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Senator Feinstein Praises Smithsonian for Instituting Needed Improvements as Documented in New GAO Report

Senator Also Urges Renewed Attention to $2.5 billion facilities and maintenance backlog

Washington, DC –U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today praised the Smithsonian for making needed improvements to its leave and compensation policies, making its operations more transparent and clarifying the roles and responsibilities of the Board of Regents, all of which were detailed in a new Government Accountability Office report released today.

            The following is Senator Feinstein’s statement:

“The past year has been a tumultuous one for the Smithsonian, but I think the Board of Regents and the Acting Secretary have taken great strides in restoring the public’s faith in this great institution.  I am pleased that the GAO report released today documents the many positive changes that have been implemented at the Smithsonian since last March.

These improvements include:

  • Developing a unified compensation and leave policy for all senior officials, including the Secretary;
  • Improving communication between the Board of Regents and the Smithsonian General Counsel, Chief Financial Officer and the Inspector General; and
  • Clarifying the Board of Regents’ roles and responsibilities.

While much has been accomplished, there is always room for improvement.  The GAO report cautions that while progress has been made, success of the Smithsonian’s governance reform effort depends on effectively training the staff on the new policies and establishing accountability.  The GAO also cautions that the Smithsonian must improve communication among its many stakeholders to ensure success.

I am glad that the Board of Regents agrees with the GAO’s sensible recommendations and I hope they take them to heart.

These recommendations include:

  • Developing a clear policy regarding the selection and use of non-regents on Board of Regent committees;
  • Developing a meaningful role for the Smithsonian advisory boards to inform the Board of Regents;
  • Improving Regent accountability by implementing a self-assessment process to hold members accountable if they neglect their duties; and
  • Conducting a broader evaluation of its governance reforms after they have been fully implemented.

The GAO report also points out that a successful board depends on the active engagement of all members.  I think it is important that the Board of Regents find a way to address members of the board who can’t live up to the responsibilities required of them.  The work of the Smithsonian is too important, and the board is too small to allow any member to not fulfill their responsibilities.

The first big test of the newly reorganized Board will be finding new and innovative solutions to close the growing facilities and maintenance backlog at the Smithsonian.  Their recent decision not to proceed with a public/private partnership to redevelop the historic Arts and Industries building concerns me.  But I do believe they are better equipped now than ever to tackle this growing problem head on.”

Here is the link to the GAO report: