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Special Section: Archaeopolitics

Forecasting Archaeology's Political Future

Loretta Neumann

I've been asked to give a forecast of the political future for archaeology, given the dramatic changes that have occurred this year in the Congress. Not an easy task. We've experienced upheavals before, such as when Ronald Reagan and the Senate Republicans swept into power in 1981. But this time is different. The new people who have come to the nation's capital have a much broader agenda. They don't want merely to change the way government works, they want to revamp it entirely. Some members of Congress who once seemed politically conservative now appear moderate. No federal program (except, perhaps, Defense) seems safe.

What happens in Congress does matter to archaeology. The federal government has great power, directly and indirectly, over the nation's archaeological record. Its regulatory arm helps to stop bulldozers from deliberately destroying sites. Its conservation agencies save resources in federally supported parks, historic sites, and museums. And its money funds scientific and scholarly research, fosters educational programs for the public, and supports state and local programs that benefit archaeological resources throughout the country.

So what does the future hold? Some bitter battles, I fear. The fight to save the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation--targeted for elimination in this year's budget process--was only the opening salvo. A similar effort is underway to eliminate the Council on Environmental Quality (the agency that guides implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act). Many provisions in House-passed bills implementing provisions of the Republican "Contract with America" would make it difficult if not impossible for federal regulators to promulgate rules to protect archaeological resources. Legislation is under consideration in both the House and Senate to give away to the states all the public lands in the West. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management programs for managing and protecting cultural resources are being slashed. The National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities are being cut severely and appear slated for extinction. The archaeology program almost got wiped out of the National Science Foundation. The list goes on and on.

Those of us who work on these issues daily don't just want to preserve the status quo. But we also don't want to toss out abruptly and thoughtlessly the processes and programs that have served us well, if not perfectly, for many years. If Congress wants to change things, then we must work with them to do it carefully. We need to decide which issues are worth fighting over, which ones can be reasonably compromised and which ones, if any, we can do without. We also need to look ahead toward the elections next year. In 1996 those who are running for re-election will have to be more responsive to the constituents who elected them. We need to communicate to the members of Congress--and to the candidates who challenge them--about the values of archaeology and the necessary role that the federal government plays in managing and protecting archaeological resources. The task may seem overwhelming, but we've proven many times before that we can do it. My forecast is that if we do our job well, archaeology will end up being better off than it is today, with more and not less support in the Congress, regardless of which political party is in power.

Loretta Neumann is president of CEHP Incorporated.

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