Smithsonian Response to

February 13, 2012
News Release

The Smithsonian is a dynamic organization that conducts research and has facilities and programs in nearly 100 countries. This requires extensive travel.

There is another important reason for travel: the need and expectation that we raise private funds, which entails attending meetings and social gatherings with donors and potential donors. In this regard the Smithsonian is unique among entities that receive federal funds. We seek as a private/public partnership to leverage our federal funding with private funding. For example, we are expected to raise half of the funding for the National Museum of African American History and Culture, a total of $250 million in private funds. In the near future, Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough will increase his travel as we move ahead with the first-ever national fundraising campaign.

The Smithsonian is proud of the fact that two-thirds of its travel funds come from outside sources. Much of it is from grants and contracts garnered by our scientists and curators who seek support for their important research.

In regard to specific issues raised by the news release:

  • Travel requests for the Secretary’s spouse are approved by the General Counsel and by the Under Secretary for Finance and Administration, according to the spouse travel policy in the Smithsonian Travel Handbook.

  • Anne Clough accompanied the Secretary on 11 trips (paid for by the Smithsonian) from August 2008 to February 2011. In each instance, her travel was approved by the Smithsonian’s General Counsel and Chief Financial Officer. The spouse of the head of an organization often plays a critical role in fund raising, and at the Smithsonian the Secretary’s spouse helps cultivate donors.

  • The Smithsonian receives money from outside sources to fund most of its research, which often includes travel. That means sometimes an organization pays travel and lodging costs for a Smithsonian expert to speak at a conference or a foundation supports a particular research project. The Smithsonian appreciates that funding support.

On other travel matters, the Smithsonian Travel Handbook follows the Federal Travel Regulation and, in cases where the FTR does not give guidance (such as certain types of spouse travel), the Institution has established its own policies:

  • Spouse travel—must be approved by the General Counsel and Under Secretary for Finance and Administration, and the spouse’s presence must serve a business purpose and advance the Smithsonian’s mission.

  • Charter flights—must be approved. The Secretary took one charter flight in Kenya as no commercial flights were available. In Alaska, Dr. Clough took one trip on a float plane, as this was the only way to reach a remote research site to see the ongoing work of Smithsonian scientists. This is permitted under FTR.

  • Car service—also in the FTR and permitted in certain instances with approvals. Use of such service has been limited to special circumstances.

  • Business-class or first-class airline travel—permitted under FTR when there is medical need. Dr. Clough submitted a physician’s justification. The Smithsonian does not release employee medical records.

Travel is required for locations where the Smithsonian has facilities and active research. Examples:

  • Alaska—Arctic Studies Center (Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum anthropologists, located in the Anchorage Museum) with numerous field sites in remote areas of the state. The Smithsonian also is a major contributor to the collections of Native American artifacts in the Anchorage Museum and maintains relationships with native tribes and clans.

  • Panama—for more than 50 years it has been the home of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Center with more than 400 employees.

  • New York—home to two museums (National Museum of the American Indian George Gustav Heye Center and Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum), the Archives of American Art and offices for Smithsonian Enterprises and Smithsonian Networks.

  • Hawaii—the National Air and Space Museum, the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Museum of Natural History and National Zoo researchers all do work in Hawaii.

  • Africa—there are long-term collaborative efforts in Kenya at the Mpala Wildlife Preserve and at sites where paleontological research has been active for decades.

  • Chile—working with the Carnegie Institution, the Smithsonian conducts astrophysical experiments and provides instruments for the Las Campanas Observatory site.

  • Belize—The Smithsonian’s Caribbean Coral Reef Ecosystems Program is stationed at the Carrie Bow Cay Field Station on the Meso-American Barrier Reef in Belize. It is a long-term field study dedicated to researching coral reefs, mangroves, sea grass meadows and sandy bottoms.

Dr. Clough’s trips to Antarctica and New Zealand were paid, in part, by the U.S. Antarctica Program. He went at the invitation of the National Science Foundation where he served as a member of the National Science Board.

The article states that Dr. Clough is a federal employee—this is incorrect. His salary is paid with non-federal funds.

The Smithsonian protects the confidentiality of potential donors. Therefore, donors and potential donors are omitted from travel documents released in response to public records requests. Since federal agencies do not engage in fundraising campaigns, this is not addressed in the Freedom of Information Act.

There is no correlation between the number of employees at the Smithsonian and the amount of travel. For example, if the Smithsonian increased its staff by 700 security officers, our travel would not necessarily increase. The amount of travel is determined by research needs or by fundraising or business trips. One curator or researcher may travel several times a year while another rarely travels. It depends on the nature of the work, not the number of employees.

Senior executive travel, including the Secretary’s, is audited quarterly and reported to the Smithsonian’s Board of Regents.

Smithsonian employees may not accept honoraria if their trip is directly related to their work or part of their official duties and responsibilities. The Secretary received one honorarium for a speaking engagement, which he directed be paid to the Smithsonian.

“Travel Previously Scrutinized” section is just that—history that has been previously and thoroughly scrutinized and reported in the media.

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