Smithsonian Feeling the Budget-Cutting Pain

Posted October 28, 2013 at 12:54pm

If Congress keeps trimming the Smithsonian Institution’s budget, some of the District’s most beloved museums could be forced to furlough workers or close their doors.

There are 18 Smithsonian organization venues in D.C. — including the National Zoo, as well as National Mall fixtures such as the National Air and Space Museum and the National Museum of Natural History — funded through annual appropriations from Congress.

The museum complex currently operates a budget of about $800 million, which covers staff salaries, building rental, research, upkeep of the collections and animal welfare costs associated with food and health care for zoo creatures.

That figure includes a $42 million budget cut implemented since the sequester went into effect earlier this year, according to spokeswoman Becky Haberacker. The museum also lost $4 million in revenue due to the 16-day government shutdown.

“We don’t know what our budget is for 2014 right now, so we’re speculating,” Haberacker said. The Smithsonian Board of Regents met Oct. 21 to consider budget plans, with an eye toward how it might cope with further cuts.

“We’re really looking at everything across the board as to how to make up that money, and possibly having to furlough staff and possibly having to close some museums would be two things that would be on the table,” she said.

No determinations have been made about which museums would close, so fans of the National Portrait Gallery, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, and other Smithsonian collections will just have to speculate about what’s on the chopping block.

“We have to wait to see what our budget is going to be in 2014 before we can say definitively what course of action we would need to take,” Haberacker said.