Tuesday, October 28, 2008
We have worked closely with the Office of the Inspector General over the past several months as it conducted its investigation of the travel, entertainment, and other expenses incurred by W. Richard West, Jr., in connection with his tenure as founding director of the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). We appreciate the thoroughness of the OIG's work and its constructive approach to working through the various issues under review. This brief statement is designed to place in a broader context the various matters addressed by the OIG.
Michael R. Bromwich
The report focuses on the details of Mr. West's travel, entertainment, and related activities. Although the report properly notes that it was "entirely appropriate that Mr. West traveled extensively," this point requires further elaboration because it is central to understanding Mr. West's activities. Mr. West was the NMAI's creator, developer and founding Director. Put simply, the NMAI is a major institution of great and enduring significance to Native Americans and the nation. The creation of the NMAI required not only substantial investments by the Smithsonian, but also extensive work, travel, and fundraising by Mr. West. As the founding Director of the NMAI, he was required to 1) build an entire museum staff from scratch; 2) maintain connections with geographically diverse constituencies among Native Americans and others, both in the United States and abroad; 3) raise substantial amounts of money, generally from persons and groups far from Washington, D.C.; and 4) explain to the international museum community an entirely new and highly innovative cultural institution. This required significant travel and expense over an extended number of years, from the founding of the NMAI in 1990 to Mr. West's retirement at the end of 2007. In this context, Mr. West's travel and entertainment cannot fairly be compared to that of any other Smithsonian official, past or present.
From the very beginning of Mr. West's tenure, travel and entertainment were always an essential part of the core meaning and logic of the NMAI. Because the central goal of the NMAI was to articulate the "first-person" interpretive and representational voices of Native peoples, to allow them to "speak on their own" at the NMAI, the institution was, from the beginning, constituency-driven. This required the NMAI to 1) establish direct connections with Native communities throughout the Americas (the mandate was hemispheric, not limited to the United States); and 2) take an international approach by seeking to absorb and adapt the wisdom developed by other institutions that had pioneered this approach, most of which were located in New Zealand and Australia.
Mr. West's core responsibilities included carrying out various ambitious plans for the NMAI and acting as the principal representative of the institution. In addition, and of direct relevance to the travel and entertainment that is the focus of the OIG's report, Mr. West also was directly and personally responsible for privately raising literally tens of millions of dollars. Originally, the sum to be raised was $36 million; because of inflation and other increased costs (such as that of the National Mall building itself), that figure escalated to some $120 million by the time the museum opened in 2004. Ultimately, Mr. West oversaw and/or directly raised approximately $155 million for the museum before his retirement. Needless to say, such prodigious fundraising required extensive travel and entertainment, but nowhere in the draft report are these critical needs of the institution mentioned.
Mr. West's need to travel extensively is further explained by the fact that, though the NMAI's home was in Washington, D.C., other cities, including Los Angeles, played a central role in the founding and development of the NMAI, especially with respect to its very lucrative membership program. In his role as Director, Mr. West had the lead role and responsibility for maintaining the membership base of the museum. The NMAI was unique at the Smithsonian Institution in the size of its membership program, which was the largest by far among all the museums. While Mr. West was at the NMAI, its membership ranged between approximately 50,000 and 100,000. The museum netted approximately $1 million to $2 million annually from the membership program during Mr. West's tenure as Director.
These obligations help explain the amount of Mr. West's travel and entertainment during the time leading up to the museum's inauguration on the Mall in 2004, but, while some of the reasons for his travel changed, the need to travel did not abate after the NMAI's opening. By every measure, the NMAI was an "international museum" -- it was big and new, a Smithsonian museum, and, most importantly, an entirely new kind of museum. It held great interest for the museum community throughout the world. Mr. West was the NMAI's chief spokesman and representative in explaining this new innovation at the Smithsonian and on the National Mall ¿ these responsibilities were all the more important because the NMAI was ground-breaking and because the museum was, in some quarters, quite controversial. Because he knew his job dictated that he would be traveling a great deal, Mr. West always explained to his staff -- and kept in constant touch with his supervisors about -- what he was doing. His activities were all done with the knowledge and support of his staff and supervisors. No finding or conclusion of the OIG's report suggests anything to the contrary.
Mr. West's supervisors also knew about and supported (as reflected in many of Mr. West's performance plans) other duties undertaken by Mr. West that required substantial travel and entertainment. Mr. West, during his Smithsonian tenure, had been active in the national and international museum community; because of this, he was expected to be an international representative of the NMAI and of the Smithsonian generally. For many years, Mr. West had served on the Board of Directors of the American Association of Museums, and was then its Vice Chair (1995-1996) and Chair (1998-2000). He was elected to the Executive Council of the International Council of Museums (ICOM) in 2004 (coinciding with the opening of the NMAI on the National Mall). ICOM is headquartered in Paris, France, where its Executive Council meets. Mr. West served on the ICOM Council for a three-year term during his final three years at the NMAI. He now serves as its Vice President. Travel related to these responsibilities obviously enhanced the international reputation and stature not only of the NMAI but of the Smithsonian as a whole. The OIG report correctly notes that Mr. West's activities "were not only integral to his work as Director of the NMAI, they also greatly benefitted the entire Smithsonian Institution."
Mr. West has accepted the OIG's broad conclusion that he exercised poor judgment with respect to some of the activities addressed in the report and has apologized. Although he disagrees with a number of the specific findings and conclusions in the report, he is gratified that the process has been completed and that the OIG's report contains no suggestion that his conduct violated any rules or policies.
G. Wayne Clough
As you know, these problems first came to light a year ago. Since then, the Smithsonian has clarified and strengthened travel and expense policies to ensure that the excesses identified in the Inspector General's report never occur again. I will see to it that we continue to adhere to the improved policies and best ethical practices that were put in place as part of our governance reforms. The public trust is the Smithsonian's most important asset. It is critically important that good judgment is exercised in the expenditure of all Smithsonian funds. As the IG report states: "The stricter and more publicized rules that grew out of the reforms of 2007 have greatly reduced the risk of such behaviors going undetected...we have seen significant evidence of positive change."