West's Travel Topped Other Smithsonian Directors'
Saturday, February 2, 2008
The founding director of the National Museum of the American Indian was away from the office more days and spent more Smithsonian money traveling last year than other museum directors at the institution, a newly released review of Smithsonian travel found.
W. Richard West Jr. took 30 trips costing $105,598, five times more than the average cost per museum director, according to a tally released this week by the Smithsonian. West was traveling on institution business for 180 days in 2007, the review said.
Other Smithsonian museum directors spent much less on travel. The average total travel expenditure for museum directors last year was $19,292.
The review was conducted after The Washington Post reported in December that West had spent more than $250,000 from the beginning of 2003 to mid-2007 on travel. The Post, which had obtained many of West's travel records, did not review records for most of his 2007 travel; at the time, The Post's estimate for West's 2007 travel was about $47,000, half the actual total.
West has defended his trips as necessary for the mission of the museum.
Last year, he traveled to Berlin, Vienna, Sydney and Wales as well as Paris (four times) and Abu Dhabi (twice),where West joined other museum officials to consult on the development of a Bedouin museum. West's Abu Dhabi trips were included in the Smithsonian statistics for the number of trips and days away, but most of the the cost was excluded from the total because all but $236 was paid for by the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage.
The Abu Dhabi arrangement has stirred controversy among some Smithsonian curators who are experts in Middle Eastern culture and who were not included in the consulting deal. West remains a participant as a private consultant on the project, though he retired from the Smithsonian at the end of last year.
The travel review was ordered by Cristi¿n Samper, the acting secretary of the Smithsonian. The Post requested totals for the directors for the past four years, but the institution released only figures for 2007. Many officials changed their spending practices last year after then-Secretary Lawrence M. Small resigned in March over questions about his expenditures.
On several of his 2007 trips, West gave speeches or presentations. Those included talks in Seneca, N.Y., Redlands, Calif., and Chattanooga, Tenn.
The Smithsonian inspector general is investigating West's travel and whether West accepted honoraria at the same time he was on Smithsonian salary. He took $27,765 in salary in 2006 from the University of Oregon, where he was a visiting law professor, and did not reimburse the Smithsonian either for his salary or the honorarium. In December, West said he accepted both his salary and the honorarium because he conducted Smithsonian business while in Oregon.
An independent review committee investigating the Smithsonian said that officials should not be allowed to keep speaking fees while simultaneously picking up a Smithsonian paycheck.
West's trips on average cost much more than his colleagues'. His average trip cost was $3,520, while the average cost of other directors' travel was $1,295. For example, it was substantially more than the average amount spent by Samper, the acting director of the Smithsonian who, in the first quarter of last year, ran the National Museum of Natural History, which has the largest staff of any Smithsonian operation. Samper took 27 trips for a total of $17,394. On average, Samper's trips cost $644 each.