More Problems at the Smithsonian
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."
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