Smithsonian Institution:

Funding Challenges Affect Facilities' Conditions and Security, Endangering Collections

GAO-07-1127: Published: Sep 28, 2007. Publicly Released: Sep 28, 2007.

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The Smithsonian Institution (Smithsonian) is the world's largest museum complex and research organization. Its annual operating and capital program revenues come from its own private trust fund assets and federal appropriations, with the majority of funds for facilities coming from federal appropriations. In 2005, GAO reported that the Smithsonian's current funding would not be sufficient to cover its estimated $2.3 billion in facilities projects through 2013 and recommended that the Smithsonian Board of Regents, its governing body, develop and implement a funding plan. As requested, GAO described changes in the condition of the Smithsonian's facilities and estimate for project costs since 2005, analyzed the Smithsonian's steps taken and challenges regarding protecting and managing its real property portfolio, and assessed the Smithsonian's efforts to develop and implement strategies to fund its facilities' projects. GAO reviewed relevant documents and interviewed officials from the Smithsonian and other organizations.

The Smithsonian has made some facilities improvements since our 2005 report, but the continued deterioration of many facilities has caused further access restrictions and has threatened collections. The Smithsonian's cost estimate for facilities projects has increased to $2.5 billion from $2.3 billion in April 2005. For example, a lack of temperature and humidity control at National Air and Space Museum storage facilities has caused corrosion to historic airplanes and increased the cost of restoring these items for exhibit. While the Smithsonian follows key security practices to protect its assets, it faces challenges related to ensuring that museum and facility directors are aware of security information and related to funding constraints. Some directors' lack of awareness of security information limits their ability to respond to changes in the security of their facilities. Also, some museum and facility directors stated that in the absence of more security guards, some cases of vandalism and theft have occurred. In addition, the Smithsonian has made significant strides in improving its real property portfolio management, such as improving its real property data and using performance metrics. However, the Smithsonian has omitted privately funded projects from its capital plan, making it challenging for the Smithsonian and stakeholders to comprehensively assess the funding and scope of projects. To address GAO's April 2005 recommendation regarding implementing a funding plan for its facilities projects, the Board of Regents created an ad-hoc committee, which, after reviewing nine options, requested increased federal funding. We found that some of the Smithsonian's evaluations of the nine funding options were limited in that they did not always provide complete analysis, fully explain specific assumptions, or benchmark with other organizations. Also, some options were dismissed because independently they would not generate enough revenue, but the evaluations do not consider combining options to increase revenues.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To address the Smithsonian's funding needs for facilities projects, the Board of Regents should analyze, in a more comprehensive manner, the eight proposed nonfederal funding strategies, along with any additional strategies, for its facilities projects, including developing a clearer explanation of assumptions and incorporating the results of discussions with other cultural organizations and a consideration of combining funding options in this analysis.

    Agency Affected: Smithsonian Institution

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In September 2007, we found that the Smithsonian Institution (Smithsonian) Board of Regents efforts to develop and implement strategies to fund its facilities needs have been limited. In June 2005, the Board of Regents established an ad-hoc committee to explore nine options to address the Smithsonian?s April 2005 estimated $2.3 billion for facilities projects through fiscal year 2013. However, we found that some of the Smithsonian?s evaluations of the funding options were limited in that they did not always provide complete analysis, fully explain specific assumptions or benchmark with other organizations. We recommended that the Smithsonian analyze in a more comprehensive manner the funding strategies, along with any additional strategies. In response, on November 19, 2007, the Smithsonian regents concurred with a more comprehensively analyzed and prioritized list of funding strategies that included some previously identified strategies, as well as some new strategies. This list included establishing a national campaign to raise private sector funds for Smithsonian programs and facilities, among other strategies. Since then, in May 2008, the Board of Regents established a committee that will oversee the development of the national campaign, among other things.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the Smithsonian's museum and facility directors have the information they need to work with the Office of Protection Services to identify, monitor, and respond to changes in the security of their facilities, and to increase the comprehensiveness of key documents used to present the Smithsonian's long-term facilities needs and strategy, the Secretary of the Smithsonian should include in the Smithsonian's estimate for facilities revitalization, construction, and maintenance projects through 2013 and in the Smithsonian's capital plan the full scope of planned projects and information on planned funding sources--federal or private funds--for each.

    Agency Affected: Smithsonian Institution

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In September 2007, we found that, although private funds made up 39 percent of the Smithsonian Institution's (Smithsonian) capital funds for facilities projects for fiscal years 2002 through 2007, the Smithsonian omitted privately funded projects from its capital plan, making it challenging for the Smithsonian and other stakeholders to comprehensively assess the funding and scope of facilities projects. We therefore recommended that the Smithsonian's facilities capital plan include the full scope of planned projects and information on planned funding sources (federal and private funds)for each project. In September 2008, the Smithsonian fully implemented this recommendation by creating a facilities capital plan for fiscal years 2008-2017 that includes a description of planned projects and their funding sources.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the Smithsonian's museum and facility directors have the information they need to work with the Office of Protection Services to identify, monitor, and respond to changes in the security of their facilities, and to increase the comprehensiveness of key documents used to present the Smithsonian's long-term facilities needs and strategy, the Secretary of the Smithsonian should ensure that museum and facility directors receive daily information related to security issues, including the number of security officers assigned to the facility.

    Agency Affected: Smithsonian Institution

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In Sept. 2007, we found that the Smithsonian Institution faced challenges related to communicating important security-related information to museum and facility directors. Following our Sept. 2007 report, the Smithsonian Director of the Office of Protection Services began sending daily security staffing reports to museum directors and managers. According to four museum managers we spoke to, the reports have been helpful in providing information needed to manage security and protect assets.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the Smithsonian's museum and facility directors have the information they need to work with the Office of Protection Services to identify, monitor, and respond to changes in the security of their facilities, and to increase the comprehensiveness of key documents used to present the Smithsonian's long-term facilities needs and strategy, the Secretary of the Smithsonian should ensure that museum and facility directors are aware of and understand the all-hazards risk assessment report for their facility, including how it affects the prioritization of security projects.

    Agency Affected: Smithsonian Institution

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In Sept. 2007, we found that the Smithsonian Institution faced challenges related to communicating important security-related information to museum and facility directors. Since Sept. 2007, the Smithsonian's Director of the Office of Protection Services arranged to meet with museum and facility directors on an annual basis to discuss the all-hazards risk assessment and updates to it.

    Recommendation: To address the Smithsonian's funding needs for facilities projects, the Board of Regents should submit, following its completion of the comprehensive analysis, a report to OMB and Congress that describes a funding strategy to meet the needs of its revitalization, construction, and maintenance projects, so that OMB and Congress can understand the steps the Smithsonian is taking to meet these needs in addition to its requests for federal funding.

    Agency Affected: Smithsonian Institution

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 2007, we reported that the Smithsonian Institution had made a number of facilities improvements since a prior 2005 GAO report on this subject, but the continued deterioration of many facilities had caused further access restrictions and had threatened collections. In addition, the Smithsonian's cost estimate for facilities projects had increased. Furthermore, we found that funding constraints were clearly a common denominator with regard to the Smithsonian's security and real property management, but the Smithsonian Board of Regents' efforts to develop and implement strategies to fund its facilities revitalization, construction, and maintenance needs had been limited. We recommended that the Smithsonian submit a report to OMB and Congress that describes a funding strategy to meet the needs of its revitalization, construction, and maintenance projects, so that OMB and Congress can understand the steps the Smithsonian is taking to meet these needs in addition to its requests for federal funding. In response, the Smithsonian Board of Regents approved, in January 2011, a comprehensive National Campaign to raise private funds to help address the Smithsonian's needs, including facilities. The National Campaign is designed to, among other things, address capital project needs in several of the Smithsonian's major facilities, including National Museum of Natural History, the National Museum of American History, and the National Air and Space Museum. Smithsonian staff briefed OMB on the National Campaign in April 2011 and held briefings with key congressional committees in May and June 2011, with additional briefings being scheduled. As a result of these efforts, the Smithsonian has taken a key strategic step toward addressing its funding challenges for capital projects, with the input of key stakeholders including Congress and OMB.

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