Current policy under the federal government was initially signed into law in the 1960s, but has been updated many times over the last 50+ years. Our research team reviewed the policies listed on this page as well as many state and local policies and ordinances. This list is not exhaustive, but does highlight some of the more consistent policy related to historic preservation. On our Policy Recommendations tab, you will find the team's suggested policy updates that provide undervalued and underrepresented communities equitable opportunities in historic preservation.
National Historic Preservation Act of 1965
The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 contained 3 major initiatives:
Advisory Council on Historic Preservation is made up of 23 public & private sector members. The role of the Council is to provide information to the President and Congress on preservation issues, to make policy recommendations and handle conflicts, and participate in the Section 106 review process.
Section 106 of the NHPA requires that each federal agency identify and assess the effects its actions may have on historic buildings. Under Section 106, each federal agency must consider public views and concerns about historic preservation issues when making final project decisions.
National Register of Historic Places: must meet at least one of four criteria (inclusion on this register makes sites eligible for grants, loans, and tax incentives, but does not automatically protect them from damage or destruction)
Criterion A, "Event", the property must make a contribution to the major pattern of American history.
Criterion B, "Person", is associated with significant people of the American past.
Criterion C, "Design/Construction", concerns the distinctive characteristics of the building by its architecture and construction, including having great artistic value or being the work of a master.
Criterion D, "Information potential", is satisfied if the property has yielded or may be likely to yield information important to prehistory or history
State Historic Preservation Office and Officer: coordinates statewide inventory of historic properties and can nominate sites to the National Register. Must also maintain a statewide preservation plan, and advise and educate local residents. Each state has this office, plus the District of Columbia, U.S. Territories (American Samoa, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Guam, US Virgin Islands), and Freely Associated States (the Federated States of Micronesia, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Republic of Palau). Indigenous communities also have a Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, designated by the tribe, with the same function of the SHPO on tribal lands.
The NHPA of 1966 mandated that each SHPO must conduct a review and update statewide historic preservation plans every 10 years. This process, which can take up to 2 years, includes input from the public and private sectors, as well as individuals and community groups. The state plans are required to meet minimum requirements set forth by the Secretary of the Interior that meet consistent nationwide goals.
Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979
This is a federal law that was passed to protect the archaeological resources on federal and tribal lands. It was enacted to protect these resources for the benefit of all Americans. The Act includes provisions on removal and disposition of artifacts.
The Secretary of the Interior's
Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties
With Guidelines for Preserving, Rehabilitating, Restoring,
and Reconstructing Historic Buildings
This updated version of the standards, originally codified in 1995, was released in 2016. In 2010, as the National Park Service approached its centennial anniversary, it announced a plan to examine procedures, guidelines, and standards within all programs to chart their path for the next 100 years. This updated document was part of that process. It includes an introduction and a chapter on each of the four types of projects: preservation, rehabilitation, restoration, and reconstruction of historic properties.
Native American Graves Protection
and Repatriation Act of 1990
The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) was passed in 1990. This law stipulates the procedure for returning, or repatriating, cultural items to indigenous Americans, including human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, or objects of cultural patrimony. Noncompliance and illegal trafficking are also penalized under this act.
The National Park Service: What is historic preservation and how does this agency support it?
The NPS employs archeologists, architects, curators, historians, landscape architects, and other cultural resource professionals who work both within national parks and outside of the system to preserve the past for future generations. The NPS believes preservation includes, “celebrating events, people, places, and ideas that we are proud of; other times it involves recognizing moments in our history that can be painful or uncomfortable to remember.”