October 29, 2008

Report on NMAI's "lavish" spending

Report clears former NMAI director for travel costsThe founding director of the National Museum of the American Indian was justified in traveling across the world to promote the institution, according to an investigation released on Tuesday.

Rick West, a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma, traveled the most of any director within the Smithsonian Institution. From 2003 through 2007, he spent more than $250,000 in places like Paris, Italy, Japan and New Zealand, along with locales across Indian Country.

"We do not question the need for Mr. West's travel, or the volume of his travel; similarly, we believe it was appropriate for him to entertain and cultivate donors and potential donors, and for him to devote significant time to his leadership efforts in the national and international museum communities," A. Sprightley Ryan, the Smithsonian's Inspector General, stated in the report.

However, Ryan said West should have "exercised better judgment" in spending NMAI's resources. The report cited two expenses--a $48,500 official portrait and $30,000 farewell video--that were generally out of line with Smithsonian practice but that did not violate any policy or law.

Ryan also found "problems" with West's travel spending--improper reimbursements, inadequate documentation, an appearance of "lavish" expenses and travel and mixed business and personal travel. But the report did not blame the former director and instead said the fault lied with Smithsonian management.

As a result of the review, West agreed to reimburse $9,700 payments he should not have received. "It is regrettable that Mr. West's expenditures were not more in keeping with the prudence demanded of a non-profit leader, and more importantly, that the Institution, because of its anemic oversight, permitted these types of expenditures and errors," the report stated.

The investigation essentially clears West, who retired at the end of 2007 after working for the NMAI for 17 years. He helped raise over $155 million for the facility and oversaw its grand opening in September 2004.

But Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who had requested the report, wasn't happy with the former director's spending habits. "Mr. West seemed to do whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted," the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee said in response to the report. "He traveled the world, stayed in fine hotels, personally kept honoraria even when he was speaking on Smithsonian business, and accepted and helped to arrange an elaborate send-off for himself."
Ex-Director To Repay Smithsonian

Report Criticizes Spending By Indian Museum's WestThe inspector general's report said that West's travel "was an essential part of his duties and did advance the Smithsonian mission," particularly for fundraising and elevating the profile of the institution. However, the report added, "Mr. West should have exercised better judgment in spending [the museum's] limited resources when it came to his travel and other expenses."

West's expense reports contained improper reimbursements, including more than $6,000 in receipts for seven trips in which West was paid twice for the same travel and $869 for a hotel bill that was never incurred, according to the report. West charged the Smithsonian nearly $6,000 for a trip to Vienna while separately being reimbursed nearly $1,000 for the same trip from a cultural research center in Germany.

Sixty percent of West's travel in 2006-07 lacked adequate documentation, meaning that he provided receipts but did not submit the names of people he entertained or the business purpose with the voucher. The report found "an appearance of lavish entertainment expenses and premium travel," in which West stayed, for example, in four- and five-star hotels in Venice, Vienna, Paris and Florence.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see The West Expense Controversy.


Anonymous said...

West sounds like a "let them eat cake" sort of elitist who also suffers from delusions of Euro-snobbishness.

dmarks said...

An example of the way-to-common "public servant" who feels entitled to live like a prince, and whose idea of service is to serve themself.