S. 599 - National Parks Bills



STATEMENT OF STEPHEN E. WHITESELL, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, PARK PLANNING, FACILITIES, AND LANDS,NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS OF THE SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES, CONCERNING S. 599, A BILL TO ESTABLISH A COMMISSION TO COMMEMORATE THE SESQUICENTENNIAL OF THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR 

May 11, 2011

Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to present the views of the Department of the Interior on S. 599, a bill to establish a commission to commemorate the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War.

The Department supports S. 599 with amendments discussed in this testimony.This legislation is similar to S. 1838, introduced in the last Congress, which the Department supported in testimony before this subcommittee on December 3, 2009.The Department of Justice advises us of constitutional concerns with the bill, and in particular with regard to the composition of the commission,which the Department of Justice will address directly with the sponsor and the committee.We defer to the Office of Personnel Management and the Office of Government Ethics for matters related to the status of the commission's members and employees for purposes of various laws governing Federal employment.  Lastly, we defer to the National Endowment for the Humanities for any concerns about the grant program authorized by Section 7 of the bill.

S. 599 would establish a Civil War Sesquicentennial Commemoration Commission to plan, develop, and carry out programs and activities to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War and to coordinate activities related to the commemoration by other federal, state, and nongovernmental entities.The bill also authorizes a grant program through the National Endowment for the Humanities for appropriate activities relating to the sesquicentennial.S. 599 authorizes $500,000 for each fiscal year from 2012 through 2016 for the commission and $3.5 million for the grant program.

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. 599 is mindful of this reality as it makes a purpose of the Commission to recognize the experiences and points of view of all people affected by the Civil War and to provide assistance for the development of programs, projects, and activities on the Civil War that have lasting educational value.

As steward of more than 100 battlefields, historic homes and other original sites associated with the Civil War and the resulting struggle for civil rights, the National Park Service has begun commemorating the 150th anniversary by initiating a number of activities to provide Americans the opportunity to understand and discuss this country's greatest national crisis, while exploring its enduring relevance in the 21st century. These activities include hundreds of commemorative programs, special events, and symposia planned for the anniversary years.The National Park Service has also developed a new website that has a calendar of all anniversary programs and events, as well as historical features and timelines designed to illustrate the relevancy of events that occurred 150 years ago.And, the National Park Service is developing new interpretive media, including a new handbook, The Civil War Remembered, that was published in April.Museum galleries, wayside exhibits, and audio visual programs are being upgraded at Civil War parks throughout the country.

With its experience and expertise on the subject of the Civil War and its causes and consequences, the National Park Service is well-positioned to assume the responsibilities assigned to it by S. 599.The legislation provides for the Director of the National Park Service or his designee to serve on the commission, and for the National Park Service to provide support services to the commission on a reimbursable basis.The establishment of the commission would complement the work the National Park Service has already planned.It would provide a means for coordinating entities from all levels of government and across a spectrum of the private sector who are involved or who want to be involved in the sesquicentennial commemoration. The commission would be able to give a kind of visibility, stature, and reach to the sesquicentennial commemoration beyond what the National Park Service can provide, even with the help of the many partners and community groups the Service has engaged in this effort.

The Department recommends that the bill be amended in the following ways:First, we recommend that the bill allow for 180 days instead of 60 days for the selection of the commission members, consistent with the time period it normally requires to process commission appointments.Second, we recommend that the size of the commission be reduced from 25 members to perhaps 15 or 17 members. A smaller commission would improve the panel's ability to work efficiently and effectively, and reduce the cost of the commission. Third, we recommend changing the deadline for the commission's final report from December 30, 2015, to September 30, 2016, to provide more time after the full sesquicentennial has passed to complete that work and for consistency with the authorization of appropriations through fiscal year 2016 provided by the bill.We would be pleased to work with the committee to develop amendments for these purposes.

Mr. Chairman, that concludes my statement.I would be pleased to answer any questions you or other members of the subcommittee might have.