The PennDOT and IUP Partnership: A Personal History – IV

Legacy Collections without End: The Second IUP Contract (2002-2007)

2002 was going to be a year of change for PennDOT.  In May, the first IUP agreement was going to expire. In August, PennDOT’s commitment to hire on the 5 IUP QPs was coming due.  Although it might seem to the uninitiated that bringing 5 state employees from one agency to another would be a simple matter, that couldn’t be further from the truth.  For one, there was never a commitment from PennDOT to hire the actual individuals from IUP into the PennDOT fold.  The commitment was to give the IUP QPs an opportunity to apply to the PennDOT positions being created.

Given that there was a gap between the expiration of the May IUP agreement and the August PennDOT hiring commitment, we created a bridging agreement (MOU 430636) that covered that time frame.  Basically, the MOU extended the IUP Agreement long enough to complete the PennDOT hiring process, which began that summer.  By the end of August, all but one of the IUP QPs had been brought over to PennDOT as permanent employees, and by September 9th, the last PennDOT committed position had been filled. During this time, moving the agreements through signature was a somewhat harrowing experience as we met deadlines often by a matter of days.

Whither our relationship with IUP?  In theory, it could have ended with the hiring of the IUP QPs into PennDOT.  Instead, as 2002 unfolded, it became apparent that there was value in keeping the IUP partnership going.  For one, the two Byways to the Past Conferences held in 2000 and 2001 were successful and suggested they be continued.  Secondly, we needed an outlet for both popular and technical publication of our advanced studies and archaeological data recoveries.  The first publication on the King of Prussia Inn was successful, but were difficult to produce.  For some reason, PennDOT does not think of itself as a publishing house.  We needed support.  

Finally, it was becoming apparent that many of the archaeological projects completed by PennDOT since the early 1980’s had never been submitted to the State Museum.  There had not been a consistent policy in place at PennDOT to mandate the submittal of collections upon completion of analysis and for various reasons they were abandoned to the contractor.  Prior to 1999, adverse effects to archaeological sites were seen as not adverse in the eyes of Section 106 as long as a data recovery was conducted. This meant that none of these projects had associated MOAs or PA’s, which would have spelled out curation requirements.  Secondly, PennDOT budgets for archaeological work were set prior to the start of excavations.  If more fieldwork was needed, the Project Managers would instruct the archaeological firm to keep digging, but pay it out of artifact processing and report writing. Sometimes, at the end of the final report, there were no funds left to prepare the collections for curation or pay the curation fee.  Sometimes, there wasn’t money left to prepare a final report, but that was “OK” as long as the draft report was accepted by the SHPO and the project proceeded. Inevitably, once the project went to final design and was built, the project line item was closed, meaning there was no funding source to clean up loose ends.  More complicated data recoveries often took years to finish, well beyond the ribbon cutting date.  Most of the time, the consultant was left holding the collections, sometimes for decades. We thought that Archaeological Services at IUP could help us in this regard by cleaning up those old legacy collections.

With these ideas in mind, we worked with IUP to create an MOU to replace MOU 430636.  MOU 430639 was executed July 29, 2002 and while it did not provide PennDOT with QPs, it did provide other services over the next 5 years.  Ironically, one thing the MOU did not provide was training to PennDOT during that period – IUP’s roots are as a teacher’s college.  Due to the silo mentality found in state institutions, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania had chosen to siphon off anything that might remotely be considered training into its own unit, to be managed by the Office of Administration and the Bureau of Human Resources.  Had we chosen to leave training in the MOU, the agreement would have had to be reviewed by both of those offices, on their own timetable. We could have taken the more traditional approach within PennDOT and have called training “familiarization” but that seemed more of a risk than we were comfortable with and our deadlines in 2002 were fierce indeed.

In December, the first fruits of our efforts began to appear.  Two recent archaeological studies, at Gayman’s Tavernand Mansfield Bridge, were considered worthy for popular publication as we continued the Byways to the Past Series begun with the King of Prussia Inn.  The consultants that conducted the studies and wrote the technical reports prepared the text and images for the popular booklets. Joe Baker would inevitably badger the authors and/or rewrite material himself to get it into popular form.  We both agreed that there is something about archaeologists that precludes writing for the public.  My own theory is that we like to work with dead people because they never talk back.  Communicating with the living is another matter, as we are all just versions of Sheldon Lee Cooper.

That same month, PennDOT issued a task assignment for the production of a compact disc on the results of the Oberly Island Excavations.  Grey literature has been a chronic problem in archaeology going back decades.  Final technical reports might have only one or two copies, which would be kept in either the SHPO’s office, or at Temple or Pitt. Even the existence of these reports was not widely known and at the time electronic versions were completely unknown. The use of compact discs to disseminate important data recovery reports was for us an advance, and was becoming more common across the country. Today, we expect to download this information from web sites or to our phones, but I would like to remind folks that in 2002, the World Wide Web was a teenager, and that iTunes had not yet been launched as a service.   Over the years, IUP produced a number of CDs on our more important projects, which have been distributed to the professional community.  As the capability to download these large technical reports is now with the CRGIS, PennDOT’s CD business is rapidly coming to an end.  The remaining CDs are being distributed at statewide professional meetings, or being used as drink coasters.

Also in December, we executed a task assignment for IUP to begin processing these older abandoned collections.  When collections had been halted in processing, they may have been washed; many had not.  They may have been cataloged, but some had only the catalog sheets from the original inventorying.  Many had not been labeled or re-bagged in clean and durable polyethylene bags for long-term storage.  And certainly, none of the collections had been submitted with the curation fees that would have been owed.  A brief digress here.  Curation fees is a bit of a misnomer.  The State Museum policy was to actually curate the collections without charge; however, the process of accessioning them was costly and those costs needed to be recouped.  Accessioning included checking collections against the submitted catalogs, making sure the materials were properly labelled and bagged, and that they were in suitable acid-free containers.  When the gap between the actual and promised state of the collection was small, the State Museum staff would make up the difference, labelling and bagging as necessary, rather than returning the collection back to the firm to be redone. Accessioning was an extended quality control process and labor intensive.  The fees charged for collections under the flag curation were really accessioning fees.

Having IUP process these collections was a very good fit for us.  IUP already had an operational laboratory that was being used for Archaeological Services work.  Archaeological Services could provide the technical oversight in directing the laboratory.  Finally, there was  a pool of anthropology students who could work on the collections part time.  One of the eternal truisms of life is that student labor is cheap labor, so we were able to process the collections at a fraction of the cost it would have taken the archaeology firms who originally generated them.  Working closely with the State Museum, we were able to establish under which standards collections would be processed, given that some collections were at that time 20 years old and standards had changed.  By processing collections to current (2002) standards, the State Museum was willing to waive the curation fees, which would have amounted to tens of thousands of dollars. In July 2003, after finally acknowledging the full extent of the problem, PennDOT executed a separate 4-year $450,000 MOU (430647) with IUP for processing these collections. The entire legacy collections program was managed by Chris Kula, start to finish, through this and subsequent contracts.

As MOU 430639 progressed through the early 2000’s, PennDOT and IUP took advantage of the flexibility written into the MOU to conduct the following varied tasks:

  • Graphic support for the 2003 Tribal Summit.
  • Supporting Project Archaeology, which was a program to train teachers and professionals on how to develop public outreach materials, especially our Byways publications.
  • Supporting the input of data into the CRGIS.
  • Conducting research on the archaeological aspects of farmsteads, which would complement the above-ground research for the agricultural context study.

Next: The PHAST and the PHURIOUS: The Third IUP Contract (2007-2012)

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