching requirement on a case-by-case basis if the circumstance is an extreme emergency or such a waiver is in the public interest. To date, only one historically black college or university has submitted a specific proposal for a waiver of the matching requirement from the Secretary. The school demonstrated that it had a viable project that was in the public interest, and thus, the Secretary granted the waiver. We believe that this case-by-case approach is more appropriate than a general reduction in the matching requirement.
Third, we note that previously appropriated funds have been expended at a very slow rate, suggesting that applicants have not been able to find sufficient matching funds. Of the $29 million authorized by Public Law 104-333, only $7 million has been expended thus far. The National Park Service has worked closely with each applicant throughout the process. Site visits also have been conducted at each college and university that has an approved historic grant. Many of the colleges and universities that have approved grants are now ready to move forward with raising the non-Federal matching share and hiring contractors to begin preliminary site work. We plan on contacting each of these colleges and universities to discuss ways that the National Park Service can assist them in spending the $22 million that has already been appropriated.
For the above reasons, the Department opposes H.R.1606.
There are other sources of funding for historic preservation work that could be available to historically black colleges and universities. One example is the Save America’s Treasures program that awards grants for preservation and conservation work on nationally significant intellectual and cultural artifacts and nationally significant historic structures and sites. We will work with historically black colleges and universities to ensure they receive special notice on when the application process begins on the fiscal year 2002 Save America’s Treasures competitive grants program and provide any needed guidance and assistance.
The Department recognizes that historic buildings on these campuses are important national historic treasures worthy of our care and attention. We would be pleased to work with the Committee to address the concerns outlined in our testimony.
This concludes my prepared testimony, Mr. Chairman. I would be pleased to answer any questions you or other committee members may have.