Statement of Barbara Handy Pahl
Director, Mountains/Plains Regional Office
National Trust for Historic Preservation
February 17, 1998

Senator Baucus, members of the Committee, it is a pleasure to appear before you today to testify on behalf of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The National Trust, a nonprofit organization with more than 270,000 members and six regional offices across the nation, was chartered by Congress in 1949 to promote public participation in historic preservation and to engage the private sector in preserving our nation's heritage. As the leader of the national historic preservation movement, the National Trust is committed to saving America's diverse historic places and to preserving and revitalizing communities nationwide.

Today, we have been asked to provide our views on the coordination between the General Services Administration ("GSA") and local governments, and other interested parties, with regard to GSA's real property actions, such as the leasing of space for federal agencies or the construction of new federal facilities. Over the past eighteen years, the National Trust has helped promote the economic good health of more than 1,300 local communities through its Main Street Program, a comprehensive, a locally managed program of historic preservation and coordinated commercial management. In addition to our direct experience in downtown revitalization, the National Trust has a longstanding involvement on a national level in urging the General Services Administration and other federal agencies to fully comply with federal historic preservation law and national policies benefiting our nation's traditional commercial centers.

Nationwide, GSA controls almost 300 million square feet of office space in more than 8,000 buildings, providing space for more than one million federal employees. The National Trust is particularly concerned about the activities of federal agencies, such as GSA, whose programs and policies have wide-reaching power to affect America's historic areas, particularly our traditional central business districts. Consequently, on May 2, 1996, the National Trust and the General Services Administration convened an Urban Issues Roundtable, attended by David Barram, GSA Administrator, Robert Peck, Commissioner of GSA's Public Buildings Services, as well as nonprofit urban interest groups and historic preservation advocates. Participants in the roundtable engaged in constructive dialogue about national locational policies for federal buildings and worked to identify areas for mutual activity in the adaptation of historic buildings for contemporary federal use. Soon after the Urban Issues Roundtable, President Clinton signed Executive Order 13006.

Currently the Mountains/Plains Regional Office is continuing the National Trust's advocacy efforts by working with staff of GSA's Region 8, local government representatives, historic preservationists, and downtown revitalization advocates to promote full community participation in GSA projects in Salt Lake City, Utah, and Butte, Montana. The National Trust's primary goal in both cities is to ensure implementation of Executive Order 13006 and compliance with the National Historic Preservation Act.

Public Input and Local Community Involvement are Critical Components of Federal Law and National Policy Regarding the Preservation of Historic Resources and the Strengthening of Downtown Commercial Centers.

The General Services Administration -- and, in fact, each federal agency -- has a responsibility to protect and utilize historic buildings and districts. Importantly, Executive Orders 12072 and 13006, as well as the National Historic Preservation Act and Public Buildings Cooperative Use Act, expressly link the federal government's historic preservation responsibilities with an affirmative obligation to consult with and consider the views of local government, community leaders, and other interested parties.

-- Executive Order 12072, issued by President Carter in August 1978, strengthens our nation's cities by committing federal agencies to a policy of establishing new federal buildings within the central business districts of metropolitan areas. In implementing Executive Order 12072, GSA must seriously consider the impact that the location or relocation of a federal facility will have on the social, economic, environmental, and cultural conditions of the affected local community. In meeting federal space needs, GSA must consider recommendations provided by representatives of local government.

-- Executive Order 13006, which complements Executive Order 12072 and was issued by President Clinton in May 1996, establishes that the federal government "shall utilize and maintain ... historic properties and districts, especially those located in our central business areas." Executive Order 13006 directs GSA, and other federal agencies, to form partnerships with local governments and appropriate private organizations to enhance their participation in the National Historic Preservation Program. These partnerships are to "embody the principles of administrative flexibility, reduced paperwork, and increased service to the public."

-- National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 directs federal agencies to provide "leadership in the preservation of ... historic resources" and "encourage the public and private ... utilization of all usable elements of the Nation's historic built environment." A key element of the Act is the Section 106 review process in which the impacts of federally funded or approved projects are evaluated and alternative approaches are explored to reduce adverse impacts to historic resources. Section 106 consultation is frequently the only forum available to help local communities seeking to protect their traditional commercial downtowns, when those areas are threatened by federal agency actions. Consequently, federal regulations implementing Section 106 require that local governments be given the opportunity to participate in the mandatory consultation process whenever the federal undertaking may affect historic properties within the local government's jurisdiction.

-- Public Buildings Cooperative Use Act of 1976 directs the federal government to locate federal facilities in suitable structures of "historic, architectural, or cultural significance," unless such a location would not be feasible and prudent when compared with available alternatives. Further, the Act states that GSA has an affirmative obligation to consult with local government, and seek comments from community leaders and members of the general public, whenever the agency constructs, alters, or otherwise acquires space for federal agencies.

Despite these Mandates, the General Services Administration has an Uneven Record of Community Involvement and Historic Preservation.

The General Services Administration has demonstrated that it can fulfill the spirit and letter of Executive Order 13006:

-- Savannah, Georgia: To its credit, in Savannah GSA has involved local input -- early and often -- in a federal courthouse project set in a historic district. For example, GSA appointed Savannah historic preservation experts as jurors in the "Design Excellence Program" competition that selects the design architect.

-- Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania: With help from Congressman Paul Kanjorski and the mayor of Wilkes-Barre, GSA decided to convert a historic brewery into a new, 120,000 square foot federal agency complex. The historic preservation project is viewed locally as the foundation for economic revitalization of downtown Wilkes- Barre, and GSA is seen as a valuable partner in the community's redevelopment.

-- Casa Grande, Arizona: After considerable advocacy by the local government and Main Street program, GSA was convinced to lease space for a branch office of the Social Security Administration in an area of Casa Grande which will soon be listed on the National Register. After seriously considering construction of a new facility outside of downtown, GSA was persuaded to join the local revitalization effort.

Elsewhere, unfortunately, GSA has not done so well:

-- Clarksburg, West Virginia: GSA missed an opportunity to demonstrate the cost-effectiveness of preservation in a historic downtown when, instead of actively pursuing a preservation solution, GSA decided to consolidate federal offices into a new building. The new facility will be constructed by a private developer and leased to the federal government. GSA's original plans gave no consideration to renovating historic buildings for federal use. Later, when community reaction compelled GSA to consider leasing a turn-of-the-century building in a National Register historic district, GSA established impossible hurdles to preservation by greatly inflating the costs of rehabilitation in comparison to new construction. Eventually GSA went through the motions of complying with Executive Order 13006 and the National Historic Preservation Act but in a manner that treated the agency's preservation responsibilities as an empty paper exercise.

-- Salt Lake City, Utah: In Salt Lake, GSA proposes to construct a new annex to a historic federal courthouse. Although the federal courts will remain downtown in furtherance of the Executive Orders, the project may adversely affect significant historic resources, including the Oddfellows Building and Moss Courthouse, both listed on the National Register of Historic Places, as well as the locally designated Exchange Place Historic District. Regrettably, GSA conducted its early planning processes without community input and is now attempting to move through the Section 106 review on a compressed schedule. The Utah State Historic Preservation Office and nonprofit Utah Heritage Foundation expressed interest and offered assistance as early as December 1996, but were not invited to participate in meaningful consultation until December 1997. In the meantime, key decisions were made. For instance, the project architect was selected in the "Design Excellence Program" competition with no involvement of Salt Lake architects or preservation experts. Unfortunately, although a genuine effort is underway to establish a constructive consultation process, GSA project staff lack experience with historic resources, are unfamiliar with federal preservation mandates, and, perhaps most important, seem reluctant to respect input from the local community or interested parties.

-- Butte, Montana: In Butte, GSA is seeking to lease new space for the federal Military Entrance Processing Station ("MEPS") which serves the state of Montana. The leasing action may result in the abandonment of the federal agency's longtime home in the historic Finlen Hotel and relocation of the facility outside of the Uptown area, Butte's traditional commercial core, which has been designated a National Historic Landmark District. As you will hear from others involved in this matter, from the outset GSA made critical mistakes, including not contacting the Butte-Silver Bow Urban Redevelopment Agency. Despite the combined efforts of the Butte-Silver Bow Urban Redevelopment Agency and Historic Preservation Office, Montana State Historic Preservation Office, Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and National Trust to ensure that GSA and MEPS implement Executive Order 13006 and comply with the National Historic Preservation Act, we remain concerned that historic buildings have been unnecessarily excluded from consideration and that the MEPS facility may be moved out of the Butte National Historic Landmark District.

Recommendation: The General Services Administration Should Broaden the Agency's "Good Neighbor Program" Beyond Business Improvement Districts.

In September 1996, GSA Administrator David Barram announced the "Good Neighbor Program," a new and constructive public/private partnership with urban downtown associations, which calls for GSA to become a full participant in the nation's business improvement districts ("BIDs"). This was a bold move that has produced good results for many communities. The GSA should be commended for establishing its Good Neighbor Program.

However, the establishment of a BID, which typically does not encompass a community's entire central business area, is only one of many possible funding mechanisms a community can use to revitalize and manage its downtown. Consequently, GSA's partnerships to invigorate BIDs may not reach the economic and civic life of the whole downtown, and certainly does not assist those communities that have not established such special districts. As a result, in the National Trust's experience, some Main Street communities have had a difficult time figuring out how to negotiate the establishment of the sort of public/private partnership with GSA contemplated by Administrator Barram.

In order for the General Services Administration to help leverage the significant investment in economic development and downtown revitalization made by local communities, the National Trust recommends that GSA fully embrace the concept of its Good Neighbor Program and take steps to broaden this worthy program's scope beyond America's Business Improvement Districts.

Recommendation: The General Services Administration Should Issue Implementing Guidelines for Executive Order 13006.

President Clinton signed Executive Order 13006 in May 1996. Today, almost two years later, the GSA has not issued any formal guidance on the implementation of the Executive Order. As the federal government's main landlord and real estate developer, it is incumbent upon the GSA to show clear leadership in realizing the practical benefits of Executive Order 13006 in the field. Therefore, the National Trust recommends that GSA complete, circulate for review and officially issue the necessary implementation guidelines, which should provide for at least the following actions:

-- Partnerships: GSA must promote the establishment and cultivation of working relationships with local governments, community leaders, and interested parties. GSA must provide adequate guidance, and hold GSA staff accountable, for consulting with local partners.

-- Policy Reform: GSA and all federal agencies must systematically reform all policies and procedures that impede the use of historic structures for federal office location. For example, GSA employs an "acceptable reinvestment level" policy whereby GSA requires that renovation of historic structures must cost 60 percent or less than the cost of constructing a replacement structure of comparable size. GSA must set new standards for economic feasibility and operational appropriateness that meet the spirit and letter of Executive Order 13006.

-- Price Evaluation Preference: Pursuant to Executive Order 13006, GSA must adopt measures that offer a new and substantial "bottom line" preference to historic properties. Pursuant to the Public Buildings Cooperative Use Act, GSA already offers a 10-percent "historic preference" to offerors of space in historic buildings. To implement Executive Order 13006, GSA must increase the percentage amount of the price evaluation preference, and explore and institute other measures that actively promote federal utilization of historic buildings and districts.

-- Training for GSA Staff and for Client Agencies: GSA must require training for GSA staff -- and should offer training opportunities to other federal agencies -- to assure that the federal government meets its statutory historic preservation responsibilities. More important, however, GSA must provide its staff with the training, guidance, and incentives necessary to promote widespread use of the practical, entrepreneurial real estate development methods that have made the rehabilitation and adaptive use of historic buildings a successful tool of downtown revitalization by both the private and public sectors.

-- Accountability and Incentives for Implementation: Today, the bottom line for GSA locational policies and real property development decisions is time and money. In recognition of the national policy articulated by Executive Order 13006, GSA must work to change this aspect of its institutional culture. The agency must provide adequate incentives, and hold GSA staff accountable, for full implementation of Executive Orders 12072 and 13006, as well as the National Historic Preservation Act and Public Buildings Cooperative Use Act, for the benefit of the nation's downtowns.

Recommendation: The U.S. Congress Should Codify Executive Order 13006.

Recognizing that the persuasive power of Executive Order 13006 may not be sufficient to reaffirm the federal government's leadership in historic preservation and downtown revitalization, the National Trust recommends that Executive Order 13006 be made law. Congressman Joel Hefley has introduced H.R. 1522, the Historic Preservation Fund Reauthorization, which includes the language of Executive Order 13006. The National Trust enthusiastically supports H.R. 1522.

Senator Baucus, this concludes my testimony. Thank you for the opportunity to testify before this Committee.