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Waste of the Day: Smithsonian Mismanaged $7.5 Million In Covid Funds

March 18, 2024

Topline: The Smithsonian Institution received $7.5 million to respond to Covid-19, but the museum and research complex spent some of those funds on unrelated items and potentially overpaid for other supplies, according to a new Inspector General report.

Key facts: The IG audited 64% of the Smithsonian’s money from the 2020 CARES Act and found that the museum “did not consistently spend … funds in accordance with applicable laws, policies, and procedures.”

Open the Books
Waste of the Day 3.18.24

In July 2020, the Smithsonian said it urgently needed to hire a doctor to assist with Covid procedures. The institution paid him a $214,465 salary with CARES Act funds.

Museum staff claimed that 95% of the doctor’s work was related to the pandemic, but records revealed that only 6% of his appointments involved Covid-19.

Smithsonian staff also spent $29,000 on items unrelated to Covid-19. Purchases included water fountains, printing supplies and even a phone case.

The institution is required to collect offers from multiple companies when buying something over $10,000 to find the best price. But the Smithsonian only accepted bids on three of its 12 largest purchases, meaning $1.5 million was spent without a “fair and reasonable” price.

The Smithsonian violated the same procedure when spending $503,000 on face masks and hand sanitizer.

The museum then failed to report a quarter of its spending to the Federal Procurement Data System, which is supposed to let the public view government purchases. The spending was accurately reported to sister website USASpending.gov.

Smithsonian staff said the errors were simple mistakes and agreed to improve internal controls.

Background: The Smithsonian isn’t the first federal entity to get caught wasting CARES Act funds. The Pentagon spent $53.2 million on ineligible items, and the Paycheck Protection Program spent $29 billion and counting on improper payments.

Now that the pandemic is over, the Smithsonian has found a new way to spend money: boosting its own payroll.

In 2020, there was only one person at the Smithsonian making more than $200,000. Last year, there were 44 such employees, according to the database at OpenTheBooks.com.

 Summary: Fittingly, the Smithsonian has now become part of the history it preserves as the latest federal agency to misuse its Covid-19 funding.

 The #WasteOfTheDay is brought to you by the forensic auditors at OpenTheBooks.com

This article was originally published by RealClearInvestigations and made available via RealClearWire.
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