National Civic Art Society Launches Investigation Into Secretive Eisenhower Memorial Competition

President Eisenhower Digging Up Dirt

President Eisenhower Digging Up Dirt

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National Civic Art Society Launches Investigation Into Secretive Eisenhower Memorial Competition

To investigate what many believe to have been a rigged process, the National Civic Art Society today filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request [PDF available here] to the General Services Administration (GSA) regarding the “competition” to design the National Memorial to President Dwight D. Eisenhower.  GSA ran the competition at the behest of the Eisenhower Memorial Commission. The Commission oversaw the process—and apparently controlled the whole thing. Unfortunately that congressional Commission is not part of the executive branch, and is thus immune to FOIA requests.

The competition was ostensibly run according to GSA’s “Design Excellence” program, though, as we have discovered (and noted below), it significantly diverged from the program and violated GSA’s own acquisition rules and regulations.

Our FOIA request is an attempt to lift the veil on the competition, which is suspicious on a number of grounds:

  • Why did Gehry enter the competition, when he said he does not like to enter competitions unless he knows he’s going to win?
  • Why were there only 44 entrants for one of the most important federal projects in years? Why did the Eisenhower Commission say it had to “entice” firms to enter the competition?
  • Why did the Eisenhower Commission, with GSA’s approval, send special letters advertising the competition to 30 handpicked firms?
  • Why have the identities of the firms that entered the competition never been made public, nor the identities of those that received the special letter?
  • Why has Gehry’s submission in the competition, including his statements of prior performance and design philosophy, never been released?
  • Why are there no minutes for the meeting at which the Eisenhower Commission chose its competition method? And why are there no minutes for the meeting at which the winner was selected?
  • Why have the names of the members of the Evaluation Board and Design Jury never been released?
  • Why is the former chief architect of GSA—the very creator of Design Excellence—no longer on speaking terms with the Eisenhower Commission?  Why did he say about it, “The client.  Wanted.  An outcome”?

In addition to the above, our investigation so far has discovered that the competition diverged significantly from the standard Design Excellence process. For one thing, as seen in the table below, it shifted the relative weights of the criteria for judging.

Table: Relative Weights of Criteria in Standard Design Excellence Competitions Versus Those Used in the Eisenhower Memorial Competition


Design Excellence

Eisenhower Competition

Shift in Weight

Lead Designer Portfolio




Philosophy and Design Intent




Past Performance on Design




Lead Designer Profile




The Eisenhower competition’s drastically higher emphasis on portfolio would be to the advantage of entrants with the most celebrated and famous recent works, such as Gehry. Similarly, the decrease in the importance of prior performance would be to the advantage of an architect, such as Gehry, who has a history of serious performance problems in his prior works (both in terms of design defects and cost overruns), and who has never built anything like a memorial, let alone a national memorial.

The competition also violated the standard Design Excellence process in the composition of the Evaluation Board and Jury.  Indeed, it did not follow the rules of GSA’s own Acquisition Manual. While the divergences are detailed and documented in the FOIA request [PDF available here], here is a summary (excepting those in the above table):

1)      The client—not GSA—de facto ran the competition, and in a manner antithetical to the spirit of Design Excellence.
2)      The Evaluation Board had 12 (twelve) members instead of the mandated 5 (five).
3)      The client had greater proportional representation on the Evaluation Board: 3 (three) out of 12 (twelve) members instead of the mandated 1 (one) out of 5 (five).
4)      The client had 2 (two) non-voting observers of the Evaluation Board, instead of the permitted 1 (one).
5)      The non-voting observers were permitted to be present during the deliberations of the Evaluation Board and Design Jury.

“We believe that GSA and the Eisenhower Commission have not divulged the above information since they have something to hide,” said Justin Shubow, president of the National Civic Art Society. “Such secrecy regarding a competition for a national memorial is unprecedented. We encourage the press and the GSA Inspector General to ask the same questions we are.”

He added, “The sooner we can show just how untoward the closed competition was, the sooner we can hold a new, fair, open, transparent, and democratic competition—one without a pre-ordained outcome.”

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