By Terry Klein, Executive Director, SRI Foundation

The new year brings a news political reality to Washington, D.C. The most significant political change from last year is the Republican takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives. While the Republican majority is narrow, it gives Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) the authority to decide which bills receive votes in the chamber. Likewise, the new Republican chairs of the House committees will determine which bills get hearings and votes in committee.

House Republican leaders have pledged to use their leadership roles to convene hearings to examine the Biden administration’s record and to build support for their legislative proposals. Expect to see the House Republicans sharply question Department of Interior officials on Biden administration energy policies during televised hearings.

Speaker McCarthy will likely pass many bills that are doomed in the Democratic-controlled Senate. These “messaging bills” are opportunities for House Republicans to demonstrate their policy priorities and signal to their voters what they value. However, it is widely understood that Senate Majority Leader Schumer will not bring many of these largely partisan bills up for a vote in the Senate, so such legislation has no viable path to enactment. To have a real chance of passage, a bill must get significant buy-in from House Republicans, Senate Democrats, and secure 60 votes in the Senate.

One possibility for bipartisan agreement is a bill to streamline the federal permitting process. Despite substantial interest in the issue, Senator Manchin’s (D-WV) efforts to pass a bill failed twice in the Senate last year. He’s still committed to the goal, however. Just last week, he and Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AR), the new chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, were meeting to negotiate the details of a federal permitting bill.

Federal permitting reform remains a hot topic because of the recent massive investments in American infrastructure. All that investment will generate lots of cultural resources management work. As funding from the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act, in addition to the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act,  flows to communities across the country, there will be high demand to secure permits for new projects. This demand may keep public and Congressional attention focused on how to improve the federal permitting process.

House Republican leaders reportedly plan to unveil a major bill promoting greater energy production by promoting energy development on public lands, easing mining regulations, and streamlining the federal permitting process. Details of that legislation will likely become available in March, according to recent news reports. We’ll be on the lookout for any provisions that could threaten historic resources by narrowing the scope of impacts that are considered, reducing public involvement, or imposing unrealistic deadlines for environmental reviews.

We’ll also be mobilizing support for a bill to reauthorize the Historic Preservation Fund (HPF), which funds the work of State and Tribal Historic Preservation Offices, competitive grant programs, and the National Register of Historic Places. At present, Congressional authorization for this important program is set to expire on September 30, 2023. We will work with key members of Congress to support a bill that extends the authorization of the HPF and increases the total authorization level, which has remained unchanged since 1977.

As part of our efforts to secure funds for the national historic preservation program, we’ll be advocating for full funding of the new African American Burial Grounds Preservation Program, which was authorized in the omnibus spending bill last December. SHA members have advocated for this program over the past five years, and we will continue working to ensure its success.

In addition to monitoring legislative activity, SHA Government Affairs will continue working with the administration to develop regulations that enhance America’s historic preservation program. The administration’s plans for 2023 include revisions to several regulations that will directly impact historical archaeology: the rules governing the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), Traditional Cultural Properties, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) proposal to end its use of Appendix C. Each one of these proposals includes an opportunity for the public to weigh in on the changes under consideration.

SHA submitted a letter supporting many of the administration’s proposed changes to NAGPRA. We applauded efforts to ensure timely completion of the repatriation process, inclusion of indigenous knowledge, and a greater focus on enforcement. However, we also recognized that NAGPRA consultations involve significant amounts of work for tribes and urged the administration to identify sources of funding to help tribes complete the process. As the administration works to develop and stand up this new program, we will help keep SHA members and other stakeholders informed about each step of the process.

In the upcoming months, we’ll be submitting comments on the National Register Revised Bulletin 38: Guidelines for Evaluating and Documenting Traditional Cultural Properties. At present, the National Park Service is conducting consultation and outreach on the upcoming revisions. The deadline for comments is April 30, 2023, so SHA members have time to evaluate the proposed changes and raise any concerns they may have. We look forward to incorporating your feedback into a thoughtful, substantive comment letter this spring.

Finally, we are very pleased to see the USACE decision to rescind Appendix C, something that the Coalition has been urging the Army to do for several years. Appendix C procedures were never approved as a counterpart regulation by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP). The procedures have been problematic in several ways and have left the USACE vulnerable to litigation. Furthermore, the Appendix C procedures have been applied inconsistently across the country and have limited the USACE’s ability to be a good steward of America’s cultural heritage. According the new proposal, USACE would instead rely on ACHP’s regulations and joint USACE/ACHP guidance for implementation of Section 106.

The changed political landscape this year increases the likelihood of a highly politicized hearings and a robust debate on energy development. Prospects for enactment of any significant new legislation are low, however, given the power split in Washington and the compromises that would be required. SHA will continue working to support a strong historic preservation program through legislative lobbying and participation in the regulatory notice and comment process.

If you are interested in getting involved, please consider joining SHA’s Government Affairs Committee! If interested, please contact Terry Klein at or Marion Werkheiser ( We look forward to working alongside you to advance the protection of our historical archaeological heritage!