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Indian Museum Director Criticized

POSTED: 05:10 PM ET, 01/ 4/2008 by The Editors

The chairman of the House Administration Committee today became the third key member of Congress to publicly criticize spending decisions by W. Richard West Jr., the founding director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, reports The Post's James V. Grimaldi.

Rep. Robert A. Brady (D-Pa.), chairman of the committee that oversees the Smithsonian, said in a statement e-mailed to The Post that he is "extremely disappointed to hear reports of some decisions made regarding NMAI Director West's expenses, particularly the commissioning of his own portrait using trust funds."

The Post reported today that West spent $48,500 in museum funds to commission a portrait of himself (View the contract for the portrait.) and more than $250,000 on travel around the world in the past four years. West retired last month, and has been replaced by one of his former law partners, Kevin Gover.

Senate Rules Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, also have questioned West's expenditures.

Brady echoed Grassley's suggestion that West's participation on the committee to select the new secretary of the Smithsonian raised questions about whether the institution was ready to reform the practices that occurred under then-Secretary Lawrence M. Small. Small resigned in March following reports of his spending practices and compensation. West's role on the search committee has been suspended pending a review.

"New leadership with an emphasis on accountability and responsible stewardship are vital to the success of the Smithsonian," Brady said. He asked whether West's participation thus far "represents a continuation of the status quo that jeopardizes the integrity and effectiveness of the search process."

In a statement to the Post last night, Smithsonian Acting Secretary Cristián Samper said he has "worked very hard during my nine months as Acting Secretary to reform the policies and practices of the Institution. Unfortunately, we have not been able to discover every instance of actual or perceived abuse of our policies."

But a member of Grassley's staff pointed to a part of the senator's letter suggesting that Samper had ignored requests for an investigation into West's spending following recent tips that there might be some problems.

Grassley wrote, "I am especially troubled that the Smithsonian leadership took no action in response to my counsel on the Finance Committee raising directly with the acting-Secretary of the Smithsonian, as well as the Smithsonian's outside counsel, that my office was receiving reports of possible improper activity by the director of NMAI. While the information my office received did not approach the level of detail and scope that was contained in The Washington Post, it was certainly sufficient and credible enough to place the Smithsonian leadership on notice that further investigation was warranted. Unfortunately, the Smithsonian leadership did nothing."

--James V. Grimaldi

By The Editors |  January 4, 2008; 5:10 PM ET
Previous: Probe of Former Senator Is Dropped | Next: Sen. Landrieu Defends Herself

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