National Historic Preservation Act

With passage of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) in 1966, Congress made the federal government a full partner and a leader in historic preservation. While Congress recognized that national goals for historic preservation could best be achieved by supporting the drive, enthusiasm, and wishes of local citizens and communities, it understood that the federal government must set an example through enlightened policies and practices.

In the words of the NHPA, the federal government's role is to "provide leadership" for preservation, "contribute to" and "give maximum encouragement" to preservation, and "foster conditions under which our modern society and our prehistoric and historic resources can exist in productive harmony."  Indeed, an underlying motivation for passage of the NHPA was to transform the federal government from an agent of indifference, frequently responsible for needless loss of historic resources, to a facilitator, an agent of thoughtful change, and a responsible steward for future generations.

Section 106 of the NHPA requires that federal agencies take into account the effects of their actions on historic properties and give the ACHP an opportunity to comment on any effects. The ACHP has issued regulations that guide how agencies should fulfill this responsibility.

Other Federal Preservation Legislation

While the National Historic Preservation Act is the most comprehensive federal law dealing with historic preservation, there are numerous other statutes that relate to various aspects of the federal historic preservation program. These range from the protection of archaeological sites on Federal lands, to the recognition of properties of traditional cultural or religious significance to Native Americans, to protection of historic shipwrecks. For a full list of these laws, visit the National Park Service's web page, Federal Historic Preservation Laws, Regulations, and Orders.

The ACHP advises the President and Congress on historic preservation issues, particularly in the context of federal policy and legislation.

Executive Orders

Several Executive Orders address historic preservation. Executive Orders are issued by the President to federal agencies regarding operations of the federal government. They remain in force unless they are revoked.

  1. This order moves to accommodate access to and ceremonial use of Indian sacred sites by Indian religious practitioners, and avoid affecting the physical integrity of those sites in any adverse way.
  2. The Preserve America Executive Order directs federal agencies to advance the protection, enhancement, and contemporary use of federal historic properties and to promote partnerships for the preservation and use of historic properties, particularly through heritage tourism.
  3. The Federal Government has undertaken various efforts to revitalize central cities, which have historically served as centers for growth and commerce in metropolitan areas. Executive Order 13006 directs federal agencies to utilize and maintain, wherever operationally appropriate and economically prudent, historic properties and districts, especially those located in central business areas.
  4. In order to protect and restore rivers and their adjacent communities, the American Heritage Rivers initiative has three objectives: natural resource and environmental protection, economic revitalization, and historic and cultural preservation.
  5. By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, and in order to establish regular and meaningful consultation and collaboration with tribal officials in the development of Federal policies that have tribal implications, to strengthen the United States government-to-government relationships with Indian tribes,