Utah Republican Rep. Rob Bishop is pushing to freeze funding on a memorial to President Dwight Eisenhower. The project was first funded in 1999, but the design proved controversial. While planning dragged on and on, the commission kept spending money.
After spending $100 million— including $62 million in unspecified costs and $28 million in salaries for the commission since 1999 — not a shovel of dirt has been turned. The commission wants more money, but Bishop is not anxious to give it.
The plan for the new memorial was controversial from the outset, with the design selected in a closed bidding process. The design was opposed by the Eisenhower family.
The design called for three different portrayals of the president — as a young boy, as a general and as president, but the family felt that it slighted Ike's role in history.
"This is about a transformational figure who liberated Europe from the Nazis, and went on to transform America into a global superpower after the war," Susan Eisenhower, the president's granddaughter, told NPR last year. "So to focus on a little boy and his dreams is a real loss of an opportunity to make a statement."
In the grand scheme of budget politics, the money involved is not huge. But Bishop thinks it is time to pull the plug and has introduced legislation that would do just that.
“The Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial will honor one of the greatest leaders in our nation’s history and serve as a lasting tribute to his legacy. It is important that we get this project right and presently, there are far too many outstanding concerns including the controversial design and rising costs,” Bishop said in a statement.
Justin Shubow, the president of the National Civic Art Society, was scheduled to testify before Congress on Tuesday.
“The National Civic Art Society is pleased that Congress recognizes Frank Gehry’s unpopular, grandiose design can no longer go forward," Shubow said in a prepared statement. "The people’s representatives are responding to the serious, substantive concerns we and many others have had about the project’s deconstructionist design, secretive process, exorbitant expense, and uncertain durability.”
Meanwhile, some architects rallied to support the plan.
"Representative Bishop's legislation allows Congress to exercise governmental authority in a wholly arbitrary manner that negates the stated selection process," Robert Ivy, president of the American Institute of Architects, told the Associated Press. "It is nothing more than an effort to intimidate the innovative thinking for which our profession is recognized at home and around the globe."
Eric Schulzke writes on national politics for the Deseret News. He can be contacted at [email protected].