Hearings and Business Meetings

SD-366 Energy Committee Hearing Room 10:00 AM

Dr. Dennis Wint

President and CEO, The Franklin Institute

Testimony of Dennis M. Wint

To the Senate Subcommittee on National Parks

(chaired by Sen. Craig Thomas – WY)

366 Dirksen Senate Office Building

July 28, 200510:00 A.M.

 

Good morning. 

 

I am Dr. Dennis Wint, President and Chief Executive Officer of The Franklin Institute of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 

 

I very much appreciate your willingness to consider Senate Bill 652, to authorize Federal funding for the rehabilitation of the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial, our nation’s primary and most-visited monument to Franklin.  I would like to take this opportunity to extend my gratitude to the sponsors of this legislation, Senator Arlen Specter and Senator Rick Santorum, for their steadfast support for this project. 

 

Mr. Chairman, I would like to begin by thanking you and the Subcommittee for helping to pass this legislation in the Senate during the 108th Congress.  Despite our best efforts, unfortunately, the House did not have the time needed to consider the measure through regular order.  I am pleased to report that on April 14, 2005, Congressman Jim Gerlach introduced companion legislation, House of Representatives Bill 1645, so that the House will again have an opportunity to join the Senate in considering this bill.

 

I am appearing today to respectfully urge the Subcommittee to favorably report this legislation because it will authorize the appropriation of funding that is critical to the integrity of one of our nation’s most awe-inspiring national memorials.

 

 

Unveiled in 1938, The Benjamin Franklin National Memorial is on the same scale as the Abraham Lincoln Memorial and features a Pantheon-inspired marble rotunda and massive white-marble statue of a seated, introspective Franklin.  The statue was created by the great American sculptor James Earle Fraser, whose works include the Buffalo Nickel and a bust of then Vice-President Theodore Roosevelt which is housed in the Senate’s own collection.

 

This national memorial is unique, because unlike other national memorials throughout the United States, it does not receive an annual allocation of Federal funds to support programs, operations, or preventative maintenance.  

 

Founded in 1824, The Franklin Institute is one of the nation’s premier science and technology museums and also serves as custodian of the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial.

 

In the spirit of inquiry and discovery embodied by Benjamin Franklin, the mission of The Franklin Institute is to honor the lifetime achievements of Franklin - America’s distinguished scientist, statesman, inventor, diplomat, and founding father, and to foster the development of a scientifically and technologically literate society. 

 

Indeed, The Franklin Institute brings Franklin’s legacy of inquiry, discovery, and learning to nearly one million visitors each year, more than 350,000 of whom are schoolchildren. Every visit to The Franklin Institute begins with a moment of reflection and inspiration in the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial.

 

In 1972, Public Law 92-511 designated this site as the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial. 

 

In 1973, a Memorandum of Agreement, executed between the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Franklin Institute, directed the Department of Interior to cooperate with the Institute in “all appropriate and mutually agreeable ways in the preservation and presentation of the Benjamin Franklin Memorial Hall as a national memorial.” Under the terms of the 1973 Agreement, the Institute is required to admit the public to the Memorial free of charge.

 

However, The Franklin Institute is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and, over the last 67 years, the burden of maintaining this National Memorial has been the total responsibility of the Institute. Nearly $20 million has been expended from the Institute’s operating and capital budgets to preserve and maintain the Memorial since it’s opening in 1938.

 

In spite of our diligent efforts, I regret to inform the Subcommittee that this national treasure has fallen victim to the pressures of time, especially the exterior and interior marble surfaces and structures that house the statue of Benjamin Franklin.

 

The Interior Department has not provided any federal funding for maintaining this National Memorial, with the exception of a $300,000 “Save America’s Treasures” grant awarded in Fiscal Year 2000 with support from Senators Specter and Santorum.  Although this funding did help to improve ADA accessibility to the Memorial, it left other structural issues unresolved.   To address these issues, The Franklin Institute is currently engaged in a private fundraising campaign that will match dollar for dollar any funds invested by the Department of the Interior.

 

Mr. Chairman, 2006 marks the 300th anniversary of the birth of Benjamin Franklin.   Given this important opportunity for our Nation to remember and celebrate Franklin, we are eager to commence work to renovate and restore the Memorial.  Timely passage of this legislation will make our plan possible.

 

In July 2002, President George W. Bush signed into law House Resolution 2362, that created the Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary Commission. This Commission, which I co-chair with Senator Specter, specifically recommends rededication of and other appropriate activities related to the National Memorial.

 

Since the Memorial Hall’s opening, tens of millions of Americans have had the opportunity to salute Franklin’s remarkable impact in Philadelphia.  As we continue to develop plans to welcome visitors from throughout the world during the Franklin Tercentenary, it is vital that we begin a meticulous restoration process that will make the Memorial a place of appropriate reverence to Dr. Franklin on the upcoming momentous anniversary of his birth.

 

Our private fundraising campaign will help match our request for federal assistance. However, it is critical for The Franklin Institute to secure this authorization and subsequent appropriations to ensure that the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial is preserved and presented to future generations in a manner befitting Benjamin Franklin’s enormous legacy for our Nation.

 

A rehabilitated Memorial will present Franklin and his inspirational story for the study and observation of future generations of Americans and citizens worldwide. 

 

Accordingly, I respectfully urge this Subcommittee to support Senate Bill 652 so that it may be enacted prior to the national celebration of Franklin's life beginning in January 2006.

 

 

Thank you for your invitation to testify on this very important matter and I would be delighted to answer any questions that you or other distinguished Members of Subcommittee may have.