Saturday, September 29, 2007
The leaky old Smithsonian
The Smithsonian Insitution (or SI to Washingtonians) has always been a leaky place. Inside traitor information was always leaking during the dark days of the previous regime. While information leaked out, rainwater leaked in. And you know what? It still does!
For some reason, building maintenance isn't a problem for the State Department and the Pentagon. There just isn't enough federal money to pay for maintaining the old SI.
Well, the Government Accountability Office just came up with a brilliant suggestion, to wit: the SI should really think hard about finding alternative ways to pay for building maintenance. That means non-federal funding.
What I want to know is what happened to the concept of "accountability" in the GAO? Isn't the federal government accountable for maintaining federal buildings?
I guess not.
Well, the two obvious alternatives -- charging admission to the museums, and raising private donations -- have been kicking around for a long time.
Charging admission would take an act of congress, and has never been popular in various quarters. For one thing, our legislators on Capital Hill have always believed the Smithsonian should be a freebie. It's a fun place to go, but let's face it, it's not Disneyland.
Then there's the old problem with the way things usually work in the government. The money from admissions would go to the Treasury, and the Office of Management and Budget would adjust the SI's requested allocation. "Surprise! (hnyuck, hnyuck). Your budget is the same as it was before admissions."
So, let's get real and talk about the other alternative -- getting private donors to pay for SI's maintenance.
I particularly like this idea, and I think it's going to catch on, because it really mirrors a prevailing attitude. You know . . . science isn't as important as other federally funded functions, so let those SI buggers get donors to do it.
I bet that Monday morning, Cristian Sampere, SI's Acting Secretary, will be flooded with e-mails and calls from donors. But not the ones who want an exhibit hall named in their honor. This is a window of opportunity for donors who really dig maintenance, and of course, they want recognition too.
If this works, as I suspect it will, you're going to see some real improvements in that leaky old place.
The next time you are there and taking the pause that refreshes, a tasteful sign may remind you that: "This toilet and plumbing is paid for with a generous grant from Home Depot."