Smithsonian IG Found Personal Use Of Resources

By James V. Grimaldi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 10, 2007

An internal Smithsonian investigation concluded in 2003 that top supervisors at the institution's aeronautical restoration facility in Maryland were using government employees and materials for personal projects, according to legal proceedings last year.

Five employees testified that they and others were asked to do outside work by Tom Alison, the collections chief of the National Air and Space Museum, and Bill D. Reese, restoration supervisor at the Paul E. Garber Preservation, Restoration and Storage Facility in Suitland.

The work -- referred to as home projects or "homeys" -- sometimes would take employees away from museum business for days. Among the items repaired were a Colt .45 handgun, motorcycles, bicycles, a candleholder and antique cars, such as an Austin-Healey Bugeye Sprite. Jobs were done for friends and colleagues of Alison, Reese and others.

The Smithsonian inspector general's office investigated and referred allegations of "embezzlement and conversion of public money and property" against Alison and Reese to federal prosecutors, according to the conclusion of a previously unreleased April 2003 inspector general's memorandum.

The inspector general also found that John R. "Jack" Dailey, the director of the National Air and Space Museum for the last seven years, had a tow bar and a seat latch repaired on his private aircraft by Smithsonian workers. Dailey, 73, a retired four-star Marine Corps general, oversees the museum's three main branches -- on the Mall, at Dulles International Airport and at the Garber facility, which was run by Alison.

Prosecution was declined "in favor of administrative action," the memo stated. An administrative review resulted in no written disciplinary action, according to testimony from Smithsonian officials. The review was overseen by Sheila Burke, the No. 2 official at the Smithsonian under then-Secretary Lawrence M. Small.

A redacted version of the memo surfaced in September in a U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board hearing on the firing of one of the whistle-blowers who had raised the allegations.

Dailey received a verbal admonishment. A Smithsonian spokeswoman said he also paid $50 to the institution -- an amount he estimated to be five times the value of the work done on his airplane. Dailey had hip replacement surgery last month and was unavailable for comment, an Air and Space Museum spokeswoman said.

"I cannot tell you that I know of a more ethical person who is more frugal," Smithsonian spokeswoman Linda St. Thomas said. "This is a minor matter with regards to Jack Dailey. He's beloved at the institution and very well-respected."

Alison, 65, a retired Air Force colonel who flew SR-71 spy planes, said in a brief interview that while he might have "technically" violated policy or the law, the case was blown out of proportion. "There was a giant smear that went on," Alison said. "People were testifying to all sorts of things that were not true." He retired in 2004.

Reese, 51, denied wrongdoing at the hearing. He retired last year. He did not answer messages left on his cellphone.

Burke's deputy, John Lapiana, testified that Alison was not disciplined because he was retiring and Reese was spared punishment because "he no longer had supervisory responsibilities." Burke through a spokeswoman declined a request for an interview.

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