June 3, 2003
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to present the views of the Department of the Interior on S. 470, a bill that would grant a three-year extension of the legislative authority for construction of the memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr., in Washington, D.C.
The Department supports this legislation. We believe it is wholly appropriate for Congress to grant more time to the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation, Inc., the organization responsible for establishing the memorial, to raise the funds necessary to build what we believe will be a fitting tribute to the man who is recognized as the preeminent leader of the American civil rights movement of the 20th Century.
The authorization to establish the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial was enacted on November 12, 1996, as Public Law 104-333. Under the Commemorative Works Act of 1986, authorizations for memorials expire at the end of the seven-year period after an authorization is enacted, unless a construction permit for the memorial has been issued. The Foundation does not expect to have raised the necessary funds to receive the construction permit by November 12, 2003. Therefore, the authorization for the memorial will expire on that date unless it is extended by law.
Much progress has been made toward establishing the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial since it was authorized in 1996. In 1998, an "Area I" authorization was enacted. Area I authorizations are joint resolutions that Congress must pass deeming a subject matter of "preeminent historical and lasting significance to the Nation" in order for a memorial to be built in the area designated as Area I under the Commemorative Works Act. Area I, the heart of the monumental core, encompasses the National Mall and Tidal Basin areas.
In 1999, a site for the memorial, on the northwest side of the Tidal Basin, was approved by the Secretary of the Interior, the National Capital Planning Commission, and the Commission of Fine Arts. A competition was held and a design concept for the memorial was chosen from the approximately 900 entries submitted. Currently, the Foundation is preparing an environmental assessment, which is necessary for final approval of the design. It is expected to be released for public comment shortly. In the meantime, the Foundation is actively engaged in fundraising for the memorial. Foundation representatives told the National Capital Memorial Commission recently that they have received pledges for about $25 million of the approximately $100 million needed and intend to raise the balance in the next three years.
Extensions of legislative authority have been granted before for other memorial projects. Memorials authorized to be constructed in the Nation's Capital must go through time-consuming procedural steps. If they are relatively large memorials, as the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial will be, raising the necessary funds is often a daunting challenge. Three recently constructed memorials-Women in Military Service for America, World War II and George Mason-were granted time extensions. Three authorized but not yet constructed memorials-Black Revolutionary War Patriots, Thomas Paine, and Victims of Communism-were granted extensions similar to that proposed under S. 470.
Establishing a sunset clause for memorial projects has been a policy of the Congress for more than 60 years. This policy ensures that memorial sites will not be held indefinitely if, for funding or other reasons, the sponsors of a memorial are not able to build it. Nevertheless, the granting of at least one extension to the initial authorization has precedent, particularly in those circumstances when a memorial sponsor has taken the time required to obtain an Area I authorization.
Mr. Chairman, that concludes my testimony and I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.