STATEMENT OF P. DANIEL SMITH, SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO THE DIRECTOR, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON GOVERNMENT EFFICIENCY, FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT AND INTERGOVERNMENTAL RELATIONS, HOUSE COMMITTEE ON GOVERNMENT REFORM, CONCERNING H.R. 1081, TO DIRECT THE ARCHIVIST OF THE UNITED STATES TO MAINTAIN AN INVENTORY OF ALL GIFTS FROM DOMESTIC SOURCES FOR THE PRESIDENT, THE EXECUTIVE RESIDENCE AT THE WHITE HOUSE, OR A PRESIDENTIAL ARCHIVAL DEPOSITORY.
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to appear before your committee to present the views of the Department of the Interior on H.R. 1081, a bill which would among other things direct the Archivist of the United States to maintain an inventory of all gifts from domestic sources for the President, the Executive Residence at the White House, or a Presidential archival depository. The Department does not believe that the provisions in this bill pertaining to the National Park Service are necessary at this time. Existing authorities provide adequate processes for the National Park Service to accept donations for the White House and maintain an annual inventory.
The National Park Service accepts donations for the White House pursuant to two different legal authorities. The first authority allows the Director of the National Park Service, when authorized and directed by the White House Chief Usher or Curator, to accept donations of works of art, furnishings, and historic materials for the Executive Residence of the White House to become the property of the United States Government. The Director of the National Park Service has held this responsibility since June 10, 1933, when an Executive Order signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt transferred the responsibilities of the Public Buildings and Public Parks of the National Capital to the National Park Service including the Executive Residence of the White House. This responsibility to accept donations for the White House, on behalf of the United States was further authorized by Congress on June 25, 1948, under U.S. Code Title 3 Section 110, whereby the Director of the National Park Service was authorized and directed, with the approval of the President, to accept donations of works of art, furnishings, and historical materials for use in the White House. Section 109 of this same act also directed the Director of the National Park Service, to complete an annual inventory to be submitted to the President for approval. This inventory includes all public property (donated and purchased) in and belonging to the Executive Residence at the White House. Since 1948, the National Park Service has accepted donations and performs its responsibilities in accordance with this legislation. The National Park Service only accepts gifts on behalf of the United States for use in the Executive Residence of the White House and does not accept gifts that are donated personally to the President. This is the responsibility of the White House Gift Office.
Over the years, the National Park Service staff has worked closely with the White House Chief Usher and Curator on procedures for accepting donations for the White House and for inventorying this property. When the National Park Service receives a request from the White House Curator (for museum-related donations) or the Chief Usher (for non-museum property donations) to accept a donation for the Executive Residence at the White House, the National Park Service sends an official letter to the donor acknowledging and accepting this donation to the White House on behalf of the United States Government to become government property. The Curator and Chief Usher receive copies of the official letter of acceptance sent to the donor.
In addition, for donations to the White House museum collection, such as a watercolor drawing of the White House as it appeared circa 1867, the Chair of the Committee for the Preservation of the White House (a position held by the Director, National Park Service) sends a Committee for the Preservation of the White House Certificate of Appreciation to the donor. The certificate is signed by the Director, National Park Service, as Chair of the Committee, and the First Lady, as honorary Co-Chair.
The staff at the White House Curator’s Office enters the information for donated items into the White House museum and inventory system. The National Park Service and the Office of the Curator staff physically inventory all items donated to the White House Museum Collection and other property donated to the Executive Residence at the White House during the annual inventory process as required by U.S. Code Title 3 Section 109. All donated items to the White House Museum Collection and other property donated to the Executive Residence at the White House have a unique tracking number assigned to them by the Office of the Curator at the White House. Items for the White House Museum Collection are stored in museum-quality facilities in the Washington DC area or within the Executive Residence at the White House. The National Park Service operates the off-site museum storage facility. This facility meets the current accepted museum standards for the care and preservation of museum collections.
Under the reporting requirements of Section 3 of the proposed legislation, the Department would be required to provide the National Park Service acceptance letter sent to a donor and the information provided to the National Park Service by the White House Chief Usher or Curator to the Archivist of the United States. This would create a duplicative inventory of what already exists in National Park Service records of donations to the White House Museum Collection and the donations to the Executive Residence at the White House.
The second manner in which the National Park Service may receive donations for the benefit of the White House is through the National Park Service’s general donation authority, which is found in U.S. Code Title 16 Section 6 (authorized on June 5, 1920). The procedures described above, i.e. the letter of intent and National Park Service acceptance letter, also apply to donations accepted under this authority.
In summary, the well-established systems for the National Park Service to receive donations to the Executive Residence of the White House provide ample safeguards to assure proper accountability for these donations. The Department shares the concerns raised by the National Archives and Records Administration and the Office of Government Ethics that various features of the proposed legislation are wholly duplicative of current functions required under statutes and unnecessary to ensure sufficient and appropriate oversight of the gift donation process. For example, it is unclear what steps Section 3, § 2208(e) of the proposed legislation would require regarding our authority to acceptance donations on behalf of the United States Government as authorized by the Act of June 25, 1948, under U.S. Code Title 3 Section 110.
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to comment. This concludes my prepared remarks and I will be happy to answer any questions you or other committee members might have.