Group tries to move stalled women's history museum bill

The National Women’s Museum is trying to acquire an abandoned building that was once a target for acquisition by clients of Washington’s most notorious lobbyist.

While disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff was using his influence through U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) employee David Safavian to acquire the Old Post Office Pavilion on behalf of his clients, the National Women’s History Museum was trying to obtain the right to turn the glass, three-story adjacent annex into a museum honoring women.

At a rally today at the National Press Club, the National Women’s History Museum Coalition will launch a campaign aimed at persuading the House to act on a bill that would create the museum. The coalition consists of several groups, including the League of Women Voters, the National Education Association and the National Council of Negro Women.

“Eight members of our coalition are encouraging their members to contact their congressperson to express their desire to have such a museum located on the Mall,” said Susan Jollie, CEO and President of the National Women’s History Museum the non-partisan, non-profit group hoping to sponsor the facility.

The Senate has already passed the bill by unanimous consent.

According to reports, Reps. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio) and Don Young (R-Alaska) wrote letters to the GSA encouraging it to give special consideration to the interests of organizations such as Indian tribes when considering the development of the Old Post Office building, located on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Safavian was indicted last year for lying to federal investigators about his ties to Abramoff. In January 2006, Abramoff pleaded guilty to charges of fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe public officials.

According to Jollie, the GSA does not have the authority to create museums, which is why her group and its affiliates have launched a grassroots campaign to encourage the House to pass the bill. The groups are initiating an e-mail and letter-writing campaign, encouraging members of their coalition to urge House members to pass the bill. The group also is distributing a video narrated by actress Meryl Streep urging the passage of the bill.

Congress can issue directives to the GSA that urge it to work with the sponsor of a proposed museum to transfer the government property into private hands.

The Senate legislation was referred in September to the House Transportation Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management, where it has stalled. A spokesman for the committee declined to comment for this report.

The annex was built in 1992 by a private developer for use as a shopping center. It has been in the GSA’s possession since the developer went bankrupt and defaulted more than 10 years ago.

“The annex can and should be developed,” Jollie said. “There are no other credible nonprofit museums that are interested in that spot.”

Jollie mentioned that private developers such as hotel chains that are interested in the larger Post Office Pavilion have proposed using the annex site, which is bordered by the Internal Revenue Service, as a parking garage.

“The building is surrounded on three sides,” she said. “To have a parking garage located there is unrealistic in a post-9/11 world.”

She explained that the museum is different from the current National Museum of Women in the Arts, located on New York Avenue N.W., because the new facility would showcase women’s contributions to history rather than artwork alone.

“We’d like to create the same with women’s history and to illustrate the knowledge that they have added to the history of our country,” Jollie said.

The Senate bill lists additional reasons for turning the facility into a museum, such as that it would create jobs and income and generate taxes for the District of Columbia.

The Government Accountability Office has warned that underutilized federal properties that fall into disrepair can become a costly burden to the government.