Funding for the Dwight D. Eisenhower memorial would be eliminated in fiscal 2015 under a bill advanced Wednesday by the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Environment.
Despite broad support for building a memorial to the 34th president in the District of Columbia, even members of Congress appointed to the Eisenhower Memorial Commission acknowledge roadblocks to moving forward with architect Frank Gehry's design.
Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., told CQ Roll Call the project is "not on track if there are not additional appropriations." He said he remains "hopeful it will be built," and still wants to see a memorial to the World War II hero, who grew up in Kansas. Moran said to advance the project, he thinks members of Congress "need to be comfortable not only with the design, but with the commission and its work."
In its 2015 budget request, the EMC asked for $2 million for commission operations and $19.3 million for construction, projecting that amount, plus federal funds from past years, would be sufficient to complete the first phase of the memorial’s construction. Instead, the project, which recently became the subject of a House Appropriations Committee investigation , was zeroed out.
Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., who is a relatively new member of the commission, said he was not aware of the defunding, but had background information on some concerns. "The site's been located, but I guess there's been controversy over the type of design, but that can all be worked through," he said in an interview.
Manchin talked about his admiration for Eisenhower, and said he hoped the project could be brought to fruition. "I understand there were some family concerns and hopefully we can get through it," he continued. "I haven't met with those people."
Asked if he thought Gehry was the appropriate architect for the memorial, Manchin responded, "I'm not going to make those decisions because I don't know Mr. Gehry. I'm just saying we have to get through it, that's all."
In April, the National Capital Planning Commission rejected Gehry's design and directed the EMC to return every two months, beginning in June, to provide updates on design modifications as a standing item on its agenda. However, the EMC pulled out of an NCPC meeting scheduled for Thursday because the design was not ready for presentation.
The EMC now anticipates that information on a revised design will be available for presentation at the NCPC's Sept. 4 meeting, according to an email to commissioners from the EMC's executive director, retired Brig. Gen. Carl Reddel, that was obtained by CQ Roll Call.
A spokeswoman for Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, a chief critic of the Gehry design, said in an email that between the defunding and the change of schedule with NCPC, "we’re left to wonder if it is logical to keep the current design on taxpayer-funded life support much longer."
Bishop has proposed a bill, advanced by the House Natural Resources Committee, to scrap the current plan and commission and start fresh with a new design competition.
"Congressman Bishop is of the notion that the process for this project got off on the wrong foot from the start and has suffered as a result ever since," said spokeswoman Melissa Subbotin. "The ultimate goal is to build an appropriate and fitting memorial that pays tribute to one of our nation’s greatest military leaders and presidents. Right now, the memorial is less about the legacy of President Eisenhower and more about the architect Frank Gehry. It’s clearly time to re-evaluate in order to move forward.”
In response to the appropriation proposed by the House, the EMC released a statement saying the bill would maintain the status quo for the memorial that the House put forward last year. The fiscal 2014 omnibus funding bill appropriated only $1 million of the EMC's $51 million request.
"In the past year the design for the National Eisenhower Memorial has gained considerable momentum," the statement said. "The overall design concept, as well as certain specific elements, have been approved by the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts (CFA). In addition, the Eisenhower Memorial Commission and Frank Gehry are actively engaged in finding design solutions to the issues raised at the April 3 National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) meeting."
The EMC noted that the Senate has yet to draft its version of the bill, and said it would 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 can educate future generations of Americans about this great American’s legacy."