Fighting for History, within and beyond the Beltway
Editor’s note: Portions of this column were adapted from updates available at the National Coalition for History’s website, historycoalition.org.
Women’s History Museum Commission Issues Report
On November 16, 2016, the Congressional Commission on an American Museum of Women’s History (AMWH) submitted its much-anticipated report. Legislation creating the commission was passed by Congress in December 2014.
The commission affirms the need for a physical national museum honoring women in America. The commission recommended the museum become an official part of the Smithsonian Institution and be located at one of three “preferred” sites on the National Mall: at the South Washington Monument Site, the Northwest US Capitol Site, or the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building (unless the building is designated for a future Smithsonian Latino-American museum). The Arts and Industries building recently underwent a $55 million renovation but is currently vacant and underutilized.
Under the plan, a combination of public and private funds would fund the museum, with a goal of $150 million to $180 million to come from the private sector. At least 75 percent of capital campaign funds would need to be pledged before any construction. The museum would be between 75,000 and 90,000 square feet in size. The commission calls for the creation of a 10-year strategic plan to develop the museum in three phases.
The first “Action Plan” would require federal funding to go toward a Smithsonian-wide American Women’s History Initiative to ensure support for the creation of a physical museum and to ensure that women’s history is present in all current Smithsonian museums. The commission recommends that an AMWH Interpretive Planning and Design Team select women’s history scholars who will inform a well-rounded story of women’s history in America.
In the second phase, Congress would allocate land or an existing building to the Smithsonian so that the AMWH would have a prominent location in downtown Washington, DC.
The third phase would require the Smithsonian to partner with private-sector funding sources to complete the capital campaign and build the museum. Private-sector money would finance the construction of the museum and provide the first year of operating and maintenance funds. Once construction is complete and the museum is open to the public, the government would take over the annual costs of operating and maintaining the museum after its inaugural year. As with all other publicly owned Smithsonian museums, private-sector money would also be raised to offset and augment these operational costs via a split funding campaign.
To read the executive summary and full report, go to http://amwh.us/report/.
Congress Creates Commission for the United States’ 250th Anniversary
Congress recently passed Public Law 114-196, establishing the US Semiquincentennial Commission, to begin planning for the nation’s 250th anniversary in 2026. The body will comprise 8 members of Congress, 16 private citizens, and 8 federal officials. Unfortunately, the law does not delineate the qualifications for the private citizen representatives, who will be named by the House speaker and minority leader and the Senate majority and minority leaders. NCH will be working to ensure that qualified historians are appointed to some of the slots.
With the mission of observing and commemorating the Revolution as well as the history of the United States leading to the 250th anniversary, the commission will develop a report with recommendations to the president and Congress within two years of its formation. Meetings will convene at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, and the commission will exist until December 31, 2027.
Of particular interest is a requirement that the Department of the Interior engage in a competitive process to seek to enter into an arrangement with a nonprofit organization to house and operate the commission. An earlier version of the bill named an existing Philadelphia-based nonprofit organization, USA250, to serve this function. This designation was removed in the final bill passed by Congress.
Federal Budget Update
The congressional appropriations process ground to a halt in late September, and Congress passed a short-term budget continuing resolution (CR) that kept the federal government operating until December 9. Before leaving for the holidays, Congress passed a second CR to keep the federal government funded and operating through April 28, 2017. Republican leaders in Congress decided they wanted to avoid a final budget battle with the Obama administration. The delay would also allow the Trump administration to have input on the budget even though it would only cover the final six months of the 2017 fiscal year.
Revolutionary War Battlefield Saved
Perspectives readers will recall the efforts of NCH and several other groups to prevent the wholesale development of a parcel of land in Princeton, New Jersey, that was the site of a Revolutionary War battle. In December, the Civil War Trust announced that a positive outcome had been reached. The Institute for Advanced Study, which had sought to develop the land, agreed to a scaled-back project, allowing 15 acres of land to be preserved.
Lee White is executive director of the National Coalition for History.
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