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House Appropriators Call for ‘Reset’ on Eisenhower Memorial Plans

(CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Dwight D. Eisenhower once declared that, “in preparing for battle, plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”  

Posing the biggest threat yet to architect Frank Gehry’s plans for a memorial to to the 34th president, five-star general and supreme allied commander, the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday approved a bill, 30-21, that would cut all funding for the Eisenhower Memorial Commission, and advanced non-binding language calling for a “reset” on the project, which has not received any construction funds from Congress since fiscal 2012. Only one member objected to the report on the Interior-Environment spending bill that urges House and Senate committees with jurisdiction to work expeditiously on legislation that would direct appointment of a new EMC staff, and authorize an “open, public, and transparent new design process” involving Congress, the Eisenhower family, the National Park Service and others.  

Rep. Sanford D. Bishop Jr., D-Ga., a House appointee to the 11-member commission, asked his colleagues to “reconsider this attack on the Eisenhower Memorial Commission” during the three-hour markup.  

“It just doesn’t seem to make sense to throw away $40 million in taxpayer dollars that have already been used to come to this consensus,” Bishop said. He added there might not be any World War II veterans left to see the memorial if planners have to start over on the project, now 16 years in the making .  

But Rep. Ken Calvert , the California Republican who chairs the Interior-Environment Appropriations panel, said the report was based on conversations with the Eisenhower family about their objections.  

The former president’s granddaughters, Anne and Susan Eisenhower, have publicly requested a simpler design . In April, CQ Roll Call learned the Eisenhower family had been making the rounds on Capitol Hill to reiterate their criticism about Gehry’s design and the process by which Gehry was selected.  

“It is inconceivable and unacceptable to the Committee that a memorial to Dwight D. Eisenhower could be designed, approved, and built without the active support of the Eisenhower family,” the report states. “Legitimate issues raised by the Eisenhower family over the size, scope, and values reflected in the memorial’s design have been routinely disregarded even as the Commission has continued to aggressively pursue required project approvals. Accordingly, the Committee believes a ‘reset’ is necessary in order for the project to continue.”

Congress previously halved funding to cover operating costs for the professional staff at the commission’s K Street office suite. It also eliminated a waiver that allowed the commission to proceed with construction before funds for the memorial’s design and construction had been raised. House appropriators voted to eliminate all funding for the project last summer, but the enacted appropriation restored $1 million for commission operations.

Last year, House appropriators launched a probe into the troubled effort to build a memorial at the four-acre site south of the National Mall. The committee report noted concern about the commission’s “anemic fundraising record,” based on its internal investigation. In spite of paying a fundraising consultant $1.4 million over the past four years, the EMC raised less than $450,000 to date — including $300,000 from a single donor.

No additional construction or operations funding will be provided from the House until a public competition for a new design occurs, according to the report. The bill maintains the three-year freeze on construction funds, ignoring a request for $68.2 million. Although the EMC requested $2 million for salaries and expenses, the House provides no funding and the report directs that monthly expenditures be limited to essential daily operations only.

Despite those objections, Gehry’s design is moving forward. The EMC still plans to present the plans to two of the federal panels that must consent to the project. The commission stated June 10 that it believes final approvals from the Commission of Fine Arts and the National Capital Planning Commission will fully demonstrate to Congress “that there is a federal mandate for the design and that its construction should be funded in the [fiscal 2016] budget.”

“We note that the Senate has yet to do its version of the bill and we will be working with both the House and Senate in the coming days to ensure that the National Eisenhower Memorial as envisioned by Public Law 106-79 is completed and will serve its noble purpose: to educate future generations about a great American’s legacy,” the EMC said in its statement.

Although the current memorial design has changed significantly as of late, it has not cooled the drama associated with it. In September 2013, the EMC abruptly pulled out of an NCPC meeting upon learning federal planners had major concerns about the design. The NCPC rejected the design when the EMC came back in April 2014. Gehry eliminated two side tapestries to accommodate critics’ demands, and tinkering helped the plan win plan preliminary design approval six months later.

But all that work on the blueprints cost taxpayers too much, according to an internal analysis by Appropriations staff. The committee noted concern about both the number of consultants under contract with the EMC and the amount paid to the consultants: nearly $7 million from the salaries and expenses account, plus more from the construction account, including $16 million for the memorial’s architect and design firm.

House appropriators direct the commission to  provide a list of all paid contractors and consultants to the commission since fiscal year 2011, plus pay data, within 30 days of the bill’s enactment.

One champion of Gehry’s plan has been Sen. Pat Roberts, who took the reins of the EMC in April. The Kansas Republican declared he would “accept nothing less than full victory” when the commission unanimously elected him chairman. However, Roberts does not have a seat on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Calvert said he had spoken to Roberts and was sure the Senate would have “different language” this year. “We can have a conversation about that as we move forward,” he added.

The Senate version of the bill would provide $1 million for EMC operations, while continuing the freeze on construction funds, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, confirmed to CQ Roll Call. Text of the $30.1-billion legislation will be unveiled Thursday, when the full Senate Appropriations Committee considers the bill.

“There has to be some kind of general consensus around a design in order for it to be built,” said Sam Roche, spokesman for Right by Ike: Project for a New Eisenhower Memorial. Roche, who writes on architecture and urban planning, said the language makes it “clearer that the House doesn’t intend to fund the current design.”  

By selecting Gehry through the General Services Administration’s Design Excellence Program, Roche claims the EMC departed from the open competition process and ended up with the current situation. “There’s a very contentious history for even the [preliminary] approvals here,” Roche said.  

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, a chief critic of the design , has introduced a bill that would force the commission to launch a new competition to select an alternative memorial design — one that would probably replace Gehry’s concept. The House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on the Ike memorial in 2013, but the Utah Republican has not revived his proposal in the current Congress.  

In an effort to curry favor for the project, the EMC has added Washington insiders to its board. Republican political adviser Matthew A. Schlapp joined the advisory committee on June 2. Former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., penned an opinion piece  supporting construction.  

Support for Gehry’s design has also been building outside the Beltway. State lawmakers in Texas recently approved a resolution that supports construction of Gehry’s planned monument. The EMC will make its case to the Commission of Fine Arts on Thursday.  


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