JAMES V. GRIMALDI, WASHINGTON POST - Deteriorating Smithsonian
facilities have damaged historic airplanes, threatened collections and
resulted in the leakage of tens of millions of gallons of water at
National Zoo enclosures, while cuts in security staff have exposed
artifacts in the institution's 18 museums to vandalism and theft, the
Government Accountability Office reported. A backlog of construction and
maintenance projects at the Smithsonian has ballooned to $2.5 billion,
the GAO said. . .
Those facility problems have forced a museum director to occasionally
shut down galleries and left some staff at an art gallery scrambling
each day to find new drips, while underground leaks at the National
Zoo's sea lion and seal pools have caused 110,000 gallons of water a day
to flow into storm drains. That's more than 40 million gallons of water
a year at an annual cost of $297,000. . .
Two Smithsonian officials told the GAO of "alarming 'near misses' --
events related to inadequate facilities that could have been
catastrophic," including a leak a year ago at the Sackler Gallery that
would have destroyed $500 million in loaned artwork if the deluge had
occurred while the art was stored there. . .
A daytime fire last year at the zoo's invertebrate house and reptile
center "did not set off a smoke alarm and could have burned down the
entire building," the report found. Because it happened during regular
work hours, the blaze was discovered by staff in time. . .
To prevent damage from leaks, sheets of plastic have been stretched over
shelves to protect National Museum of the American Indian artifacts that
were stored at Cultural Resources Center in Suitland. Among the items
under cover are an Eskimo kayak from Greenland and a rare Yahgan dugout
canoe from Tierra del Fuego.