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Smithsonian Faces Funding Shortfall, GAO Reports

The Smithsonian’s recent reorganization of its facilities management system may be moving ahead, but the world’s largest museum complex still faces steep funding hurdles when it comes to maintaining and improving its ever-evolving stable of museums and galleries, science centers, the National Zoo and other buildings, according to a Government Accountability Office report released Wednesday.

Given the deteriorating conditions at several of these buildings, such as the Arts and Industries Building, now shuttered for renovation, and the National Air and Space Museum, where leaks have damaged two aircrafts, the report recommended that the Smithsonian create a process to work with Congress and the administration to develop and implement a “strategic funding plan to address the Smithsonian’s revitalization, construction and maintenance needs.”

“These problems are indicative of a broad decline in the Smithsonian’s aging facilities and systems that pose a serious long-term threat to the collections,” the report stated.

About $2.3 billion will be required to fund capital and maintenance projects over the next nine years, according to the Smithsonian estimate — far more than its current annual federal budget of $126 million for maintenance and capital projects would allow for. Additional unknowns, such as the approved but yet-to-be-constructed National Museum of African American History and Culture, could cause this figure to grow, the GAO noted.

“We in Congress are not giving them what they need to at a minimum keep up with maintenance,” said a Congressional aide with an understanding of the report.

The report was delivered to Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on economic development, public buildings and emergency management, and the panel’s ranking member, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D).

Following 2001 recommendations by the National Academy of Public Administration, the Smithsonian centralized its facilities-related programs within the newly created Office of Facilities Engineering and Operations — an effort the report says is “moving in the right direction.” The GAO also found that most of the 13 major renovation and construction projects currently under way at the Smithsonian during the period of review were on time and “within budget.”

— Bree Hocking

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