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.
Visit our Federal Legislative Update page for information on recent bills that have been introduced or acted upon in Congress that could affect the preservation of historic properties.