They were to advise on any park-related
matters submitted by the Secretary for their consideration, and
they were authorized to "recommend policies . . .
pertaining to national parks and to the restoration, reconstruction,
conservation, and general administration of historic and archaeologic
sites, buildings, and properties."
Following the Federal Advisory Committee
Act of 1972, which sought to regularize the many such bodies that
had materialized over the years, Congress reformed the Board in
1976. Now called the National Park System Advisory Board, it would
still have up to 11 members, including "representatives competent
in the fields of history, archaeology, architecture, and natural
science," appointed by the Secretary for terms of up to four years.
The Secretary was directed to consider nominations from professional,
civic, and educational societies and institutions. The Board's
purview still included but was no longer limited to matters submitted
by the Secretary. In accordance with a new policy against open-ended
boards, the law set January 1, 1990, as its termination date.
The changes were small but significant.
The original Board was conceived primarily to support the major
new historic preservation programs of the National Park Service
authorized by the Historic Sites Act, and most of the early professional
appointees represented cultural resource disciplines. The 1976
enactment substituted "natural science" for "human geography"
and more clearly provided for lay members outside the specified
disciplines. Greater public involvement was invited by the requirement
that the Secretary consider nominations from outside groups, both
professional and nonprofessional, and by other requirements that
Board meetings be publicized and open.
Six-year terms for Board members had been
administratively imposed in 1950, so the four-year term set by
law in 1976 was the second step taken to increase membership turnover.
Secretary William P. Clark took a third step to this effect in
1985 by abolishing the administratively created Council of the
Board. The Council consisted of former Board members who could
no longer vote but could still attend and participate in meetings,
expenses paid. Some of the most influential members had remained
active on the Council for many years, adding knowledge and continuity
to the Board's deliberations.
In 1990 Congress reauthorized the National
Park System Advisory Board until January 1, 1995. In so doing
it increased the Board's membership to 16, required appointees
to "have a demonstrated commitment to the National Park System,"
and replaced the "natural science" field with "anthropology, biology,
geology, and related disciplines." It required the Board to "provide
recommendations on the designation of national historic landmarks
and national natural landmarks," which the Board had customarily
done, and "strongly encouraged [it] to consult with the major
scholarly and professional organizations in the appropriate disciplines
in making such recommendations." Congress also revived what Secretary
Clark had abolished by legally establishing the National Park
Service Advisory Council, comprising 12 former Board members,
to provide advice to the Board.
When Congress did not act to again reauthorize
the Board upon its expiration in 1995, Secretary Bruce Babbitt
administratively reestablished it until December 6, 1997. His
charter for the Board reduced its membership to 12 and set additional
professional and experience requirements for appointees. Congress
continued this membership number and most of these requirements
when it legally reauthorized the Board in the Omnibus Parks and
Public Lands Management Act of 1996 until January 1, 2006.
This latest authorization, which became
effective December 7, 1997, defines the Board's purpose as "to
advise the Director of the National Park Service on matters relating
to the National Park Service, the National Park System, and programs
administered by the National Park Service." Appointed by the Secretary
to staggered four-year terms, members must have "demonstrated
commitment to the mission of the National Park Service." The law
specifies the Board's composition in unprecedented detail:
Board members shall be selected to represent
various geographic regions, including each of the administrative
regions of the National Park Service. At least 6 of the members
shall have outstanding expertise in 1 or more of the following
fields: history, archeology, anthropology, historical or landscape
architecture, biology, ecology, geology, marine science, or social
science. At least 4 of the members shall have outstanding expertise
and prior experience in the management of national or State parks
or protected areas, or natural or cultural resources management.
The remaining members shall have outstanding expertise in 1 or
more of the areas described above or in another professional or
scientific discipline, such as financial management, recreation
use management, land use planning or business management, important
to the mission of the National Park Service. At least 1 individual
shall be a locally elected official from an area adjacent to a
Other new provisions in the 1996 law include
an appropriation authorization of $200,000 per year for the Board's
expenses and an authorization to hire two full-time staffers to
serve the Board. The only specific task previously assigned the
Board by law remains as such: it must provide recommendations
on national landmark nominations. The National Park Service Advisory
Council also continues.
How has the Advisory Board performed in
practice? Like any advisory group whose power is limited to persuasion,
the Board's influence has depended heavily upon the caliber of
its membership and its usefulness to those it serves.
With a few exceptions chosen for "political"
reasons, the early appointees were foremost figures in their fields.
Herbert E. Bolton of the University of California was among the
leading historians of his time. Waldo G. Leland organized the
American Council of Learned Societies. Col. Richard Lieber was
the dynamic founder and leader of Indiana's park system. Hermon
C. Bumpus had headed the American Museum of Natural History, and
Clark Wissler was a prominent anthropologist there. Fiske Kimball,
director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, was the preeminent
architectural historian of the day. Wissler and Kimball played
major roles in shaping NPS historic preservation policies during
Many later appointees were equally renowned
in their fields. Among them were anthropologists John Otis Brew,
Emil Haury, and Loren Eiseley; historians Theodore Blegen, Bernard
De Voto, Wallace Stegner, and Robin Winks; architect Nathaniel
Owings; and scientists Starker Leopold and Stanley Cain. Some
lay board members had national reputations in other areas, including
the publisher Alfred A. Knopf; Horace M. Albright, former NPS
director and conservationist; John Oaks, editorial page editor
of The New York Times; Robert Sproul, former president
of the University of California; Melville Grosvenor and Melvin
Payne, presidents of the National Geographic Society; astronaut
Wally Schirra; and Lady Bird Johnson (after she left the White
House). Five former U.S. senators and representatives who had
been active in park affairs also served.
During the three decades following World
War II, when the National Park System underwent major expansion,
the Board made some of its most important contributions. All park
proposals came to the Board for its recommendations, which regularly
went to Congress with the recommendations of the NPS. While not
necessarily decisive, the Board's views carried weight with the
congressional committees. The Board supported many park proposals,
and its opposition sometimes helped derail proposals for parks
not meeting national significance criteria.
After the mid-1970s the Board lost some
of its former luster. Its prestige suffered from the appointment
of fewer "big names" from both within and outside the professional
disciplines. The 1976 law that allowed the Board to consider matters
not brought to it by the Secretary may have made secretaries reluctant
to appoint heavyweights who could challenge their policies. During
the early 1980s the NPS opposed most new park proposals and stopped
bringing them to the Board, thereby depriving it of one of its
primary functions. With fewer Board members possessing solid park-related
credentials, NPS leaders were less inclined to seek the Board's
advice on management policies and other issues that once had been
routinely presented to it, if only for expected rubber-stamp approval.
The rise of numerous other vehicles for
public involvement in NPS planning and decision-making surely
diminished the Board's importance and purpose. Originally it was
the Service's primary official source of outside expertise and
input. This was no longer the case by the 1970s, when NPS regions
and many parks had their own advisory committees and such laws
as the National Historic Preservation Act and the National Environmental
Policy Act required outside review of most significant NPS proposals
by other means.
The most recent congressional reauthorization
of the Board suggests that it should play a greater role than
it has in recent years. Seeking to maximize the Board's value
under this mandate, NPS and Interior Department officials have
reevaluated its desired composition and purpose. They have decided
to include higher-profile members who will enable the Board to
concentrate on long-term goals and broad strategy as well as operational
matters and who will have sufficient prestige and influence to
win support for NPS objectives in both the public and the private
sectors. (While the law still requires the Board to recommend
the designation of national landmarks, substantive review of landmark
nominations will be delegated to committees, as before.) There
is every expectation that a prestigious membership focusing on
the "big picture" will meet a critical need and well serve the
National Park Service and System.
NPS Bureau Historian