Oversight: Efforts to Develop the Eisenhower Memorial
In 1999, Congress established the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission (“Memorial Commission” or “Commission”) and tasked it with “consider[ing] and formulat[ing] plans for such a permanent memorial to Dwight D. Eisenhower, including its nature, design, construction, and location.”
The Committee on Natural Resources has been conducting oversight of the Memorial Commission’s activities and the development of the Memorial since the 112th Congress. On March 20, 2012, an oversight hearing was held to hear concerns about the design selection process and durability of the design, including opposition from the Eisenhower family.
In the 113th Congress, the Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation heard testimony from members of the Eisenhower family, the Memorial Commission, and the public concerning H.R. 1126 (“Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Completion Act”) and the status of the project itself.
Given concerns raised at these hearings, document request letters were sent by Full Committee Chairman Doc Hastings and Subcommittee Chairman Rob Bishop on May 15, 2013 to the Memorial Commission, the GSA, and the National Park Service, requesting details about the Commission’s activities, travel, fundraising, and expenses; copies of contracts and invoices with the designer and other contractors; information about the design process and overall project management; and the analysis of what it will cost to operate the Memorial. Committee Majority oversight staff also conducted multiple interviews with Commission staff members, and others involved in the memorial process, in the fall of 2013 and continued its fact-finding into 2014.
Oversight Investigation’s Findings:
The Committee’s investigation has examined the activities and expenses of the Memorial Commission, the unprecedented process used to select the proposed memorial’s design, the selected design’s repeated failure to satisfy all legal requirements, and the unanticipated costs and delays due to controversial elements of the winning design, among other topics.
A report issued by the Committee’s Office of Oversight and Investigation’s majority staff, “A Five-Star Folly: An Investigation into the Cost Increases, Construction Delays, and Design Problems That Have Been a Disservice to the Effort to Memorialize Dwight D. Eisenhower,” documents how:
The Eisenhower Memorial Commission is composed of 12 commissioners – four citizens appointed by the President, four members of the House of Representatives appointed by the Speaker of the House, and four Senators appointed by the President Pro Tempore of the Senate. The day-to-day operations of the Memorial Commission are overseen by a nine-person executive staff and assisted by several contractors. Assistance is also provided by the General Services Administration, as well as a construction management firm.
Since 1999, Congress has appropriated about $65 million to the Memorial Commission to pay for its operational expenses, the selection of a designer, and the development of a design. A four-acre site at the intersection of Maryland and Independence avenues, south of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, was selected in 2006 as the location of the planned Eisenhower Memorial. The National Capital Planning Commission conditioned its approval of this location to ensure that the eventual design incorporated seven design principles, including preserving the reciprocal views along Maryland Avenue. The design must also satisfy the requirements of the Commemorative Works Act, which requires memorials to be made of durable material, among other requirements.
The Commission selected famed architect Frank Gehry in 2009 to design the Memorial. Gehry’s design features several statues in the center of the site, surrounded on three sides by metal tapestries suspended from 80-foot tall columns. Questions have been raised about the durability of the metal tapestries as well as their aesthetics compared to the surrounding buildings and other memorials along the National Mall.
As recently as spring 2014, the National Capital Planning Commission rejected Gehry’s proposed design because the necessary durability and protection of the historic viewshed along Maryland Avenue, among other features, had not been adequately demonstrated.