- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 9, 2012

Sen. Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma, isn’t backing down from his decision to block $20 million a year in new funding for the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York City, despite pleas from museum officials who also had family members die in the attack.

Mr. Coburn has not taken issue with the museum itself, but with the way in which members of the New York delegation and others in Congress have tried to work around already established government grant and revenue streams to secure the funds more directly.

The legislation that would establish a $200 million revenue stream for 10 years for the 9/11 Memorial and Museum alone, Mr. Coburn argues, is an end-run around Congress’s earmark bans and would circumvent normal government oversight of the museum’s funds and operations.

In addition, he museum and memorial also pay the lobbying firm Wexler and Walker $20,000 a month to press its case in Washington, something Mr. Coburn also questions.

“The 9/11 Museum and Memorial will be a national treasure and its merits are unquestioned,” he wrote in a letter to Debra Burlingame, who chairs the museum’s board.

“There is no reason to pay a D.C. lobbyist $20,000 a month to advocate on behalf of it or to have politicians wrap themselves around it as a way to create a breach in the earmark ban established to end the awarding of federal funds to projects of lesser priority, parochial or questionable value.”

As an Oklahoman who lived through the attack on the federal building in the heart of Oklahoma City in 1995, Mr. Coburn told the museum officials, he is all too familiar with the great pain and heartache resulting from a horrific act of hatred and terrorism. But, he said, the national memorial and museum constructed to remember the Oklahoma attack operates solely on private donations.

The staff there would be happy to meet with members of the 9/11 Foundation to share their experience, he said.

Mrs. Burlingame, as well as Tim Sumner, co-founders of  9/11 Families for a Safe and Strong America, wrote the senator to express their deep disappointment over his decision to place a procedural hold on the bill that would provide the museum $20 million a year in funding.

In their letter, they said the mission of the 9/11 memorial and museum could not be placed in the same category as other pork-barrel projects, such as the infamous “bridge to nowhere” in Alaska.

The 9/11 Foundation has already used Housing and Urban Development grants, as well as hundreds of millions in private donations, to build the memorial and museum on the particularly expensive eight-acre site where the twin World Trade Center towers once stood.

Even without the building of the memorial and museum, the infrastructure for the site, which required reinforcing a sea wall that holds back the Hudson River, cost $300 million alone.

Senator Coburn, we didn’t choose this site, a metropolis where some eight million people live and work. Al Qaeda did,” they wrote.

The additional funding is needed for maintaining and operating the memorial with the lion’s share of the costs directed to providing security at a site that terrorists have attacked twice, they explained.

“And even with those costs, our eight-acre memorial and entire museum will operate on a budget less than that of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and other important national museums located in Washington, D.C.,” they wrote.

Members of another group, Leaders of the 9/11 Parents and Families of Firefighters and World Trade Center Victims, have sided with Mr. Coburn and are calling on Congress to allow the National Park Service to help run and oversee the operation of the museum and memorial, as it does for the Pearl Harbor memorial in Hawaii and numerous other national memorials across the country.

The group has also questioned the six-figure salaries of executives running the memorial and museum, as well as more than $80,000 spent on conferences and overseas travel.



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