CR Sets High Bar for Eisenhower Memorial Construction

Posted October 23, 2013 at 2:59pm

Tucked into the continuing resolution currently funding the government is a provision temporarily blocking construction of the Eisenhower Memorial that, if extended, could pose another major hurdle to a project 14 years in the making.

The CR extended authorization for the four-acre site just off the National Mall and the 11-member commission that oversees it. But it also, at least temporarily, zeroed out construction funding for the memorial to former president and World War II hero Dwight D. Eisenhower through Jan. 15, the length of the CR.

It also temporarily eliminates a waiver that would have allowed the commission to proceed with construction before funds for the memorial’s design and construction had been raised — making the commission responsible for raising most of the estimated $142 million if it wanted to break ground before Jan. 15.

Typically, federal law requires memorial sponsors to have full funding in place before construction permits are issued. In its fiscal 2012 appropriations, Congress granted a waiver from the “sufficient amounts” clause of the National Capital Memorials and Commemorative Works Act that would have allowed construction of the Eisenhower Memorial to proceed on a pay-as-you-go basis.

“As we go about the task of honoring President Eisenhower, we need to do so in a way that recognizes the concerns many have expressed about the memorial and the process. That means going about it thoughtfully and making the appropriate considerations at each step,” Rep. Mike Simpson, a member of the commission, said in a statement.

The Idaho Republican holds the gavel of the House Appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over the memorial. “Given the short time frame of the CR and the fact that there are still a number of hurdles to cross before construction can begin, this language primarily serves as a reminder to move forward on this project in the right way,” he said.

Memorial commission officials say the temporary stripping of the waiver will not affect their work through January.

“We are moving ahead with our agency approvals and still expect to break ground in late 2014,” Chris Cimko, a spokeswoman for the commission, said in an email.

If the waiver is not restored, construction is unlikely to begin anytime soon. Total project costs are estimated at $142 million, and fundraising is still in its nascent phase, according to commission officials.

Bruce Cole, a recently appointed member of the commission, characterized rescinding the waiver as a “major setback” for the memorial. Cole, an art historian and former National Endowment for the Humanities chairman, has been highly critical of the design proposed by architect Frank Gehry.

“This, to me at least, would indicate that there’s growing unease in Congress about the ability to get this done,” he said.

Obstacles have included criticism from the Eisenhower family, negative feedback from the various bodies that need to approve the design and a congressional effort to scrap Gehry’s design, sponsored by Rep. Rob Bishop.

The Utah Republican said the continuing resolution “sends a message to the commission that there are significant concerns with the direction they’re going and with what they are trying to accomplish, and they need to rethink this.”

Simpson’s counterpart on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior and Environment — Chairman Jack Reed of Rhode Island, who also sits on the memorial commission, indicated through a spokesman that the language prohibiting construction originated in the House.

Neither side commented on whether it expected the waiver, or construction funding, to be restored after Jan. 15. The project has received $62 million to date, and exact requests for fiscal 2014 appropriations have yet to be determined, according to Cimko.

The $142 million price tag on the memorial dwarfs spending on previous presidential memorials, according to figures from the National Civic Art Society, an organization that has been highly critical of Gehry’s design.

A report prepared by the NCAS shows the cost of presidential memorials, adjusted to 2010 inflation levels. The Washington Monument would cost $44.8 million, the Lincoln Memorial $46.8 million and the Jefferson Memorial $39.77 million.

Justin Shubow, president of the NCAS, used a sports analogy to describe the Eisenhower Memorial’s fate under the continuing resolution: “Congress has called a time-out, moved the goal posts and taken the ball away.”