Fallen Journalists Memorial Act
STATEMENT OF SHAWN BENGE, ACTING DEPUTY DIRECTOR, OPERATIONS, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SENATE ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, REGARDING S. 1969, A BILL TO AUTHORIZE THE FALLEN JOURNALISTS MEMORIAL FOUNDATION TO ESTABLISH A COMMEMORATIVE WORK IN THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA AND ITS ENVIRONS, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.
March 4, 2020
Chairman Daines, Ranking Member King, and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to present the views of the Department of the Interior on S. 1969, to authorize the Fallen Journalists Memorial Foundation to establish a commemorative work in the District of Columbia and its environs, and for other purposes.
The Department would support S. 1969 if amended to clarify the purpose and focus of the commemorative work.
S. 1969 would authorize the Fallen Journalists Memorial Foundation to establish a commemorative work on Federal land in Washington, D.C. designated as “Area I” or “Area II” in the Commemorative Works Act (40 U.S.C. 89) (CWA) to commemorate the sacrifices made by journalists working as guardians of democracy and for a free and independent press. The work would not be permitted to be located in the area designated by Congress as the “Reserve,” which consists of the National Mall and areas to the north and south of the White House. The bill requires compliance with the CWA and prohibits Federal funds from being used to establish the memorial.
The National Capital Memorial Advisory Commission (Commission) held a meeting on September 24, 2019, and received testimony and letters of support for S. 1969 and its companion bill, H.R. 3465. In its letter to Congress following the meeting, the Commission noted that while the title of Section 3 suggests that the memorial would “commemorate the commitment of the United States to a free press by honoring journalists who have sacrificed their lives in service to that cause,” the bill authorizes the commemorative work to commemorate, more generally, “the sacrifices made by journalists….” The Department agrees with the Commission that the bill should be clear that the purpose of the commemorative is to honor journalists who have made the ultimate sacrifice of life in service to the cause of a free press.
The Department also agrees with the Commission that the focus of the commemorative work should be on America’s commitment to a free press, rather than on individual fallen journalists. A memorial solely to the lives lost or to specific individuals would be contrary to Section 8903(c) of the CWA, which holds that a work commemorating a group of individuals may not be authorized until after the 25th anniversary of the death of the last surviving member of the group. The loss of the lives of journalists who put themselves in harm’s way to inform the public has occurred throughout history and continues to the present day. In this regard, the Fallen Journalists Memorial Foundation testified to the Commission that it does not intend to commemorate specific individuals or to list names on the memorial.
We note that it is unclear whether the commemoration is intended to honor only American journalists, or all journalists around the world who have perished in service. Testimony provided to the Commission emphasized the global nature of the commemoration, yet the Department notes that the bill text references “the commitment of the United States to a free press.”
We strongly support the bill’s prohibition on Federal funds being used to establish the memorial, which ensures that the cost of establishing this memorial will not be borne by the National Park Service. However, the Committee should be aware that once constructed, the National Park Service would need to use funding for the maintenance of the memorial that could otherwise be used to help reduce the backlog of deferred maintenance in national parks and address other critical infrastructure needs.
Finally, the bill contains a provision we strongly support including in all legislation authorizing memorials under the CWA--the requirement that unspent funds for the construction of the memorial be provided to the National Park Foundation for deposit in an interest-bearing account, as stated in 40 U.S.C. Section 8906(b)(3).
We would welcome the opportunity to work with the Committee on amendments that address the matters identified in this statement.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement. I would be pleased to answer any questions you or other members of the Subcommittee may have.