By James V. Grimaldi and Jacqueline Trescott
Washington Post Staff Writers
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.
The cost per day of West's trips exceeded that of other museum directors as well.
The official whose travel costs came closest to West's is not a museum director, but instead heads the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, which is in Panama. Eldredge Bermingham, acting director of the institute, spent $43,373 on 17 trips, an average of $2,551. Because of the institute's location, most of Bermingham's travel is international, the Smithsonian said.
Lonnie G. Bunch, director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, took more trips than West. However, the Smithsonian figures show Bunch spent fewer days on the road and his average costs were lower.
During almost 20 years with the Smithsonian, West helped create the Indian Museum after it was approved by Congress.
In an interview in late December with The Washington Post, West said Congress mandated the travel. However, after publication of the Post story, members of Congress strongly disagreed, calling his travel excessive and asking for official investigations.
West said Congress's directive to consult with native communities about the museum meant he needed to travel internationally, in particular to meet with other museum professionals who were interested in NMAI's work.
"Their feeling is that somehow the representation of art and culture is locked up in a paradigm, and their view is basically that the National Museum of the American Indian has done much to release our art and culture from that kind of colonial paradigm," West said. "So there is direct interest in the NMAI itself and what it does."
His other responsibilities on international and national museum groups, as well as board work for the Ford Foundation and Stanford University, accounted for other travel, he said. He said all the travel was authorized by the Smithsonian, and at times the sponsoring organizations paid his expenses.
West did not return a message left at his home in Washington in regard to the latest report.
The arrangement between the Abu Dhabi cultural agency and the Smithsonian has stirred concerns within institution museums, because art, science and anthropology curators were not consulted, according to internal Smithsonian e-mails obtained by The Post. Some museum curators learned of the arrangement from a Web site that publishes Middle Eastern news.
The primary coordinator of the Abu Dhabi initiative is Elizabeth Duggal, who formerly worked for West at the Indian Museum and is now in charge of fundraising at the Natural History Museum. Duggal said in an interview yesterday that Abu Dhabi initially asked her to work as a private consultant on the Bedouin museum. She said she told the cultural authority that she did not do private consulting work.
But Duggal did invite a former Smithsonian official, Douglas Evelyn, to participate in the project as a private consultant.
West began on the project as a Smithsonian employee, but retired at the end of the year. He remains an active part of the Bedouin museum consulting team, Duggal said, but he now has his own contract with Abu Dhabi. Evelyn previously had served as West's deputy.
West had told The Post in December that he would not be involved in any Smithsonian projects after he retired at the end of the year. After The Post story, West was removed from the search committee assigned with picking a new Smithsonian secretary.
Abu Dhabi, the oil-rich capital of United Arab Emirates that has arrangements with other museums around the world, is paying the Smithsonian about $178,000 and also covering the cost of travel, meals and lodging for the consulting team, Smithsonian spokeswoman Linda St. Thomas said.
The amount Abu Dhabi is paying the Smithsonian is small compared with the kind of lucrative deals the government's tourist authority has made with such museums as the Louvre and Guggenheim. Abu Dhabi is paying France $1.3 billion to license the Louvre name for a museum to open in 2012.