Jeffrey Herbst, president and chief executive of the Newseum, stepped down suddenly on Monday as the museum’s board announced a full-blown review of its long-troubled finances.
The review could result in the sale of the landmark building on Pennsylvania Avenue, according to a statement from the Freedom Forum, the creator and primary benefactor of the Newseum.
The Newseum, which is devoted to free expression and the First Amendment, will remain open while the financial review takes place, the statement said.
The museum moved from Arlington to downtown Washington in 2008. Over the past 20 years, the statement said, the Freedom Forum has provided more than $500 million to build and fund the Newseum.
“Despite these gifts, and the generous support of many individuals, foundations and companies, the Newseum has not been able to become self-sustaining,” it said.
Jan Neuharth, Freedom Forum CEO, said: “It has become obvious that the current model — where the Freedom Forum is the primary funder of the Newseum — cannot continue indefinitely at this level.”
“Left unchecked, this deficit spending rate would eventually drain the Freedom Forum’s entire endowment, and the annual cash drain prevents us from allocating any new capital to First Amendment programs that are at the heart of our educational mission.”
The statement said the Freedom Forum has hired consultants to review all options regarding the seven-story, 250,000-square-foot building — including joint ventures and “a possible outright sale.”
Herbst was named to the Newseum’s top position in July 2015. For the five previous years, he was president of Colgate University.
Peter Prichard, chairman of the Newseum, praised Herbst as “a strong leader whose accomplishments included raising the profile of the Newseum, increasing its fundraising base, and contributing to important national debates on freedom and free expression. We’re grateful for his leadership.”
Herbst could not be reached for comment Monday.
An email to Newseum members sent Monday evening said that Prichard, Neuharth and the Newseum’s chief operating officer, Scott Williams, would lead the museum in the immediate future. It gave no reason for Herbst’s stepping down.
The Washington Post reported in January that the museum was laying off 26 employees, a move that followed four previous rounds of staff reductions since 2009.
This story has been updated.