WASHINGTON -- Sen. Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma who isn't afraid of questioning federal spending for popular projects, is challenging $20 million a year in new funding for the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York City.
Mr. Coburn makes it clear that he's not taking issue with the museum itself, which he says will help those still in pain with their healing process and serve as a reminder to all Americans not to take their freedom for granted.
Instead, in tough budget times, Mr. Coburn questions the rationale behind a bill that would authorize $200 million over the next 10 years for the museum and memorial without finding a way to offset those costs. He also wonders why private contributions from thousands of individuals and numerous corporations, which have flowed to America's 9/11 Foundation Inc., during the past decade, aren't enough.
"The legislation creates a permanent duplicative federal funding stream for a privately operated facility," Mr. Coburn wrote in a Wednesday letter to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. "The museum has received more than $75 million in federal assistance over the past two years and remains eligible to apply for additional funds from a variety of federal programs if necessary."
The bill would authorize the new $200 million federal funding stream even though the memorial and museum have already received more than $123 million in federal grants since 2009 and ended 2010 with more than $584 million in net assets.
Mr. Coburn said he came up with those figures by looking at the foundation's 2010 tax filing with the Internal Revenue Service, which showed $69.4 million in government grants, as well as an audit on the museum's website showing $53.5 million in grant funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2009.
"I would like to receive additional information as to why the multiple existing federal funding sources available are insufficient to support this effort," he wrote in his letter to Mr. McConnell. "I would also like to see a breakdown of the budget justifications from the foundation and the committee for the amounts authorized by this bill."
Debra Burlingame, who chairs the foundation's board, said the federal funds are needed to help secure the museum and memorial from potential terrorist attacks.
"These are very real security costs that shouldn't be borne by a private nonprofit. That is a responsibility not just of New York but of the entire country, she told the New York CBS affiliate. "Why would he want to stand in the way of contributing to the security of that site when the alternative is to put it in the hands of small donors, over 900,000 of them?"
Groups representing the families of 9/11 victims are divided on the topic, with some who are directly involved in the museum and memorial supporting the additional federal funds and others, who say they have been left out of the memorial's planning, siding with Mr. Coburn.
"The proposed legislation would account for approximately one-third of the organization's operating budget, with our organization continuing to maintain responsibility for the remaining two-thirds of the funding, ensuring that our loved ones are remembered and honored for generations to come," Virginia Bauer, who serves on the foundation's board of directors, wrote along with several other family members of 9/11 victims to Sen. Mark Udall, Colorado Democrat, back in October.
But members of another group, Leaders of the 9/11 Parents and Families of Firefighters and World Trade Center Victims, oppose the additional federal funding and are calling on Congress to amend the bill 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.
"Taking ownership of the memorial and museum and annually funding a large portion of its operating costs - with no strings attached - will be a permanent albatross around the neck of the American taxpayer unless the highly respected and experienced stewardship of the National Parks Service is mandated," the group's leaders wrote Mr. Coburn on Thursday.
The 9/11 families also were outraged by recent reports that executives running the memorial and museum paid themselves a total of $6.5 million in salaries, including $300,000 in severance for Joan Gerner, the former vice president of design and construction. As the highest-paid executive, Ms. Gerner made $439,463 in 2010, including the severance.
Among those earning the highest salaries are President Joseph Daniels who makes $378,288; Executive Vice President of Development Cathy Blaney, who makes $332,149; and Senior Vice President of Public Affairs and Communication Lynn Rasic, who makes $217,533.
In his letter to Mr. McConnell, Mr. Coburn also pointed out that the foundation spent $82,000 on a conference, conventions and meetings and $27,141 on lobbying efforts in 2010.