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'Lavish' Spending Not Found Elsewhere At Smithsonian

POSTED: 02:23 PM ET, 10/30/2008 by Derek Kravitz

By James V. Grimaldi
Washington Post Staff Writer

(Updated at 5:01 p.m.)

A long-awaited audit of expense reports for Smithsonian museum directors and governing board members is expected to be released later this year, but will not reveal the kinds of excesses found recently among other executives, the institution's inspector general said today.

The review was requested after a series of reports in The Washington Post exposed spending abuses among Smithsonian managers. Inspector General A. Sprightley Ryan found "lavish" and "extravagant" spending by W. Richard West Jr., the former director of the National Museum of the American Indian, in a report released Wednesday.

A report released earlier in the year found spending abuses by Pilar O'Leary, director of the Latino affairs office of the Smithsonian.

"We certainly found problems with policies," Ryan said in an interview. "But we did not find any individuals with problems anywhere near what we found with Rick West and Pilar O'Leary. They are truly outliers."

About a year ago, Ryan began reviewing whether executives and regents have been traveling for authorized purposes and reasonable costs, according to Ryan's audit plan posted on her Web site.

"The work is done," Ryan said. "We are doing the write-up. It will be out before the end of the calendar year."

The audit will include a parallel review of general expenses. Ryan released her review of West's travel Wednesday. West, who has retired, agreed to repay the institution for $9,700 in expenses.

Members of Congress who requested the report said yesterday that they will watch to make sure that new rules straighten out the problem.

Rep. Robert A. Brady (D-Pa.), chairman of the House Administration Committee, which first requested the report, said it should be an impetus for the institution's Board of Regents "to continue to improve accountability for Smithsonian operations."

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, which oversees the Smithsonian, said that newly appointed Secretary G. Wayne Clough assured her that tighter controls are in place. "He has assured me that this will not happen again, and it is my intention to meet further with him on my return to Washington."

Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking Senate Finance Committee member investigating nonprofits, questioned whether West should repay more.

"Is the $9,000 that he's being asked to reimburse enough, or should there be much more?" Grassley said. "In the absence of leadership after Secretary Small's departure, the board should have been paying more attention to the liberties Mr. West took, and so the board should be responsible for the aftermath and clean-up."

Most of the money West was asked to repay came from double billing travel expenses. West attributed most of that to "administrative errors." Those claims included $3,042 for travel expenses in 2004 and 2005 paid for by both the Smithsonian and Stanford University, where West serves on the governing board. Another $1,049 was reimbursed by both institutions in 2006.

West also was reimbursed $917 in 2006 by both the Smithsonian and the International Research Center for Cultural Studies in Germany for a trip to Vienna. And he charged the Smithsonian $1,214 for unauthorized laundry and dry cleaning while on foreign travel at the same time he submitted a daily per diem.

Ryan said today that the Smithsonian is rewriting its policy in light of the finding that West received $96,000 in speaking fees to talk about the Smithsonian while using its resources and staff time to write, arrange and plan the speeches. The Smithsonian also paid for his travel to give two of the speeches. West has agreed to repay those costs.

West received $68,500 for 24 speeches about the Indian museum, and $27,766 to be a guest professor at the University of Oregon. At the time, West, like all museum directors, was allowed unlimited leave. Ryan's report said that West's boss "should have required Mr. West to give the honorarium" to the museum.

"It is difficult to understand how a museum director's speaking about the museum he directs could be considered an 'outside activity' rather than part of his official duties," the inspector general's report said.

By Derek Kravitz |  October 30, 2008; 2:23 PM ET
Previous: Election Coverage, Radiation Detectors Questioned, 41 People Charged in Drug Bust | Next: Chinese Made Watch List of U.S. Olympians

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The real Smithsonian story occurs when someone of clout “not we little people,” demands a public viewing of how much the Institute has spent for and on, legal (fees defending, investigating etc.) of all the actions they knew to be “wrong doings” in the first place.

I would love to see my taxes fund a public print out of ALL cases involving the Smithsonian over the last 10 years, showing the type of case, the legal costs (paid by us the taxpayers to protect the name of the institute.)

I would what the outcome of those cases listed was and MOST importantly how many were settled out of court and what amount was paid for these “gag-ordered conclusions” (thus keeping it hidden from us, the taxpayer.)

I have been doing a tally, on my own for about 6 years but have limited funds and time to put together the REAL picture. What I see so far is staggering and am willing to collaborate with some one to produce such a doc.

Their façade is only a light veneer, and shellacked so many times its image to the public seems deep.

Posted by: Condor | October 31, 2008 6:07 PM

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