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House Budget Proposal Leaves Out Eisenhower Memorial

By Ben Adler
June 22, 2012
Eisenhower Memorial
Image courtesy EMC
An iteration of Frank Gehry's design for the Eisenhower Memorial.

Political stumbling blocks continue to slow progress on Frank Gehry’s proposed memorial to President Dwight Eisenhower. The House of Representatives is currently poised to withhold the $59.84 million in funding requested by the Eisenhower Memorial Commission (EMC) in February. The proposed budget released Tuesday for Interior and Environment Appropriations in fiscal year 2013 does not include a line item for the commission.

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This does not mean that the EMC has been defunded, or that it will cease to exist: It may receive funding when the bill is ultimately finished. The EMC also has residual funds from last year. In fiscal year 2012, the EMC received $30.99 million to begin construction and $2 million for operations. The construction costs were to be spread out over several years. Since construction has not started, a significant amount of that money is still left, although the EMC could not immediately say how much exactly.

It is also not clear why funding for 2013 was not included in the draft bill. “More information will be available in the Committee Report, which will be available the day prior to full committee mark up,” said Laura Hing, the House Appropriations Committee Republican Spokeswoman. Neither the House Appropriations Committee nor the office of Republican Representative Mike Simpson of Wyoming, who is a member of the EMC, responded to requests for further comment.

The commission also would not specify Gehry’s fee, except to say that he is being paid at a rate set by the General Service Administration. Calculating Gehry’s fee is complicated, says the EMC, because components of the memorial, such as statues and tapestries, may be designed in collaboration with other firms. A knowledgeable source who asked to remain anonymous estimated Gehry’s total take will be between $7 and $10 million.

This isn’t the first setback for the EMC. Earlier this month, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar sent a letter to the commission asking to review the memorial’s design. In response to the letter, the EMC dropped its plan to present the design at the next meetings of the National Capital Planning Committee (NCPC) and the Commission on Fine Arts, further delaying the approval process. Although the EMC is mostly composed of members of Congress, all of whom have expressed enthusiasm for Gehry’s design, some other House members have raised concerns, including Representative Jim Moran, a Democrat from Virginia, and Republican Representative Darrell Issa of California who chairs the powerful House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. (Issa, who sites on the NCPC, has said that he wants to examine the process by which Gehry was chosen before signing off on the design.)

Critics of Gehry’s design see the potential lack of funding as a major victory. “It sends a very strong signal that many members of Congress have serious qualms about the memorial, including the exorbitant cost,” says Justin Shubow, president of the Civic Art Society, a nonprofit group that opposes the memorial.

But the EMC remains optimistic. “We weren’t expecting anything as of right now because the situation is fluid,” says EMC spokeswoman Chris Cimko. Once the final design has been approved, she says, “We’ll get out a sharp pencil and figure out how much money we need going forward.”

Ben Adler is a contributing writer for The Nation.

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