CINCINNATI (TDB) -- A top Clinton-administration appointee from the National Park Service told Congress in 2000 that earmarking $16 million in federal funds for the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati could stress the agency's budget. He warned the appropriation would divert money for badly needed deferred work at other sites across the country. Now the museum -- which got the money from Congress anyway and depends on government subsidies -- plans to give former President Bill Clinton a major award later this year.
Clinton visits Cincinnati today on a different mission -- a fundraiser for his wife Hillary's 2008 presidential campaign. News of the Freedom Center award broke just ahead of the fundraiser.
What hasn't been mentioned is that Clinton was completing his last year in office when his administration explicitly told Congress the Freedom Center would "compete directly for funding" with the National Park Service. That agency was cash-strapped and could not get enough from Congress to maintain and improve its own properties. The Clintonites wanted to focus money on those priorities.
How much was needed? According to the White House, NPS estimated the deferred maintenance backlog was nearly $4.9 billion, with about $2.7 billion related to roads, bridges, and transportation projects. The current White House recommended action to eliminate the NPS deferred maintenance backlog over five years, and allocated $440 million for non-road projects, a 30-percent increase over 2001
But that all seems forgotten today. It looks like the museum is making an effort to cash in on the popularity of Democrat Clinton and former Republican President George H.W. Bush, who both are slated to become recipients of the International Freedom Conductor Award later this year in Cincinnati. But Clinton's administration expressed clear concerns before Senate and House panels in March and May 2000 that providing federal financial assistance to the Freedom Center could suck money away from the national park system, the nation's crown jewels.
"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 are 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."
That was from Denis P. Galvin, deputy director of the National Park Service. His testimony is HERE and HERE. Below is a bit of what the Freedom Center -- which cost $110 million to build on the Ohio River in downtown Cincinnati and includes $41 million in public funds -- has to say about prior recipients of its Freedom Conductor awards:
"Modeled after the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize, the award was created by the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center to recognize contemporary individuals who by their actions and personal examples reflect the spirit and courageous actions of the "Conductors" of the Underground Railroad. The Conductors risked their lives and livelihoods to help those who were enslaved escape through the secret network of houses, churches, and barns known as the Underground Railroad. In 1998, the award was endowed by a $1 million gift from the Firstar Corporation (Today known as US Bank).
"The award is presented at the International Freedom Conductor (IFCA) Gala, a black-tie awards celebration of human rights and individual courage on an international scale. The first honoree (1998) was Mrs. Rosa Parks, the mother of the modern-day Civil Rights movement. The second recipient (2000) was Bishop Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Cape Town in South Africa.
"Dr. Dorothy Irene Height and the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights are recipients for the 2003 International Freedom Conductor Award. Both Dr. Height and the Kennedy Memorial Center, represented by Ethel Kennedy, were honored on October 4, 2003 at a gala award ceremony for their contributions to freedom and human rights across the world."
Clinton and Bush I raised money together for tsunami victims and Hurricane Katrina relief.