July 2014 is a busy month for historic preservationists.  Over eight hundred people will converge on the city of Philadelphia for the 2014 FORUM Preservation Conference and other related meetings and events between July 16 and 20. 

This year, Pennsylvania’s annual gathering of its historic preservation community is considerably larger, with an expanded agenda, tours, meetings, and workshops.  This is due not only to the National Alliance of Preservation Commissions (NAPC) co-hosting the event but also because two other nationally significant organizations; the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) and the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers (NCSHPO) are holding their summer meetings in conjunction with the conference.  Both are based in Washington, DC and work to support historic preservation at the national level, but they have very different structures and missions.

ACHP LogoThe ACHP is an independent Federal agency created to advise The President of the United States on historic preservation policy.  All ACHP members are presidential appointees, including fourteen Federal agency cabinet level or senior policy officials, four historic preservation experts, a mayor, a governor, four members of the public and representatives of NAPC, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the National Alliance of Tribal Preservation Officers, and NCSHPO.  The ACHP meets three times a year to discuss national initiatives, programs and legislation and to develop national policy as it relates to Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act and its implementing regulation 36 CFR Part 800.  Most ACHP interaction with the preservation community and the public is through the full-time staff that supports the ACHP members.  The staff is primarily divided into two groups; the Federal Permitting, Licensing, and Assistance Section and the Federal Property Management Section.  Within these groups, staff is assigned to specific Federal agencies to work with those agencies, SHPOs and the interested public to ensure Federal compliance with the Section 106 regulations.

NCSHPO LogoBy contrast, NCSHPO is a small advocacy organization, focused on assisting State Historic Preservation Offices (SHPOs) in having a “voice” in Washington.  Unlike ACHP, NCSHPO is a membership based, non-government entity, whose mission is to advocate for the funding, mission and support of the State Historic Preservation Offices. Supported by an Executive Director and a small staff, NCSHPO is governed by a Board of Directors which is elected by the member states. Lead by an elected President, NCSHPO represents the interests of SHPOs at various Federal meetings and on Capitol Hill.  As NCSHPO’s President is also a member of the ACHP, this ensures that the state-level perspective is also considered during ACHP Federal agency discussions.

At first it may not seem like these organizations have much in common with the type of preservation that takes place at the regional or local level or the challenges we face in Pennsylvania.  However, what these organizations do at the “10,000-foot level” has far reaching impacts and implications on preservation everywhere. The ACHP meetings will take place over July 16 and 17, with committee meetings on the 16th and the business meeting the morning of the 17th. Open to the public, the business meetings are an excellent way to experience how Federal agencies address “big picture” preservation issues.  For this reason I strongly encourage everyone to attend the ACHP business meeting the morning of July 17.  NCSHPO will also be meeting on the 16th and 17th, but its meetings are not open to the public.  However, representatives of NCSHPO will be making a presentation at the business meeting on current and upcoming initiatives by SHPOs and the challenges they face in running comprehensive historic preservation programs.  Check the FORUM website for ACHP business meeting time/location, but keep in mind that seating will be very limited and on a first come first serve basis.

Even if you don’t work on the regulatory side of preservation, the policies initiated by the ACHP impacts all areas of preservation.  This meeting presents an opportunity to observe a wide range of Federal agencies discussing preservation and how it relates to the huge verity of agency missions. While certainly bureaucratic in nature, ACHP meetings are also a fascinating look at what forms and often drives preservation policy in the United States.