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Chairs DeFazio, Titus Statements from Hearing on Smithsonian Institution Facilities | The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure

November 13, 2019

Washington, D.C. — The following are opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, from Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR), and Chair of the Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management Dina Titus (D-NV) during today’s hearing titled: “Review of Smithsonian Institution Current Facilities and Future Space Needs.”

Chair DeFazio:

Thank you, Chairwoman Titus.

Secretary Bunch, thank you for joining us today and congratulations on your recent appointment.

The Smithsonian’s extensive real estate portfolio is a significant part of what allows for the Institution’s continued “diffusion of knowledge” around the world. However, when it comes to the Smithsonian’s maintenance backlog, you have your work cut out for you. The most recent estimate of the cost of addressing overdue maintenance is over $1 billion.

A backlog of this size undoubtedly affects the Smithsonian’s ability to plan and implement strategic initiatives. Without necessary restoration of these aging facilities, the Smithsonian will not be able to carry out its important research or provide world-class exhibits to the public.

Among the many Smithsonian facilities in need of renovation is the Institution’s headquarters at the historic castle. The Board of Regents voted this summer to relocate its headquarters to an office building near L’Enfant Plaza.

It’s clear that deferred maintenance is affecting operations at the Smithsonian, so I’m interested in what your plan is to address the backlog and the need for additional storage space for the Smithsonian’s growing collection of artifacts.

I appreciate that the Smithsonian owns the majority of its buildings, rather than leasing them. It doesn’t make sense to waste taxpayer dollars on lease renewals when an up-front purchase or a purchase-option could save money in the long term.

However, I share Chairwoman Titus’ concerns about the Smithsonian’s repeated circumvention of authorization by this Committee. Given the significant contribution Congress makes toward the Smithsonian’s budget, I think it’s fair to say that funding needs to be cleared through the proper channels.

In addition, I’m interested to hear your thoughts on legislation referred to this Committee to construct new museums focused on the history of women and Latinos in America. H.R. 1980, the Smithsonian Women’s History Museum Act, and H.R. 2420, the National Museum of the American Latino Act, have broad bipartisan support in the House of Representatives. In fact, I’m a cosponsor of both bills myself.   I’d like to hear your plans for both museums if these bills are enacted. 

Thank you again for attending this hearing and I look forward to your testimony.

Chair DeFazio’s remarks as delivered can be found here.

Chair Titus:

The Smithsonian Institution is the world’s largest research, education, and museum complex in the world.

The twenty-one museums and galleries attracted more than 28.5 million visitors last year.

In addition, the Smithsonian Affiliates program connects this Washington-based institution to nearly every state in the Union as well as Puerto Rico.

My district in Las Vegas, for instance, is home to the Smithsonian-affiliated National Atomic Testing Museum, which tells the story of America’s nuclear weapons testing program at the Nevada Test Site, its contributions to our national defense, but also the impacts, good and bad, that this testing has had on our region and in downwind communities across the West.

These collections are critical to telling our nation’s story and educating current and future generations.

As the Committee with the responsibility of overseeing public buildings, including the facilities of the Smithsonian, it is important to the American taxpayer that we conduct rigorous oversight and ensure that taxpayer resources are being utilized appropriately. 

Today’s hearing will examine the Smithsonian Institution’s current real estate portfolio as well as expansion, renovation, and acquisition plans; the maintenance budget and backlog; the purchase of a new headquarters building, and the Smithsonian Institution’s building naming policies. 

I would like to welcome today’s witness – the Smithsonian Institution’s recently appointed 14th Secretary – Mr. Lonnie Bunch III. 

Secretary Bunch, congratulations on your stewardship of the successful effort to establish the National Museum of African American History and Culture and on your appointment to lead the Smithsonian Institution. 

Secretary Bunch, as a cosponsor of H.R. 1980, the Smithsonian Women’s History Museum Act and H.R. 2420, National Museum of the American Latino Act, I am interested to hear your thoughts on the future expansion of the Smithsonian Museum family as support for these two endeavors continues to grow.

Secretary Bunch, I am relatively new to this Chairmanship, but over the course of the last year I have observed a disconnect between the Smithsonian Institution and its authorizers. 

The Smithsonian seems to work closely with its appropriators while keeping the authorizers minimally informed and at arm’s length. 

Given the fact that this Subcommittee has not held a Smithsonian oversight hearing since 2007, perhaps that distance is understandable. 

But I can assure you, that will not be the case moving forward.

The Smithsonian must do a better job of collaborating with its Congressional authorizers.

No more securing authorization via the appropriations bills. 

No more major real estate acquisitions without transparency.

When contemplating major transactions, the Smithsonian should inform Congress at the outset and utilize expertise from other relevant federal agencies. 

The Smithsonian cannot take 70% of its annual budget from Congress and then claim that the Trust structure makes the Smithsonian completely independent of Congressional oversight.

Again, you have a great story to tell and to share with the American people and with visitors from around the world and I thank you for being here today as we examine these important issues.

I look forward to a fruitful discussion.  I now recognize the Ranking Member, Mr. Meadows for five minutes for an opening statement.  

Chair Titus’s remarks as delivered can be found here.

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