The primary intent of Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (NHPA; 16 U.S.C. 470) in relation to Section 10 and 404 permitting is to help the USACE make informed decisions on the treatment of historic properties, and to avoid, minimize, or mitigate adverse effects to historic properties whenever possible. NHPA provides public comment that is taken into account decisions affecting historic properties, but does not mandate any given outcome. Federal agencies with Section 106 issues are obligated to seek the opinions of the State Historic Preservation Officers of the state in which there are affected historic properties, and, if an undertaking affects sites of cultural or religious significance to any federally recognized American Indian tribe or tribes, or on tribal lands, the opinions of the respective tribe's Tribal Historic Preservation Officer or designated historic preservation representative. Ultimate decisions regarding historic properties and an undertaking’s effects to them remain the responsibility of the responsible Federal Agency official having jurisdiction, namely the head of that governmental unit (e.g., the District Engineer).
The USACE is required under the regulations governing its Regulatory authorities, to consider effects to historic properties, often referred to as cultural resources, in its permitting decisions. In addition, under Section 106 of the NHPA, Federal agencies that have direct or indirect jurisdiction over a Federal, or federally assisted undertaking having authority to license, permit, or fund any undertaking, are required to do two things prior to funding or issuing such permits or licenses: 1) take into account the effects of its actions on historic properties (cultural resources); and 2) allow the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation a reasonable opportunity to comment on such actions. Historic properties are defined for the purposes of Section 106 as those districts, sites, structures or objects listed on, or eligible for listing in, the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). Under the USACE regulations governing its permitting authority (33 Code of Federal Regulations 320-332), the USACE may consider effects to other historic properties as well.
The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) is a small, independent Federal agency created by the National Historic Preservation Act to advise the President and Congress and Federal agencies on matters involving historic properties, or sites, and historic preservation. It was created as an independent agency to act as a neutral advisor. The Advisory Council's authority is restricted, advisory only, and not prescriptive; ultimate decisions involving historic properties affected by Federal actions remain the responsibility of the head of the Federal agency having jurisdiction over an undertaking. While the Advisory Council is supposed to provide an independent and balanced viewpoint, the NHPA, and the intent of Congress is not. Section 2 of the NHPA (16 U.S.C. 470-1) reads, in part: "It shall be the policy of the Federal Government, in cooperation with other nations and in partnership with the states, local governments, Indian tribes, and private organizations and individuals to: 1) Use measures including financial and technical assistance, to foster conditions under which our modern society and our prehistoric and historic resources can exist in productive harmony and fulfill the social, economic, and other requirements of present and future generations; and 2) encourage the public and private preservation and utilization of all usable elements of the Nation’s historic built environment."
The concern of Congress for the preservation of significant historical site, and particularly those of an archaeological nature, is also expressed in the Preservation of Historical and Archeological Data Act of 1974 (16 U.S.C. 469 et seq.), which amends the Archaeological Recovery Act of 1960, itself an outgrowth of the Historic Sites, Buildings and Antiquities Act of 1935. The 1935 Act was the first federal legislation in this country to declare a national policy on historic preservation. Under the 1974 Act, whenever a federal construction project or federally licensed project, activity, or program alters any terrain such that significant historical or archeological data is threatened, the Secretary of the Interior may take action necessary to recover and preserve the data prior to the commencement of the project.
Other important legislation and Executive Orders concerning historic properties which the USACE may sometimes need to consider in its permitting decisions are the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979, the Abandoned Shipwreck Act of 1987, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990, the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978, and Executive Order 11593, the latter codified as Section 110 of the NHPA (16 U.S.C. 470h-2).