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Special Section: Archaeopolitics

Changing Times for the Government Affairs Committee

Judith A. Bense


The Government Affairs Committee of the Society for American Archaeology was formed about 25 years ago during one of the most formative phases of modern historic preservation and archaeology. Committee members have been involved in the growth and development of historic preservation at the federal level since that time. In addition to recommending policy positions for SAA on archaeological issues, members also lobby and keep track of problems, legislation, and federal agencies. Committee members have been pro-active from the start, especially through direct lobbying and encouraging grassroots support and pressure for specific archaeological concerns.

A Short History

At first, committee members were SAA's only lobbyists, dealing directly with legislators and their staffs. In the 1980s, Loretta Neumann and the Washington lobbying firms with which she was associated were contracted by SAA to lobby Congress, track archaeology legislation, and implement the policies set by the society. Neumann, now president of CEHP (Conservation, Environment, and Historic Preservation) Incorporated, had a long history of productive service to SAA.

Recently, the SAA Executive Board decided to shift to a staff position for lobbying as one part of a long-range plan to phase out previously contracted services and develop in-house capabilities in many areas. Today, the government affairs program is part of the SAA organization under the management of Donald F. Craib. At the April 1995 annual meeting, I became chair of the Government Affairs Committee and planned to spend my first year helping with the transition to the new program while redefining the role of the committee.

A New World

For the past few years Washington has been fairly quiet. Historic preservation action has concentrated on amending existing legislation, increasing budgets for existing programs such as the National Science Foundation and the Historic Preservation Fund, and lobbying for new programs such as "Legacy" in the Department of Defense.

As most of you know, things have changed in a hurry in Washington beginning with the November 1994 elections. Scores of new influential players, most of whom are not known to us, flooded the halls of Congress. Washington became politically charged and explosive almost overnight. For the first time in a long time, federal support for historic preservation and archaeology faced serious and critical review by legislators and their staffs bent on cutting the budget to meet the goals of the "Contract With America." The so-far-unsuccessful proposal to cut funding for the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation is a good example of how quickly the new decision-makers can act and can catch all of us by surprise. In addition, this fall the Advisory Council comes under scrutiny for reauthorization, and we hear that the House Resources Committee Subcommittee on Parks, Forest, and Lands Subcommittee is considering holding oversight hearings on aspects of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA).

The political atmosphere in Washington is steeped with concern over federal government programs. Very basic questions are being asked about the federal government's role in historic preservation by the new leaders in Congress. Those of us who lobbied in Washington and at home this summer found considerable support for archaeology and historic preservation. There is serious concern and support for preserving and responsibly managing our national heritage in the new Congress, accompanied by the sentiment of "let's not throw the baby out with the bath water." This support was demonstrated this summer with the defeat or reduction of proposals to cut funding for the Advisory Council, the Historic Preservation Fund, and the National Trust. It is our responsibility to mobilize that support in Congress.

The Government Affairs Committee is responding to these changing times in both structural and procedural ways. Donald Craib adds a new structural dimension to the committee and the society. The upheaval in Congress has fast-tracked the evolution of structural change in the SAA government affairs program and the committee. As described, the new government affairs system has already provided a new strength for SAA: our increased ability to build coalitions of legislators and staff on Capitol Hill and to directly participate, often as a senior partner, in coalitions of historic preservation and archaeology organizations in Washington. The relationship that has developed between the Craib, as manager of government affairs, and the Government Affairs Committee is a partnership. He is the on-the-scene political expert and lobbyist while the committee provides archaeological background information and direct grassroots political support.

Government Affairs Network

The first procedural initiative of the committee was to develop one of SAA's greatest strengths--grassroots support. The government affairs network (GAN) was initiated by Craib and established by the SAA Government Affairs Committee in January 1995 as a successor to SAA's former grassroots body, the Committee on Public Archaeology (COPA). GAN provides grassroots political support and information on political issues affecting archaeological resources and archaeologists. Most network activity will involve information dispersal, requests for information and action, and alerts of breaking events by email, fax, and phone. The SAA office in Washington coordinates information about the network, maintains the database of network members, and is the primary communication point.

Membership in the Government Affairs Network, which is unlimited, includes two types: general members and state representatives. General members can be self-selected by completing the form published in the February-March 1995 SAA Bulletin, or they can be recruited. Membership is based primarily on a member's interest in the political process of archaeology; however, the influence and position of an SAA member's political delegation can be a factor in recruitment. General membership in GAN is separate from membership in the Government Affairs Committee. GAN members must be available by email or fax and be willing to respond to requests for archaeological information and political support in the form of personal letters, phone calls, and occasional visits to representatives and senators. Given the dynamics of the political process, short-term notices and response requests are common. There are no term limits for GAN members, but responsiveness is required. One GAN member in each U.S. state, the District of Columbia, other countries in the Americas, and state amateur and professional organizations will be identified as the GAN state representative, serving primarily as information collectors and action motivators. State representatives can provide feedback after SAA members have met with members of Congress and provide advice and background information to the SAA office and leadership in preparation for meetings with members of Congress and their staffs in Washington. It is hoped that state representatives for at least the 50 states will be identified by the 1996 annual meeting where the first Government Affairs Network meeting will be held.

To facilitate communication and interaction among the state representatives, the SAA office, and the committee chair, a new communications network (SAAnet) will be made available to each state representative. This communication network will have a restricted conference list specifically for government affairs. Access to the SAAnet will also be provided to SAA officers, board members, and committees.

Committee Membership

The second procedural change is a rethinking of committee membership and operation. I am in the process of revising government affairs membership and organization. Working with SAA leadership, politically experienced SAA members, senior committee members, the government affairs program manager, and the executive director, I am developing a proposal for the SAA Executive Board to modify the committee organization and operation so that the committee can work more effectively. This proposal is not final, but the basic areas of change have been identified, and an initial modification plan has been formulated. (Please remember that the proposed refinements discussed here are not final at this writing and are still subject to change.)

Under the proposal the core membership of the committee would continue to be small and made up of people who are handling specific issues, but a new type of membership would be encouraged: general membership. General members would be individuals who are politically astute and experienced who can provide information and advise on a wide range of issues. General members will not necessarily be the point person for a specific issue, legislation, or agency; they will function more as resource people for the committee.

Another new type of informal association is also proposed: advisors. This affiliation is designed to harness the expertise of individuals who do not wish to or cannot be formal members because of the scope of their professional commitments or a position, such as a job in government. In addition to core members, general members, and advisors, another type of committee participation is being strongly considered: issue teams. These teams would be made up of loosely organized groups of people selected by individual committee members or advisors to help on specific issues. They will not be members of the committee, only associated with it as a team member. Those wishing to serve in any of these capacities may volunteer or they may be recruited. Because of the responsibilities of membership and the political sensitivity of the issues dealt with by the committee, core and general members as well as advisors must be approved by the committee chair, government affairs manager, and pertinent members of the SAA leadership.


With the development and implementation of the changes described above, the operation of government affairs in SAA is expanding to become more efficient and effective. With the development of the government affairs program and electronic communication, committee members and GAN participants are more informed than ever before. Government Affairs Program Manager Donald Craib, President Bill Lipe, Executive Director Ralph Johnson, and myself worked closely together this summer during the firestorm that broke out in the budgeting process. New political alliances were formed and old ones were strengthened and reorganized. SAA government affairs and the committee are already operating on a new level. We visited many of the newly influential legislators and their staffs now in key decision-making positions and educated each about the historic preservation process and archaeology. And we are keeping up our contacts with previous supporters from both parties. New relationships are being formed such as that with Rep. Phil English (R-Pa.). Rep. English met with Donald Craib who informed him about the proposed Advisory Council funding cuts. A few days later, English provided critical support for the Sanders amendment to restore Advisory Council funding in the House floor vote on appropriations. SAA's government affairs activities now are more embedded in our organization, are becoming more efficiently operated, and are a part of the day-to-day operation of the society.

The original goal of the SAA Government Affairs Committee was and continues to be to support and further the interests of archaeology and historic preservation. Today, we are facing rapid change in government. With the many new players, new leaders, a new party in power, a "Contract with America," and a new reality for archaeology, we are endeavoring to streamline the Government Affairs committee to meet the challenges. The new Congress is committed to cutting budgets and simplifying government; we do not oppose those goals. The country needs a balanced budget and an efficient government. The Government Affairs Committee, government affairs program staff, and SAA leadership are working very hard to defend archaeology and historic preservation. We think that even the most dedicated budget cutters will see that these programs address a national interest. We must stay alert and continually refine our organization and communications to focus our resources where we can be most effective. Our greatest political strengths are our large membership for grassroots political support and lobbying on Capitol Hill.

If you want to know more about the dynamic world of archaeology and government affairs, have suggestions on how to improve our operations, or want to participate as a professional, amateur, or student, please contact me or Donald Craib at the SAA office in Washington. We are all affected by government, and it is our watch. I think we are on the right track, but we can always use a fresh idea and another pair of hands.

Judy Bense chairs the SAA Government Affairs Committee.

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