House Appropriations Committee investigators are probing the troubled Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial, a long-delayed project nearly 15 years in the making that appears to have significant fundraising problems.
In early June, the Eisenhower Memorial Commission received notice that the committee’s surveys and investigations staff had been directed to “make an inquiry on the issues relating to the proposed construction of a permanent memorial to honor Dwight D. Eisenhower,” retired Brig. Gen. Carl W. Reddel, executive director of the EMC, stated in a June 6 memo recently obtained by CQ Roll Call. Appropriators previously pressed the committee for information on its private fundraising efforts. As part of the fiscal 2014 omnibus spending bill that appeared to signal Congress was losing faith in the long-delayed project, the EMC was required to report back to Congress on obligations and expenditures related to fundraising. (The bill also halved operations funding for the staff’s nine full-time, taxpayer-funded employees and effectively blocked construction on the four-acre site just off the National Mall.)
The numbers — presented as part of the EMC’s request for $21.3 million in fiscal 2015 — showed a fundraising deficit of at least $700,000. The EMC has spent $1.15 million on fundraising. The commission reports it has secured roughly $1,700,000 in “gifts and pledges,” but it has received only $447,618 in contributions with $275,000 in obligations.
Details on the investigation are scant. A member of the commission speaking on background about the issue told CQ Roll Call that details are not forthcoming from EMC staff. A spokeswoman for the EMC said congressional staff had not contacted the commission in the three weeks since the initial notice of investigation, and directed questions about the nature of the investigation to the Appropriations Committee.
Jennifer Hing, a spokeswoman for the majority on the House Appropriations Committee, said the committee does not comment on internal analysis.
“As with previous Congressional Committee inquiries, EMC again asked K & L Gates LLP, to serve as its pro bono consultant and point of contact concerning the data to be provided in response to this request,” Reddel stated in his memo to members of the commission and advisory committee.
In addition to the congressional probe, opponents of Frank Gehry’s design are digging into the portfolio-based competition that was used to select an architect for the memorial.
Critics of the plan have suggested its grand scale, contemporary design and the 80-foot tapestries forming its borders are not an appropriate memorial to Eisenhower. Reps. Darrel Issa, R-Calif., and Aaron Schock, R-Ill., have both voiced their concerns about immodesty, along with the Eisenhower family.
The National Civic Art Society alleges the General Services Administration ran a rigged competition to award the multimillion dollar building contract that violated its own rules and regulations on commemorative works. Global law firm Jones Day successfully appealed a decision of the GSA not to disclose information, winning the release of the names of designers and firms that competed the competition.
The law firm called release of the list, which contains numerous typos “an important victory for pro-bono client National Civic Art Society in its campaign against the current proposal, which has been rejected by representatives of the Eisenhower family and the National Capital Planning Commission.”
The small pool of fewer than 50 entrants contained no minority-owned firm, only six firms owned by women and only 11 were small-business firms, according to the NCAS, demonstrating that GSA’s process favored large and established firms with extensive portfolios.
“Piece-by-piece, we are forcing GSA to divulge information regarding its secretive, closed, and undemocratic competition,” NCAS President Justin Shubow said in an email to CQ Roll Call. “We will not stop digging until we can prove the winner was pre-ordained from the start.”
Gehry’s design team is preparing to respond to NCPC’s concerns about the design at its July 10 meeting. The EMC plans to convene later in the month.