NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Agency Lost Track Of Artifacts

December 6, 1999

The Bureau of Land Management, a part of the Department of the Interior, has lost track of millions of artifacts excavated from federal lands. Although they were entrusted to the agency's safe-keeping, BLM protests that it lost them due to stingy budgets.

An audit by the Interior Department's inspector general found that:

  • The bureau has not performed required annual inventories of the artifacts.
  • Nor had it obtained signed agreements with institutions accepting artifacts on loan.
  • The bureau's stewardship of the artifacts is so lax that many museums that keep such items as pottery and baskets cannot say for sure which items the federal government owns or where they came from.

The bureau's budget for managing cultural resources is about $13.5 million this year -- an increase of nearly $400,000 over last year.

The bureau oversees 264 million acres of federal lands in the West -- an area nearly the size of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah combined. Those lands are home to an estimated four million to five million archeological sites -- and more than 20 million artifacts have been collected there.

Source: Associated Press, "U.S. Lost Track of Artifacts by the Millions," New York Times, December 5, 1999.


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