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In 1999, Congress voted to create a commission to oversee the realization of a national monument to President Dwight D. Eisenhower and, apart from giving it some money, mainly left it alone to do its business.
Now, House lawmakers appear poised to pursue legislation that would significantly overhaul the commission’s past 14 years of work or, in the words of one commission member, “eviscerate” it.
“This has become a nonstarter,” Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, said of the controversial design for the monument to the president and war hero that has had its progress halted by opposition to its scale, scope and aesthetic vision.
Bishop, the chairman of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation, summoned stakeholders on Tuesday to testify about the current memorial concept and the selection process.
The hearing was held almost a year to the day of the last House forum to probe the Eisenhower Memorial Commission’s progress and perhaps help sparring factions find common ground.
“The gap might be wider today than it was a year ago,” said Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., the subcommittee ranking member.
But Tuesday’s hearing was also a chance to test the waters for whether concerned parties would welcome Bishop’s bill, introduced last week, that would appoint new members to the Eisenhower Memorial Commission, eliminate its federal funding and sunset the organization entirely in three year’s time.
Most significantly, the legislation would force the commission to launch a new competition to select an alternative memorial design, one that would in all likelihood replace the current concept envisioned by renowned architect Frank Gehry.
Eisenhower Memorial Commission Executive Director Carl Reddel defended the organization’s work Tuesday and its efforts to compromise on the design concept when critics first aired their grievances. He added that the proposed three-year deadline to get a monument off the ground would be nearly impossible to meet and suggested that overhauling the process at this stage would be a setback and a waste of taxpayer dollars. The commission, comprised of lawmakers and outside experts and supported by paid staff, operates with both public and private funding.
But the other witnesses testifying before the panel agreed it was time for Congress to reinsert itself in the process, and supported the underlying intent of Bishop’s legislation.
“There’s no question that this monument ... cannot be built if it is inconsistent with the views of the people who knew our commander-in-chief in times of war and peace as well as his family,” said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who as chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee also sits on the National Capital Planning Commission, an entity that has a role in determining whether the project can move forward.