It's been 14 years since Congress authorized $63 million for a fitting memorial to Dwight D. Eisenhower, supreme commander of Allied forces during World War II and the nation's 34th president. It's been four years since architect Frank Gehry submitted his controversial design and three years since it was approved by the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission.
So it's about time that somebody finds out what happened to two-thirds of the $63 million spent on a memorial that hasn't been built yet, including nearly $2 million annually for commission staff salaries since 1999.
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chairman of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation, wants a full accounting to date. He's requested the information from officials at the Eisenhower Commission, the National Park Service and the General Services Administration. This is a perfectly reasonable request, given that the commission has requested an additional $51 million for fiscal year 2014.
Eisenhower's entire family is vehemently opposed to the Gehry design, which includes 80-foot-tall woven metal "tapestries" that they liken to the Iron Curtain. They also object to the closed competition that produced it. Most of the national monuments in Washington, such as the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, were the result of open public competition and major revisions in the original concept.
In contrast, the GSA used the "request for qualifications" process to limit proposals to a handful of architectural firms, which, critics point out, would have eliminated Maya Lin, designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. And despite vigorous opposition from Eisenhower's family and others in the art world, Gehry only tweaked his original design. Yet nobody on the commission has explained why this unusually truncated process cost so much.
Last year, a group of citizens, historians, architects and Eisenhower family members formed "Right by Ike," a group dedicated to opposing the Gehry memorial, estimated to cost a total of $142 million when completed.
"Taxpayers and donors alike will be better served with an Eisenhower Square that is a green open space with a simple statue in the middle, and quotations from his most important sayings," former Ambassador John Eisenhower, Ike's 90-year-old son, wrote to the commission last October.
Washington has many simple memorials, including the one recently dedicated to the legacy of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr., so such an alternative would save money and honor the Eisenhowers' wishes. Doing right by Ike means doing right by his family as well as the taxpayers.