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Ex-museum head to repay Smithsonian for expenses

By Brett Zongker
Washington, D.C. (AP) 11-08

The founding director of the National Museum of the American Indian has agreed to repay the Smithsonian Institution more than $9,700 for improper travel and entertainment reimbursements, according to an audit released during late October.

The report from Smithsonian Inspector General A. Sprightley Ryan was issued to members of Congress and Smithsonian leaders after scrutiny last year of W. Richard West Jr.’s extensive travel expenses. He spent more than $217,000 on transportation and luxury hotels in 2006 and 2007, according to calculations in the audit.

The audit found the appearance of “lavish entertainment expenses and premium travel” but asked West to repay less than $10,000 and faulted lax oversight by past Smithsonian executives for most of the problems.

Commonly referred to as “the nation’s attic,” the Smithsonian complex of 19 museums and galleries, the National Zoo and nine research facilities grew from the bequest of a British scientist, James Smithson, who died in 1835. He never visited the United States but willed the young country his fortune for use “for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men.”

Smithsonian Secretary G. Wayne Clough, who took office in July, issued a statement that said the museum complex has strengthened its policies to ensure excesses like West’s “never occur again.”

West’s attorney, Michael Bromwich, said the report largely cleared West of any wrongdoing. Still, he apologized for any excesses.

“I accept the (inspector general’s) conclusion that I should have exercised better judgment,” West wrote in a statement. “I have without hesitation agreed to reimburse the funds.”

West, a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, retired in 2007. The report noted that during 17 years at the Smithsonian he raised more than $155 million to establish the American Indian museum and was a “beloved and accomplished leader.”

The museum, which opened on the National Mall in 2004, drew 1.8 million visitors in 2007.


Ryan’s report said West traveled more than any other Smithsonian executive because of his job but sometimes mixed business with personal vacations.

Some of the improper reimbursements were attributed to administrative mistakes, while in other cases West asked to be reimbursed for more than receipts showed he paid. West also charged the Smithsonian for some expenses relating to his work with universities or museum associations.

West agreed to repay about $1,400 for breaking two travel rules, one limiting first-class train travel and another on charging for laundry service while traveling abroad.

On trips to Europe, West stayed in four- and five-star hotels, spending more than $1,000 a night for a hotel and expenses in Venice, Italy, although he was not asked to pay back most of that money.

“We see no justification for this level of accommodation,” Ryan wrote in the report.

The audit confirmed the museum, with some help from donors, spent $48,500 for a portrait of West and more than $30,000 for an eight-minute video extolling his leadership.

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