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Waste, mismanagement mar Smithsonian

Published April 22, 2007


The Smithsonian Institution is a national treasure, and not just for the tens of millions who visit Washington, D.C. Its 19 museums, the National Zoo and nine research centers are troves of history, science, culture and invention for anyone in the world who can click onto the Internet. But the Smithsonian needs to get its act together. The mismanagement, wasteful spending and ethical lapses by top Smithsonian officials chronicled by the Washington Post could erode public support for this one-of-a-kind institution.

Most know the Smithsonian for its signature building, the sandstone Castle on the National Mall. But since Congress founded it in 1846 as an institution dedicated to the "diffusion of knowledge," the Smithsonian has been an organic, evolving window on human history. It is about more than dinosaurs and portraits of deceased presidents. Beyond its collections, the Smithsonian conducts research on a range of modern issues from extraterrestrials and global warming to the social implications of such discoveries as the artificial heart.

There is plenty of room for science and history to coexist with popular culture, and for interactive displays to build on the free admission to Smithsonian museums to expand their reach even more. But as the Post showed, that will require stronger leadership. Congress needs to provide more money for repairs, an estimated $2.5-billion backlog that dwarfs the institution's $1-billion annual budget. Its board of regents, vested by Congress to run the institution, needs to make the management more accountable and restore the Smithsonian's scholarly polish. Ensuring its health and integrity is a trust we owe future generations.

[Last modified April 21, 2007, 19:43:26]

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