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Taiwan Likes Ike, but Congress Withholds Memorial Support

Appeasing the Eisenhower family is all Roberts cares about right now. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Taiwan is pledging $1 million toward construction of a memorial honoring President Dwight D. Eisenhower in Washington, a project that hasn't received any construction funds from Congress since fiscal 2012.  

Sen. Pat Roberts confirmed the gift Tuesday, boosting the project less than a week after architect Frank Gehry's design secured final approval from federal planners. But the Kansas Republican, who serves as chairman of the Eisenhower Memorial Commission, also acknowledged significant hurdles to putting shovels to dirt. While Congress has extended authorization for the four-acre site just off the National Mall and the 11-member commission that oversees it, appropriators continue to withhold the money needed to break ground on the $144-million project. Roberts stepped back Tuesday from his effort to secure additional funding in a future spending deal.  

"I think that was probably a little too hasty on my part, so we'll just have to see," Roberts told CQ Roll Call, when asked about his earlier remarks. "The big thing is the National Capital Planning Commission approving. But we're still working with the family. That's all I care about right now."  

Federal law requires memorial sponsors to have full funding in place before construction permits are issued. In its fiscal 2012 appropriations, Congress granted a waiver that would have allowed construction to proceed on a pay-as-you-go basis. Opponents successfully cut that provision  out of the 2013 continuing resolution and subsequent spending deals.  

Amid debate about the Confederate battle flag, House Republicans have put a hold on the appropriations process, including the Interior spending bill that posed the biggest threat yet to Gehry’s plans. But appropriators in both chambers who will eventually agree on a fiscal 2016 budget have zeroed out construction funding — despite the Eisenhower Memorial Commission's $68.2 million request.  

Planners still anticipate the Eisenhower Memorial will be completed in 2017, the 72nd anniversary of the end of World War II. That would require dozens more donations like the boost from Taiwan, though the EMC has never set its private fundraising goal higher than $35 million.  

During the 113th Congress, investigators on the House Natural Resources Committee released a report stating organizers had received less than $500,000 in gifts and donations, but paid more than $1.4 million to fundraising companies. The same report, disputed by the EMC, suggested mismanagement of $41 million already spent or obligated for the project.  

Suggesting problems exposed in the report still concerns members of Congress. A representative for House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz , R-Utah, cast the lone “no” vote during the NCPC's July 9 meeting. After meeting with the Eisenhower family and hearing their concerns with the design and process, the congressman committed to keeping an eye on alleged problems at the EMC, a Chaffetz spokeswoman previously told CQ Roll Call.  

For Congress to hold out for buy-in from the Eisenhower family "cuts against the whole idea of a national consensus to honor a national hero," The New York Times  stated in an editorial published over the weekend.  

But longtime critics reject the notion that the approval of architecture and design experts at the Commission of Fine Arts and NCPC represents a popular mandate to move forward with Gehry's design.  

"The very fact that this memorial is so contentious and so controversial means that there is no consensus around this memorial," Right By Ike spokesman Sam Roche said Tuesday. He called Gehry's memorial park "too controversial" and "too expensive" to reflect Eisenhower's legacy of consensus building and fiscal stewardship.  

Correction 10:02 a.m. A previous version of this article misspelled the name of the National Capital Planning Commission.