H.R. 1949

National Liberty Memorial Clarification Act of 2015

STATEMENT OF PEGGY O’DELL, DEPUTY DIRECTOR FOR OPERATIONS, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SENATE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES, CONCERNING H.R. 1949, A BILL TO PROVIDE FOR THE CONSIDERATION AND SUBMISSION OF SITE AND DESIGN PROPOSALS FOR THE NATIONAL LIBERTY MEMORIAL APPROVED FOR ESTABLISHMENT IN THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA.

March 17, 2016

Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to present the views of the Department of the Interior on H.R. 1949, a bill to provide for the consideration and submission of site and design proposals for the National Liberty Memorial approved for establishment in the District of Columbia.

The Department opposes H.R. 1949, which would amend Section 2860(c) of the Military Construction Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 (division B of Public Law 112-239; 40 U.S.C. 8903 note) by directing that the Secretary of Agriculture, rather than the Secretary of the Interior or the Administrator of General Services, shall be responsible for the consideration of site and design proposals for the National Liberty Memorial and for the submission of such proposals on behalf of the sponsor to the Commission of Fine Arts and National Capital Planning Commission.

The National Liberty Memorial (Memorial) was authorized on January 2, 2013, by Section 2860 of P.L. 112-239.  It allows the National Mall Liberty Fund D.C. to establish a memorial on eligible Federal land to honor the more than 5,000 courageous slaves and free black persons who served as soldiers and sailors or provided civilian assistance during the American Revolution.  On September 26, 2014, P.L. 113-176 approved the establishment of the Memorial within Area I, as depicted on the map entitled “Commemorative Areas Washington, DC and Environs”, numbered 869/86501 B, and dated June 24, 2003.  H.R. 1949 would amend the original memorial authorization to direct the Secretary of Agriculture, and not the Secretary of Interior or Administrator of General Services, to submit, on behalf of the sponsor, site and design proposals to the Commission of Fine Arts and the National Capital Planning Commission for their approval, and to be guided by the decision criteria set forth in Section 8905(b) of the Commemorative Works Act (CWA), 40 U.S.C. Chapter 89.

In accordance with the CWA, the National Capital Memorial Advisory Commission considered this legislation at its meeting on September 14, 2015, and concluded that the CWA sufficiently addresses the site selection and memorial design process that should take place for the Memorial.  The commissioners did not believe this legislation would provide the memorial sponsor any advantage nor would it streamline the process.  Rather, the commission concluded that the legislation would likely complicate the process.

H.R. 1949 prematurely assumes that the Memorial will be placed on the sponsor’s preferred site on a parcel of land under the jurisdiction of the General Services Administration and occupied by the Department of Agriculture.  However, the sponsor has not yet undertaken an Environmental Assessment, a process that requires consideration of multiple sites, and will likely include several sites unrelated to the Department of Agriculture.  Further, while the National Park Service and the General Services Administration are accustomed to collaborating on the process of establishing new memorials on land under the jurisdiction of their respective agencies within Washington, D.C., the Department of Agriculture does not have the same experience.  A collaboration of all three agencies would be the most expeditious means of establishing the Memorial and would allow full consideration of the sponsor’s preferred site as well as those under General Services Administration or National Park Service jurisdiction that might also be considered.

The Department would also note that H.R. 1949 is silent to how it would further affect other sections of the CWA.  For example, Section 8906 of the CWA charges the Secretary of the Interior or the Administrator of General Services with issuing the permit for construction after determining that certain qualifications have been met.  It could create confusion as to which agency would assume this role if the Department of Agriculture is directed to lead the earlier process.

In closing, the Department believes strongly that the legislation would complicate an already-established process and would likely lead to delays in the establishment of the National Liberty Memorial. 

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement.  I would be happy to answer any questions that you or other members of the subcommittee may have regarding this bill.