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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Monuments and Memorials in the District of Columbia: Analysis and Options for Proposed Exemptions to the Commemorative Works Act

Jacob R. Straus
Analyst on the Congress

Each Congress, numerous proposals to create new commemorative works (i.e., monuments and memorials) in the District of Columbia are introduced. In evaluating each proposal, Congress considers the subject of the proposed work; whether existing monuments and memorials commemorate similar subjects; and whether the sponsor group has requested an exemption from existing laws that might limit monument and memorial subjects and location within the District of Columbia. This report focuses on options for Congress for three types of exemptions to the Commemorative Works Act (CWA, 40 U.S.C. §§8901-8909): siting works, donor recognition, and the placement and status of museums, which are generally not considered commemorative works.

The CWA was enacted in 1986 to govern all monuments and memorials to be located on federal land in the District of Columbia under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service (NPS) or the General Services Administration (GSA). Further, the CWA sought to preserve the L’Enfant and McMillian plans for the Capital; ensure continued public use and enjoyment of open spaces; and preserve, protect, and maintain the open space. Pursuant to the CWA, Congress statutorily authorizes a sponsor group to design and build a monument or memorial with the approval of regulatory bodies: the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) and the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts (CFA). Additionally, the National Capital Memorial Advisory Commission (NCMAC) was created to advise Congress, the Secretary of the Interior, and the Administrator of General Services on the commemorative works process. Unless otherwise stated in law, the sponsor group is responsible for funding the memorial without the use of federal funds.

Since CWA’s enactment, 28 commemorative works have been authorized, and numerous others have been proposed. Among the authorized and proposed works, several sponsor groups have sought—and some have received—exemptions from certain CWA provisions.

The CWA divides the District of Columbia into three areas for the siting of monuments and memorials: an area where new commemorative works are prohibited (the Reserve), an area that requires congressional authorization (Area I), and all other NPS or GSA land (Area II). Some sponsor groups have been granted exemptions for siting monuments and memorials, and others have been approved to add new elements to existing commemorative works.

With limited exceptions, legislation authorizing new monuments and memorials prohibits the use of federal funds to design and build them. Therefore, sponsor groups must raise the necessary funds from donors. Sponsor groups, however, are also statutorily prohibited from recognizing their donors at the commemorative works’ sites. Sponsor groups have sought individual exemptions from these provisions (P.L. 113-21 granted an exemption for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Visitor Center) and have proposed to amend the CWA to allow recognition at all memorials (see H.R. 2395, 113
th Congress).

The CWA also prohibits the siting of museums on NPS- or GSA-administered land in the District of Columbia. In 2003, however, Congress provided an exemption to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The granting of this exemption arguably suggests that Congress believes the CWA applies to museums at any District location, if they are located on NPS- or GSA-administered land. This application of the CWA to a museum would be in contrast to the specific CWA prohibition against the placement of a museum in Area I or East Potomac Park.

Date of Report: September 24, 2013
Number of Pages: 19
Order Number: R43241
Price: $29.95

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