ASI Archaeological and Cultural Resources Management, was established as a partnership in 1979 and incorporated under the laws of the State of California in 1985 (the legal corporate name of the company is Archaeological Services, Inc.). Presently, the firm employs a selected team of highly skilled professionals, used largely on an outsourced basis and retained to perform specialized tasks. The two ASI principals conduct all of the firm's contracts. What this means to the client is simple: A highly skilled professional performs all contracted tasks. Inexperienced individuals are not involved in any of our projects except to perform routine technical duties. Each project undertaken by ASI receives direct personal attention and supervision of an ASI principal.
Our list of clients is extensive but the number of projects ASI undertakes at any one time is modest. As our client list indicates, however, the firm has worked for hundreds of organizations over the past 25 years. In 1995, a decision was made to decrease the total number of projects undertaken while focusing on working with a highly selective list of clients involving certain types of projects. Many of our clients are involved with gas well development, vineyards, golf course and country club development, and subdivisions/specific plans. We also perform environmental studies for selected local government agencies. Occasionally, we undertake federal contracts.
Typically, the final product of any cultural resources management effort is a technical report that must meet the requirements of specific federal, state, or local regulations and laws. Presently, there are dozens of cultural resources consultants performing cultural resource management studies, which means there is a large pool of consultants from which to choose. Some of the work performed at the state and local level is commendable on its technical merits but much of it is of marginal quality and it would not pass stringent federal level review. Perhaps most significantly for our clients, the technically adequate work often fails to consider the needs and concerns of the organization paying for the work; rather, the concerns and needs of the regulatory agency take precedence over the needs of the client. We have always found this rather strange, since it is our view that consultants have an obligation to advance their client's interests. In other areas of consulting, this perspective is accepted but in the field of cultural resources management it is unusual, and, every company, agency, or individual needs to understand this when selecting a cultural resource consultant to represent their interests.
Most of our clients have a passing interest in archaeology. Their principal concerns are regulatory compliance (often locally mandated), containment of what are judged indirect costs (which includes most environmentally related studies), and scheduling. Perceptive and experienced firms or individuals might also be concerned about potential regulatory complications resulting from substandard baseline data collection efforts. Many regulatory agencies, especially those at the state and federal levels, are concerned with the research, while local agencies have little interest in this aspect of cultural resources management. Thus, a report that might pass muster at the local level of review might be rejected at a higher level of government; this happens frequently and for the those involved in the process it results in duplication of effort, lost time, and often unexpected cost overruns. To say that working with different levels of government is challenging for us and frustrating for our clients is an understatement.
Essentially, the problem is that some local agencies demand reports that are professionally defensible while others accept anything written by any one claiming to be a cultural resource professional. Cultural resource consulting is not regulated by any government agency; there are no government licenses and consulting activities are largely self-regulated, which is to say they are unregulated. Just about anyone can claim to be a cultural resource or archaeological consultant if they know how to manipulate the existing self regulating system and this leads to great disparity in the quality of reporting, the reliability of field investigations, and costs.
Over the years, our objectives have remained consistent: To provide a professionally defensible product, at a cost commensurate with the scope of the project, and that protects the client and the regulatory agency from future often-unforeseen legal actions and scheduling delays. In short, we seek to protect our clients (and regulating agencies) from the dangers of minimal compliance-level efforts without engaging in price gouging. Compliance-level work, frequently performed at a very low cost often creates problems down the road; based on more than 25 years of experience, we can truthfully say that quality work pays for itself in the long term. As proof of this, we can cite a long list of projects on which we have spent considerable time, energy, and money over the past ten years remediating low quality and usually low cost efforts. Thus, our philosophy requires completing all projects thoroughly the first time. Damage control, that is mitigating poorly conceived and implemented cultural resource studies, often guided solely by cost and minimal compliance objectives, ultimately costs more than getting the job done properly in the first place. Further, correcting inadequate studies often creates new problems and hard feelings that are often impossible to mitigate. We try our best to anticipate and plan for regulatory changes and shifting regulatory involvement and we seek to find a satisfactory middle ground between the minimal compliance and regulatory overkill. This takes time but most of all it requires experience.
Virtually any cultural resource consultant has the ability to inspect a project area and write compliance level document. These same consultants however, rarely question whether the agency requesting the work understands the history and purposes of the regulations requiring said work. They are often clueless as to the affect their findings may have on their client, the people who pay for the consulting services and expect to have their interests served. For many consultants, the important thing is to 'find cultural resources' and write the report. Obviously, identifying cultural resources is an important element in our work; however, miss-identification can be disastrous. In our opinion, the goals of cultural resource protection must be addressed before a study strategy is even considered. For example, is the goal to meet a specific dictum of an agency or is it a more long-term effort taking into consideration what other reviewing and or permitting agencies that may become involved in the project might have to say.
The objective of cultural resource management should not be to generate paperwork; i.e.; a report that enables an agency to claim they met the letter of the law. Such documents do little to protect a client from the discovery clauses of state and federal regulations, and, in most cases, the local agency that accepted the document would disavow an inadequate report, as need demands. In short, no one may hide behind inadequate or shortsighted reporting. Insurance from unwanted archaeological discoveries requires a well conceived and executed study approach. This approach works for us as most of our work is derived from repeat long-term clients many of whom retain us to investigate a property before its purchase.
Well-conceived action plans guide all ASI projects; they clearly set forth goals and objectives and our final products concisely present the facts and offer full disclosures of all discovered relevant information. We also prepare all of our reports so that they can withstand the highest level of technical review likely to occur. Admittedly, this approach is often more costly but as we have been in business for more than 25 years we can truthfully say that it does not cost that much more and has the added benefit of not gambling with a client's project. As ASI is a small company, a failed project not only hurts our client but also reflects badly on the principals of ASI.
One may ask how is it possible to identify a reliable consult. Several ways come to mind:
Does the company have proper insurance (comprehensive general liability, vehicle, worker's compensation)?
Are the individuals members of the Registry of Professional Archaeologists and or listed on the referral lists maintained by the Office of Historic Preservation.
Does the experience of the individual match up well wit the type of work you are asking him or her to perform.
Does the individual(s) have adequate training to perform the work in question? Do not merely look at academic credentials. For example, has the individual taken seminars provided by regulatory agencies that might enable them to better understand needs and policies? What are the consultant's relevant geographic and regulatory experiences?
Ask for and check out references.
Perhaps most importantly, is the consultant willing to talk openly with you about his background? Can she explain her ideas in a way that you can understand them? Is the consultant rigid or does he or she offer a variety of alternative but potentially effective approaches to your study.
Finally, after talking with the prospective consultant, do you feel comfortable with him or her?
Obviously, selecting the proper consultant is never fool proof and it may seem like a minor detail but if significant cultural resources are discovered within a project area, it may prove to be a major setback with a high associated cost.
Archaeological Services, Inc. has been in the business of archaeology, cultural resource management and cartography since 1979. Formerly a partnership of two persons, the company has expanded over the years and incorporated into ASI.
Two partners began this business, and have continued over the years to provide excellent service to their client base. Roger H. Werner and Jay M. Flaherty have between them many years of experience. Read their resumes!