Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is asking for a private viewing of the design for the planned national memorial to President Dwight Eisenhower, throwing up another potential roadblock for the already stalled project.
Such a viewing at the end of June would force delays in two of the key presentations that must take place before construction on the monument can commence.
In an email sent Wednesday evening, Eisenhower Memorial Commission Executive Director Carl Reddel informed staffers for the 11 commissioners that Salazar had earlier that day requested a chance to see the design models and asked for postponement of a July 12 meeting with the National Capital Planning Commission — the agency that must review the design and give the green light for groundbreaking.
It would be the second time in two months that the meeting had been pushed back. Eisenhower Memorial Commission spokeswoman Chris Cimko said Salazar would certainly have a chance to see the designs, but she would not comment on whether the commission would agree to postpone the NCPC appearance.
However, in another email obtained by Roll Call today, the National Park Service announced that a “consultation meeting” scheduled with the Eisenhower Memorial Commission for June 20 has also been canceled. This meeting has to happen before the NCPC can weigh in, so it seems unlikely the latter meeting would be able to occur until later in the summer.
“As the Secretary said last week, it is important to move forward as quickly as possible, but our priority must be to get it right,” Salazar spokesman Adam Fetcher said in a statement to Roll Call. “We will continue to work with the Eisenhower family, the Commission and the National Park Service toward a plan that everyone can all be proud of and that will stand the test of time.”
Salazar’s concerns are being made public as more and more prominent stakeholders and lawmakers begin to weigh in on a concept they think does not serve Eisenhower’s legacy, selected in a process some say was noninclusive and ignores the wishes of the Eisenhower family.
Members of the commission, which includes eight Members of the House and Senate, were hopeful these concerns would be assuaged last month, when the group held a public hearing on Capitol Hill to display the designs that architect Frank Gehry had fine-tuned in response to criticism. Eisenhower’s relatives have been particularly vocal in recent months about Gehry’s choice of materials, calling them unseemly and unsustainable, as well as his decision to depict Eisenhower as a young boy looking out onto a tableau of his future accomplishments.
In a statement on May 30, the Eisenhowers said many of Gehry’s adjustments were welcome, but they still took issue with the stability of the metal tapestries used to depict Eisenhower’s boyhood in Abilene, Kan.
Gehry has stood by his work, as have the commissioners, who are also facing scrutiny for working with the General Services Administration to facilitate a design selection process some say disproportionately favored Gehry and other established architects rather than one that opened the competition up to a larger pool.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee with subpoena authority and oversight of D.C. affairs, announced last week that he was in the process of requesting documents from the GSA that would illuminate how the search was conducted. As a voting member of the NCPC, Issa also indicated that he would not vote in favor of the Gehry proposal at the July 12 meeting, if it happens.
Other lawmakers have also spoken about the need, above all else, for “consensus” among the commissioners and the Eisenhower family.
Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) has said that in light of testimony before the panel of which he is chairman — the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands — he was prepared to ask appropriators to withhold money for the project.
And Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), the ranking member on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Environment that allocates Eisenhower Memorial Commission funding, said last week that he sided with the family and asked the commission to slow down.
But in a joint statement today, Sens. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) — two senior members of the commission — reiterated the necessity of time.
“We appreciate that Frank Gehry has been extremely open to listening to the concerns of all stakeholders in the evolution of his handsome design,” they said. “We want to make sure that any outstanding questions are answered as the process moves forward. We look forward to working with the Department of Interior to accomplish this while avoiding additional costs and excessive delays that would deny our nation’s dwindling population of World War II veterans the opportunity to experience the memorial in their lifetimes.”
Inouye, a World War II veteran, hinted at the significance for him that this memorial is built soon when he spoke at a public meeting of the commission in May.
“Time is of the essence,” Inouye said. “There is a national interest in making sure this monument is completed to remind the next generation of Americans what America has gone through and the great leaders we’ve had.”
Visitors get their first look at the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial, which opened to the public on Monday, Oct. 6, 2014. The new memorial is located off Independence Ave. SW between the Rayburn House Office Building and HHS. Buy photo here.