More in sorrow than in anger, Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) said yesterday he still believes Congress should conduct legislative hearings to clarify the Smithsonian Institution's relationship to the federal government.
Steven's statements came in response to reporters' questions about the recent creation of a committee of Smithsonian regents that will review a recent General Accounting Office report critical of the Smithsonian's financial practices.
Stevens said he knows the Smithsonian does not want to go through another set of oversight hearings, and the senator said he does not especially enjoy calling for them. Smithsonian officials "think I'm antagonistic," he said, "but I'm really supportive. I'm trying to give them a base to operate for another 100 years."
The regents' committee, headed by Sen. Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.), also plans to hire an independent consulting firm to study "the Smithsonian's organization, management and . . . the institution's present accountability to the Congress."
The regents' committee was created last month after Stevens, who is ranking minority member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior and Related Agencies, which handles the Smithsonian's yearly budget request, said he was extremely dissatisfied with the way the Smithsonian administers its 100 million a year in federal money.
At that time, Stevens called for a new round of hearings to determine whether Congress should bring the Smithsonian under greater U.S. control. At present the institution, which was chartered by Congress in 1946, is run by an independent board of regents composed of the Vice President of the United States, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, members of Congress and prominent private citizens.
Yesterday, after concluding a hearing on the Smithsonian's request for $106.5 million in federal funds for the next fiscal years. Stevens said that creation of the regents' committee to evaluate the institution was admirable but he said he thought Congress "should get started too."
Legislative hearings on the Smithsonian would be conducted by either the Senate Rules Committee or the Government Operations Committee. Stevens said he did not know whether members of those committees are interested in holding the hearings, which Stevens said he thinks are necessary "to fit the Smithsonian into the federal fabric in a consistent way."
Recent congressional hearings on the Smithsonian's budget and its financial practices have revealed a number of ambiguities and problems confronting the institution as it attempts to maintain the flexibility it thinks necessary to run its museums and research programs while adhering to laws governing the use and spending of U.S. funds.
Jackson has asked the appropriations committee of both houses of Congress to "maintain the status quo" with respect to the Smithsonian's budget requests for next year while the regents' committee reviews "the entire situation."
Stevens said yesterday he is not inclined to go along with Jackson's request although Stevens said he wants to confer with Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D.W.Va.), chairman of the Interior appropriations subcommittee, before making a final decision.