House Natural Resources Republicans Slam Ike Memorial Commission

Gehry, David and Anne Eisenhower, and Rocco Siciliano talk after a press conference about the memorial back in March 2010. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Gehry, David and Anne Eisenhower, and Rocco Siciliano talk after a press conference about the memorial back in March 2010. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted July 25, 2014 at 4:14pm

The federal government has poured more than $65 million into creating a memorial to Dwight D. Eisenhower, according to a new congressional report that alleges mismanagement by the Eisenhower Memorial Commission and slams architect Frank Gehry’s plan.  

Republicans on the House Natural Resources Committee, which previously backed a bill to sunset the EMC, on Friday released a report declaring the proposed memorial a “Five-Star Folly,” and detailing the many delays and unanticipated costs in the 15 years since President Bill Clinton signed off on its creation.  

The 58-page document, based on an investigation launched by the committee in 2012, states that more than $16.4 million has been spent on the memorial design, and another $13.3 million on design contract management, including expenses such as parking and broadband internet for the executive architect, Daniel Feil. Additionally, citing data from the General Services Administration, the report claims almost every contract the EMC has entered into for work on the memorial has been modified multiple times, reflecting millions of dollars in additional costs. Chris Kelley Cimko, a spokesperson for the EMC, told CQ Roll Call on Friday afternoon that the commission is reviewing the report for accuracy and appropriate context.  

The report implies that the EMC was not forthcoming with some information. In a section titled, “Plethora of Other Contracts and Management Support Expenses,” it states: “Unfortunately, due to the variety of responses provided to basic questions about costs and expenses, it remains difficult to provide concise and accurate cost estimates of how much each entity has been paid.”  

Other portions question contracts selected by the EMC, including its hiring of Cimko as communications director.  

Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation Chairman Rob Bishop said in an interview that he is not trying to kill the project. “I want a memorial for Eisenhower,” the Utah Republican said. “The current design is not even in low gear — it’s stalled, and I don’t think it’s going to go anywhere.”  

In conjunction with the report, Bishop is introducing a new bill to terminate the EMC and appoint new members in consultation with the Eisenhower Foundation, a 501(c)(3) located in Abilene, Kan.  

Backlash against Gehry’s design — which the report alleges was selected despite being characterized as “mediocre” by the design jury — inspired Bishop to try to overhaul the commission last year. His previous effort was stalled after the Congressional Budget Office estimated it would cost $17 million to launch a new design contest. This bill would not mandate a new design contest, but Bishop said he thinks getting new eyes to look at the process could be a good start.  

“What should be frightening for everyone is the fundraising,” Bishop said of the report.  

Donations may have picked up in the past year,  according to data provided to the committee, but they remain far short of the original $11 million goal for 2012 and the $35 million target for 2015. According to its fiscal year 2015 budget justification, submitted to Congress in March 2014, the commission said it has secured approximately $1.7 million in gifts and pledges and had approximately $3 million in outstanding asks.  

“I think Eisenhower deserves a proper memorial and it can be done,” said Bishop, who keeps a bust of the 34th president and World War II hero in his office. “I want it, and I want it to be done right.”  

Critics of the current design, including Right By Ike spokesman Sam Roche, were quick to characterize the report as evidence of why and how the current Eisenhower Memorial became too controversial to build.  

“Lawmakers have paved the way to the more unifying design we all want,” Roche said. “Instead of spending more public money promoting an unworkable design, the Eisenhower Memorial Commission should put its remaining funds towards a fresh start.”  

Members of Congress who serve on the EMC remain hopeful that design opponents do not derail the project.  

In an interview earlier this month, Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., told CQ Roll Call that he wants the memorial to be built and to advance that goal he thinks members of Congress “need to be comfortable not only with the design, but with the commission and its work.”  

Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., also expressed confidence that despite the controversy, the Eisenhower family and other parties could work through their concerns.  

At least one other congressional committees is investigating the memorial.  

The report dings Gehry’s design for being rejected  by the National Capital Planning Commission in April. Earlier this month, the EMC anticipated that information on a revised design will be available for presentation at the NCPC’s Sept. 4 meeting.