STATEMENT OF DENIS P. GALVIN, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, HISTORIC PRESERVATION, AND RECREATION OF THE COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES, U.S. SENATE, CONCERNING S. 1617, TO PROMOTE PRESERVATION AND PUBLIC AWARENESS OF THE HISTORY OF THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD BY PROVIDING FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE TO THE FREEDOM CENTER IN CINCINNATI, OHIO.

MAY 11, 2000


Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to present the views of the Department of the Interior on S. 1617, to promote preservation and public awareness of the history of the Underground Railroad by providing financial assistance to the Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The Department opposes the enactment of S. 1617. Our opposition to this legislation should not be interpreted as a negative view of the Freedom Center. Indeed, the National Park Service is working in partnership with the Center as part of our program to increase knowledge and public understanding of historical events associated with the Underground Railroad, and we hope to continue that relationship in the future. Rather, our opposition is due to our belief that it is inappropriate to use limited National Park Service appropriations to fund construction projects and operations for institutions that are not part of the National Park System.

S. 1617 would authorize appropriations of $16 million for Fiscal Year 2000 through Fiscal Year 2004 for assistance to the Freedom Center, subject to a non-Federal match of 80 percent. Funds could be used for construction of the Freedom Center facility and the development of programs and exhibits for the facility. In addition, S. 1617 would authorize the Secretary of the Interior to use employees of the National Park Service to carry out agreements between the Secretary and the Freedom Center for construction, development and operation of the Center.

The Freedom Center developed from a proposal by the Cincinnati chapter of the national Conference of Christians and Jews (now called the National Conference for Community and Justice) and was incorporated as a non-profit organization in 1995. The idea for the Center was similar to one of the recommendations of the 1995 special resource study on the Underground Railroad the National Park Service conducted pursuant to Title VI of Public Law 101-628. That recommendation called for establishing a commemorative, interpretive, educational, and research center for the Underground Railroad.

However, in the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Act of 1998 (Public Law 105-203), Congress noted that the Underground Railroad Advisory Committee had found that "no single site or route completely reflects and characterizes the Underground Railroad since its story and associated resources involve networks and regions of the country rather than individual sites and trails". The Act established a program to support a range of activities throughout the country to commemorate, honor, and interpret the history of the Underground Railroad. Congress declined to act on the recommendation to establish one primary site for that purpose.

As part of our implementation of the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Act, the National Park Service has been working with the Freedom Center. In July 1999, the National Park Service entered into a memorandum of understanding with the Center for the purpose of sharing information, developing educational materials, and using the Center facilities.

However, the Freedom Center is only one of many organizations with whom we are working to preserve and interpret resources associated with the Underground Railroad. Most of the National Park Service’s efforts have involved providing technical assistance to States, local governments, non-profit organizations, community groups, and individuals that are struggling to preserve the tangible remains of the history of the Underground Railroad in their areas. The National Park Service’s authorized annual budget for the program of $500,000 enables us to respond to requests for technical assistance, but there is an enormous demand for financial assistance for all aspects of preserving and interpreting Underground Railroad resources that is far beyond our means and jurisdiction.

Many of the requests we receive involve community efforts to document and preserve Underground Railroad properties and to develop interpretive centers within them. These communities typically have high hopes these sites will generate tourism revenue that could be used to assist in preservation and to rejuvenate their communities. Some organizations have approached us about making their Underground Railroad sites units of the National Park System.

In these circumstances, providing funding through the National Park Service for construction and operation to the Freedom Center would likely lead to similar requests from other groups that want to establish Underground Railroad interpretive sites in their communities. It would also undoubtedly strain the trust and relationships with other organizations that the National Park Service has worked hard to develop, and upon which the success of this relatively modest Federal program depends.

Mr. Chairman, to emphasize again, our opposition to the legislation is not a judgment about the Freedom Center. The Department recently testified against two other bills that authorized funding for two worthy institutions that are not part of the National Park System—the Palace of Governors in New Mexico and the Lincoln Interpretive Center in Illinois. We opposed those bills, as we oppose this one, because unless there were unexpected substantial increases in funding for the National Park Service in coming years, funding for institutions that are not part of the National Park System will compete directly with funding that the NPS needs to manage units of the National Park System. That includes funding for the long and costly list of deferred construction projects in our national parks.

In addition, we have serious concerns about Section 4(f) of S. 1617, which would authorize the Secretary to use National Park Service staff for the center. We believe it would be unwise to allow National Park Service employees to work for institutions that are not part of the National Park System, and we believe such a provision would set a troubling precedent.

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement. I would be pleased to respond to questions from you or other committee members.