Stopping Bureaucratic Inertia

After reading the first and last chapters of Our Unprotected Environment by Thomas F. King, I moved on to the rest of the book. Tequila shots were a suitable addition to my study methods by the time I arrived at the Chapter Three section entitled “Bombing Boise.” The book was, ironically, a sobering read. In exposing the failure of our legislative and regulatory practices, and the resultant breakdown of the review process, King reveals agencies and regulations that are at odds with their intended purpose.  Catch-22’s Captain Yossarian would understand this world all too well. It would be beneficial to understand how an agency, and the regulations that govern it, evolved from being advocates of  protection to protagonists.  King’s examples also show us how officials use obfuscation and double-speak to wear down those trying to protect their heritage. Many eventually give up the fight, and their heritage in the process. In the end, unable to resolve his own conflicts, Yossarian, too, simply walked away.

B-25J Mitchell, 12th Air Force Over Italy, info(at)

In Chapter Eight, King puts forward Caldwell’s Prescription, Lynton K. Caldwell’s seven suggestions for fixing NEPA. King expands on those suggestions, applies them to NHPA, and finishes the chapter with his own suggestions for fixing the problems with how agencies address preservation and protection of our heritage and environment. While I appreciate his ideas, his Memo to President Obama seems quaint in the light of the current political environment.

Since Our Unprotected Environment was written during the presidency of George W. Bush and published at the beginning of Barack Obama’s term as president, I thought it might be useful explore King’s blog at and see whether there were improvements in the realm of either NEPA or NHPA.  I became even more depressed. Looking at various blog posts from the beginning of the Obama administration, through today showed me that despite a few hopeful signs, little has changed and some things appear to have gotten worse. Who would have thought?

Not unlike other professions, this field has its own world-view and jargon to ensure most people do not understand it.  Professionals believe the value of their work is self-evident, which it isn’t. This demonstrates a potentially fatal hubris. These doyens are now viewed with suspicion and disdain by much of the public. Heritage professionals need to do a better job of forcefully communicating how both environmental protection and historic preservation benefit us all.

After posting my blog I noticed that I had forgotten to comment on Glenn C. Sutter’s book review of The future of heritage as climates change: loss, adaptation and creativity, edited by David C. Harvey and Jim Perry. I hate to see statements such as ” heritage work needs to be less about preservation, stability and perpetuity, and more about embracing loss and finding creative and empowering ways to adapt.” I understand the thought process that goes into such proposals, but for developers and others, this will lead many to suggest that “[1] experts in the field” agree that we can’t preserve our heritage and instead we should capture it with photos and videos and call it good.

King describes himself as a “cock-eyed optimist” and for that I am grateful, I’m not sure I could have handled the book otherwise.  Well, the tequila’s gone and I am eyeing a bottle of vanilla extract.

Vanilla beans - Hawaiian Vanilla Company

[1]  Glenn C. Sutter (2015) The future of heritage as climates change: loss, adaptation and creativity, Museum Management and Curatorship, 30:4, 359-361, DOI: 10.1080/09647775.2015.1065569

4 thoughts on “Stopping Bureaucratic Inertia”

  1. I am glad you brought up the issue of professional jargon…I found myself skimming heavily through this book because of the jargon used actually. Would anyone actually read up on these laws if the jargon was taken out or changed?

  2. Well Alisha, that is the fear right? If they did they may actually realize the dastardly and underhanded ways that they are being given the shaft on the whole thing. Dean, I agree that this book was all in all depressing (especially in the light of the new administration) but this book worried me even further than that. Although I realize he was trying to call out inadequacies in the current system, I couldn’t help but wonder if, by reading between the lines, this was the “Way to Get your Building Project Passed Even Though it Probably Shouldn’t Be for Dummies” book…

  3. Alisha – In my life I’ve worked for the military, the federal government, the phone company, a non-profit refugee resettlement agency and in radio. The one commonality is that all have their jargon and it helps to define who is in and who is not. I think people habitually try to create a more narrowly defined space to occupy. It’s a way to feel like you belong and others don’t. In the case of this profession, everyone involved is likely to have at least an undergraduate degree and they may feel a sense of superiority with what to me sounds like an unnecessary use of jargon. Jargon that can’t easily be explained, even in context.

  4. I saw all the same signs you did Eric but failed to draw the obvious conclusion that this could be one more volume in the Books for Dummies series. Thanks, just one more reason to be a cynic.

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