Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, December 2003, page 9

Special Report

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum: A Decade of Increasing Taxpayer Funding

By Janet McMahon

Since it first opened 10 years ago, one of Washington, DC’s most popular attractions has been the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, located adjacent to the National Mall. Created by a unanimous Act of Congress in 1980, the Museum describes its primary mission as “to advance and disseminate knowledge about this unprecedented tragedy; to preserve the memory of those who suffered; and to encourage its visitors to reflect upon the moral and spiritual questions raised by the events of the Holocaust as well as their own responsibilities as citizens of a democracy.”

As its Web site, <http://www.ushmm.org>, explains, the museum was “built on land donated by the federal government and funded with more than 200,000 private donations...As required by law, all funds for planning, constructing and equipping the museum were raised exclusively from private, tax-deductible contributions.”

That was then, however. Now American taxpayers provide some 67 percent of the Holocaust Museum’s annual budget, this year to the tune of $38.4 million. Its funding for fiscal year 2004 was increased to $39,997,000. By comparison, this year the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts received less than $34 million in federal funding. That figure was cut to $32,560,000 for fiscal year 2004.

On Oct. 12, 2000, moreover, then-President Bill Clinton signed legislation granting the museum permanent status as a federal agency, in effect locking in federal support. As a museum press release explained at the time, “Permanent status permits Congress to provide funding without having to review the federal role. Every U.S. government entity requires congressional authority before funds can be allocated; but not every federal institution is given permanent status.”

It is Congress, of course, which allocates taxpayer dollars—specifically, in the case of the Holocaust Memorial Museum, the House Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee on interior and related agencies. In addition to the Department of Interior, “other agencies” for which the subcommittee is responsible include the National Endowments for the Arts and for the Humanities, the National Gallery of Art, the Smithsonian Institution, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and the Kenndy Center.

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, readers who wish to keep track of how many of their tax dollars go to support the Holocaust Museum are therefore advised to pay attention to news reports on federal arts and humanities funding—and to continue reading beyond the first few paragraphs.

It’s not only the legislative branch which supports the Holocaust Memorial Museum, however. On Sept. 3 the Anti-Defamation League—which a few years ago was ordered to cease spying on American citizens—proudly announced that it had been awarded a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) to support a joint ADL/Holocaust Memorial Museum training program for law enforcement professionals.

According to the ADL press release, the program “brings law enforcement officers to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC for an intensive program that challenges them to examine their relationship with the public and to explore issues of personal responsiblity and ethical conduct.”

Americans well might wonder why, at a time when a memorial to World War II veterans who died for this country only now is being undertaken, when a national museum dedicated to Native Americans is just being completed, and when ground is far from being broken for a museum devoted to African Americans—the latter two groups having suffered here, at the hands of this country—the U.S. government places a higher priority on a museum dedicated to the victims and survivors of a European horror.

Janet McMahon is managing editor of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, on Middle East Affairs.

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