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House report blasts Eisenhower Memorial as 'five-star folly,' cites costs

By Ian Simpson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The troubled Eisenhower Memorial designed by celebrity architect Frank Gehry is a "five-star folly" plagued by rising costs, construction delays and design problems, congressional investigators said on Friday.

The memorial to Dwight Eisenhower, the 34th U.S. president and World War Two Allied commander, has cost taxpayers $41 million with no design yet approved, the report by the House of Representatives' Natural Resources Committee said.

"With millions spent, there is no memorial and not even a memorial design that can be approved for construction," said the report by the Republican-controlled panel titled "A Five-Star Folly."

The 56-page report is another blow to the Republican president's memorial, which Congress authorized in 1999. Congress has cut off construction funds for the project two years in a row.

The Gehry design picked by the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission in 2009 for a 4-acre (2 hectares) site at the base of Capitol Hill has long generated criticism.

Much of it has centered on columns 80 feet (24 m) high supporting stainless steel tapestries depicting the landscape of Eisenhower's boyhood home, Kansas.

The National Capital Planning Commission rejected the design in April and told Gehry's team to come back with a revamped plan.

The congressional report said the process by which Gehry was selected deviated from U.S. government guidelines and was weighted to benefit a well-known architect like Gehry.

His design has fallen short of design principles for the memorial set up in 2006 and laws for monuments in the U.S. capital, the report said.

A jury set up to evaluate four finalist designs called them "mediocre" but the Memorial Commission ignored its call for more design submissions.

Of the $41 million the memorial has cost or been allocated, Gehry has been paid almost $16.4 million. More than $13.3 million has gone to design managers and administrative support, the report said.

The commission has awarded several contracts for support services without open competition. Almost every contract for monument work has been modified with millions to reflect extra costs, the report said.

A commission spokeswoman had no immediate response. Gehry's office in Los Angeles also had no immediate response.

Two other House committees, Oversight and Appropriations, also are investigating the memorial. A spokeswoman for the Natural Resources Committee said panel member Rob Bishop, a Utah Republican, would introduce legislation calling for a new Memorial Commission.

(Editing by Bill Trott)

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