Parks and Memorials Bills: S 1838
STATEMENT OF KATHERINE H. STEVENSON,
ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, BUSINESS SERVICES, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE,
DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR,
SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS
OF THE COMMITTEE ON ENERGY
UNITED STATES SENATE,
CONCERNING S. 1838,
OF THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR
December 3, 2009
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to present the views of the Department of the Interior on S. 1838, a bill that would establish a commission to commemorate the Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War.
The Department supports the enactment of this legislation subject to addressing some minor amendments discussed in our testimony and the concerns of the Department of Justice, which has advised that it may have constitutional concerns about an appointment provision in the bill and will provide its recommended amendments, if any, at a later date to address these concerns. The Office of Personnel Management and the Office of Government Ethics also welcome the opportunity to work with the Committee to address matters related to the status of the Commission's members and employees for purposes of various laws governing Federal employment. We defer to those agencies for the specifics of their concerns.
S. 1838 would establish a Civil War Sesquicentennial Commemoration Commission to cooperate with and assist States and national organizations with programs and activities to ensure a suitable national observance of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.It also authorizes a grant program for the development of programs, projects, and activities on the Civil War that have lasting educational value.
The Civil War was, in the words of Robert Penn Warren, "the great single event of our history." It was the both the greatest disaster that has ever befallen our nation, and also our era of greatest achievement.It was a wrenching conflict that resulted in the loss of 620,000 lives, the liberation of four million African American slaves, and the ratification of three Constitutional amendments that forever changed the face of American democracy. S. 1838 is mindful of this reality as it directs the Commission to recognize "the experiences and points of view of all people affected by the Civil War," and provides for the development of "programs, projects, and activities on the Civil War that have lasting educational value."
As S. 1838 acknowledges, the military aspects of the Civil War are important events to commemorate. It is equally important, however, as we prepare to reflect on the war from the vantage point of a-century-and-a-half later, that we explore the causes of the conflict to understand better why the democratic framework of the country failed to resolve the sectional issues short of war.Likewise, we would be doing a disservice to those who fought and fell, if the Sesquicentennial did not fully examine and reflect upon the consequences of the Civil War including not only the Reconstruction era and its aftermath, but also the subsequent constriction of equal rights for African American citizens, and the ultimate achievement of those civil rights for the descendents of enslaved peoples almost a century later.
As the country approaches the 150th anniversary of the war, the meaning of the Civil War should be explored fully.Its causes and consequences, subjects which Congress directed the National Park Service to address in its programs and materials beginning in 1999, can and must be a major part of the Sesquicentennial. The Sesquicentennial should assume the broadest possible approach to remembering and commemorating the war.With that in mind, and subject to theconcerns of the other federal agencies referenced above, the Department would recommend the following suggestions for strengthening S. 1838 and making its implementation more efficient and effective.
First, the findings mention specific organizations and places important to the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War.It is important to remember that the Civil War was a national experience and its Sesquicentennial commemoration should likewise represent a broad spectrum of the nation.For example, the
Second, respecting the importance of the appointments to this nationally important commission, we recommend that the bill allow for 180 days instead of 60 days for the selection of the commission members.
Third, the bill envisions a commission that would include twenty-seven members.We believe a commission of this size would significantly impede the timely selection of its members, diminish its ability to work efficiently and effectively, and would be too costly.We recommend a smaller commission, with perhaps fifteen or seventeen members.We would be glad to work with the committee on language for these proposed amendments.
Establishing a commission, subject to modifications as discussed above, to commemorate the sesquicentennial of the Civil War as envisioned in S. 1838 would provide the nation an opportunity to reflect upon this momentous event within an environment that would be inclusive and contemplative.The Department of the Interior and the National Park Service stand ready to contribute its resources and expertise to this important commemoration.It would enable all Americans to reflect anew upon the war, its consequences, and its lasting legacies.It would result, we can hope, in greater public insight into the war and promote increased awareness of its remarkable influence upon our society today.
This concludes my prepared testimony, Mr. Chairman.I would be pleased to answer any questions you or the committee might have.