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More Problems at the Smithsonian

POSTED: 01:30 PM ET, 04/15/2008 by The Editors

Another Smithsonian official has gotten into trouble for ethics violations and spending extravagances.

Pilar O'Leary, 39, the director of the Smithsonian Latino Center, accepted gifts and gratuities from contractors, spent lavishly on travel and limousines, lodged in four-star hotels with ocean-view upgrades and Jacuzzis, and charged the Smithsonian for spa and hotel gift shop purchases, the Inspector General's office found in a report.

The news, reported in today's Post by James V. Grimaldi and Jacqueline Trescott based on records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, comes after repeated promises from Smithsonian officials that the institution had been reformed after a series of spending abuses by top officials including former Secretary Lawrence M. Small, who was forced out last year. "With these policy changes, we have turned the corner toward stronger oversight and greater accountability," Regent Patty Stonesifer said. "We have identified and learned from our mistakes."

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, who has been investigating the Smithsonian, said that the Smithsonian had tried to keep the O'Leary matter quiet. Initially, O'Leary's boss praised her upon her departure and gave no indication of trouble.

Acting Secretary Cristian Samper said in an e-mail on Monday that the report was only released to the Post because Inspector General A. Sprightley Ryan had deemed O'Leary a significantly high profile official.

"It's shameful that this abuse was allowed to go on for three years and that Smithsonian leaders concealed the reason for her departure," Grassley said. Then, referring to Clough, the Georgia Tech University president named the 11th secretary, Grassley said, "The new secretary and the board of regents have their work cut out for them. They need to send a clear message. The Smithsonian Institution is a national treasure. Those entrusted with its mission have to keep the public trust."

Henry Munoz III, chairman emeritus of the board of the Smithsonian Latino Center, said O'Leary "brought a lot of energy and interaction and a profile to the Latino Center that was needed."

O'Leary, in an e-mail, defended her actions as appropriate. "I traveled frequently across the country to Latino social and cultural events, meetings and conferences to meet with individuals and organizations that could help increase the public impact and financial resources of the Center. I often asked those organizations to provide me and my staff with the opportunity to attend Latino cultural and media events in order to engage in important networking and outreach opportunities. Contrary to what was in the Inspector General's report, these opportunities were not personal gifts to me. All of my travel was authorized by my supervisor's office." Her statements to the Inspector General are here and here.

However, the inspector general found that O'Leary never sought approval or a waiver from institution policies which expressly forbade the gifts because they came from people and companies with business before the institution.

"She attempted to obtain tickets to at least ten events from October 2006 to May 2007, including contacting four different individuals for tickets to the Latin Grammys," the report said. She also attempted to get a $1,250 ticket to the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts dinner.

The inspector general also said the travel appeared improper or "fabricated because it appeared to be planned around major events such as the Grammys or involved travel to Miami over her birthday weekend, travel over holidays and last minute travel to Miami."

By The Editors |  April 15, 2008; 1:30 PM ET
Previous: Oversight of D.C. Police Eased | Next: Farm Bill Update: Taxing Matters

Comments

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I think since the Smithsonian was short-changing the Latino Center for years (i.e., they have been allocated a mere $1 million since they were created in 1997 to respond to a shameful lack of Hispanic programs at SI), she had to be a one-woman capital campaign to raise money from other "fabulous" people who attend such events. You can't schmooze the fabulous without being fabulous - otherwise they don't trust you. Small had the same problem. Unfortunately, these people are too fabulous for public service.

Posted by: Nobody | April 15, 2008 4:32 PM

And Thank God for that! The Smithsonian is far better off without those people.

Posted by: Jazzy-Annie | April 16, 2008 8:43 PM

These breeches did not occur in a vacuum; that's what their IGs are there for...they can say anything in their own defense, but "walking around" the premises, and talking to staff now and then would have revealed misappropriated funds. NGOs are not difficult to assess.

No one may personally benefit from a non-profit in any way, and the Board is ultimately responsible. Where is the AG, and the IRS, and DOJ, now? This organization needs a complete external audit, immediately--and the IGs must be removed, but first all records secured.

Tax-payers should be yelling louder than I am right now.

Posted by: Old Colonial | April 25, 2008 12:44 AM

Will the public ever have access to the often mentioned report from the nation's museum directors on the Smithsonian's institutional health? The Post's initial report suggested that they were highly critical of all levels of management, current and past. The Post reported that such a report exists but I have not seen any efforts on their or congress' part to have it presented to the public. What is the Post waiting for? The public deserves to know.

Posted by: One citizen | April 27, 2008 11:54 AM

United States Low Enriched Uranium Facilities and Nuclear Reactor sites as compared to Iran

George Bush can not seem to protest enough and pressurize Iran enough about political sanctions and economic warfare against Iran because of Iran's two functioning peaceful low enriched uranium facilities. What the general public is not aware of is the amount of low enriched uranium produced in the United States, not considering high enriched uranium nor plutonium waste.

Iran's two functioning facilities are Natanz and Bushehr. The United States 110 functioning low and high enriched uranium facilities exist. To name just a few : Global Nuclear Fuel-Americas, LLC; Westinghouse Electric Company, LLC; Nuclear Fuel Sercives, Inc; Areva NP, Inc. BwX Technologies, Inc. Areva NP, Inc. Richland; Honeywell International, Inc.; U.S. Enrichment Corporation; U.S. Enrichment Corporation, Ohio; USEC Inc.; Louisiana Energy Services; Shaw Areva Mox Services.

Other Nuclear Reactor Sites for already fabricated low and high enriched uranium whose byproduct is one percent weapons grade plutonium include some of the following reactor names and locations: Monticello Arkansas reactor; Nine Mile Point Beaver Valley Reactor; North Anna Braidwood Reactor; Oconee Browns Ferry Reactor; Oyster Creek Brunswick Reactor; the list could continue ad infinitum. For further nuclear reactor information visit the Energy Information Administration: Official Energy Statistics from the United States Government @ www.eia.doe.gov/cn eaf/nuclear/page/at_a_glance_reactors/nuk... .

Pentagon is intent on demising the Middle East through strategic manipulations. What about the United States AGENDA?

Posted by: Stephany | April 30, 2008 12:31 AM

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