Correction to This Article
The article incorrectly said that Smithsonian Inspector General A. Sprightley Ryan told a congressional committee that management had failed to hold employees responsible for pilfering items. She said management did not hold workers accountable for the losses, but she did not describe the items as stolen.

Congressman wants to know how Smithsonian lost millions in personal property

Smithsonian Inspector General A. Sprightley Ryan.
Smithsonian Inspector General A. Sprightley Ryan. (Susan Biddle - Twp)
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By Jacqueline Trescott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 11, 2009

Since 2005, the Smithsonian Institution has lost $12.3 million in personal property, including 89 laptop computers.

A. Sprightley Ryan, the Smithsonian's inspector general, told a congressional committee Thursday that management had failed to hold employees responsible for pilfering items belonging to the Smithsonian, mostly office equipment. "The institution has held only one person accountable for $40 worth of the $12.3 million in missing property in the last five years," Ryan said.

G. Wayne Clough, the Smithsonian secretary, told the House subcommittee on interior, environment and related agencies, a panel of the Appropriations Committee, that the institution would now strictly enforce policies involving museum property.

Ryan, following reports from another Smithsonian unit, discovered that managers were required to adhere to few controls in registering property, pursuing missing objects or disposing of property. The inspector general recommended better training and wider use of accountability forms.

Clough said the Smithsonian is in the process of hiring three people who will be dedicated to managing these concerns.

The inspector general also reported that the Smithsonian had misappropriated $550,000 from its facilities maintenance accounts to two capital construction projects during fiscal 2008. Maintenance and repair of the Smithsonian's aging structures has been a chief concern in Congress for many years, and the Appropriations Committee's funds had been earmarked for those purposes. Rep. Norman Dicks (D-Wash.), the subcommittee chairman, called the switch a "misuse of how Congress intended the money to be spent." Ryan replied, "We are satisfied that the likeliness of this happening again will be minimal."

Dicks said he was also concerned about the impact of asbestos in public and storage buildings on Smithsonian workers and visitors. The Washington Post reported Thursday that a former employee of the National Air and Space Museum had received a settlement of $233,000 following a diagnosis of a lung disease linked to breathing asbestos fibers. Clough said that a number of measures to detect and communicate about asbestos were in place and that several dozen employees had requested a health screening. The results of the screenings, however, were not yet known, he said.

The committee also received a new report from Mark L. Goldstein, a director of the Government Accountability Office, who said the Smithsonian was moving ahead on reforms but still had areas to improve, including its contracting policy, financial reporting and involvement with the museum's advisory boards.

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