National Civic Art Society Ramps Up FOIA Investigation of Eisenhower Memorial Competition

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 10, 2014
CONTACT: [email protected] or (202) 670-1776

National Civic Art Society Ramps Up FOIA Investigation of Secretive Eisenhower Memorial Competition

To continue our investigation of the secretive, rigged “competition” for the National Eisenhower Memorial, the National Civic Art Society today filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) appeal [PDF available here] to the General Services Administration (GSA).  GSA, which denied most of our previous request, ran the competition at the behest of the Eisenhower Memorial Commission.

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

Our FOIA appeal 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 hand-selected 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 choose 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

Standard

Design Excellence

Eisenhower Competition

Shift in Weight

Lead Designer Portfolio

25%

55%

+30%

Philosophy and Design Intent

25%

20%

-5%

Past Performance on Design

35%

15%

-20%

Lead Designer Profile

15%

10%

-5%

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. Here is a summary of the divergences (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.

Justin Shubow, president of the National Civic Art Society, said, “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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