National Museum of the American Latino Act
STATEMENT FOR THE RECORD, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE HOUSE NATURAL RESOURCES COMMITTEE, SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, FORESTS, AND PUBLIC LANDS ON H.R. 2420, TO ESTABLISH WITHIN THE SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF THE AMERICAN LATINO, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.
OCTOBER 17, 2019
Chair Haaland, Ranking Member Young, and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to present the views of the Department of the Interior on H.R. 2420, to establish within the Smithsonian Institution the National Museum of the American Latino (Museum), and for other purposes.
H.R. 2420 would establish within the Smithsonian Institution a museum “devoted to the documentation and explication of Latino life, art, history, and culture.”
To carry out the duties of establishing and overseeing the Museum, H.R. 2420 creates a Board of Trustees. Among other duties, the Trustees are required to make recommendations to the Smithsonian Board of Regents concerning the location, planning, design, and construction of the Museum. One of the four specific locations identified for selection is an “area bounded by Independence Avenue, Jefferson Drive, Raoul Wallenberg Place, and 14th Street Southwest, currently under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service.” The Department recommends amending the bill to remove this site as a potential museum location.
There are several reasons for this recommendation. First, the site is located on the Washington Monument grounds, an area treasured for its open space and natural setting. Second, the Museum’s development potential would likely be significantly constrained by the area’s size and configuration. Third, this location is also within the Reserve as defined by the Commemorative Works Act (CWA), 40 U.S. Code, Section 89 (Section 8902(a)(3)). In the 2003 amendments to the CWA, Congress declared the Reserve a “substantially completed work of civic art,” where no new memorials may be located. The Reserve continues to protect the National Mall’s historic open space character enjoyed by millions of visitors each year. Fourth, Section 8905(b)(5) of the CWA provides that commemorative works that are primarily museums are not to be placed in Area I and parts of Area II on lands under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of the Interior.
Finally, museum development on this site is also precluded in the 2001 Memorials and Museums Master Plan (Chapter 3, page 32), which continues to guide the location of new memorials, museums, and related structures in the Nation’s capital. This plan was the result of a multi-year effort by the National Capital Planning Commission, the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, the National Capital Memorial Advisory Commission and the National Park Service. There are a number of sites that are worthy of consideration for a museum of this importance, as identified in the Memorials and Museum Master Plan which notes preferred sites for new museums.
The Department makes no recommendations regarding the other sites identified in the bill. However, we do note that designation of the Arts and Industries Building of the Smithsonian Institution, located on the National Mall at 900 Jefferson Drive, SW, Washington, D.C. would be inconsistent with the CWA because it is located in Area 1. We understand it may be appropriate to make an exception in that case because the building was previously used as a museum.
With the exception noted above, we recommend that the Board of Regents should be required to move forward in a way that is consistent with the CWA, so that the National Mall’s open space character is protected in perpetuity.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide this statement. We would be happy to work with the Committee and bill sponsor on this recommended amendment.