The Sacrifice of Public Service


A couple of weeks ago, the Washington Post ran an expose on W. Richard West, Jr., the founding director of the taxpayer-subsidized Smithsonian, the National Museum of the American Indian. Over the last four years, West racked up some $250,000 in globe-trotting travel expenses, hitting such obviously American Indian-relevant destinations as Athens, Bali, London, Hong Kong, Venice (four times), and Paris (12 times!).

West's defenders say his job requires outreach, and overseas travel comes with a museum director's fundraising, networking, and promotion duties. Fair enough, though that doesn't explain why when traveling on the dime of taxpayers and museum patrons, West always opted for business class airfare, first class seats on the train, and the plushest of hotel accommodations.

Now the Post reports that before West left, he commissioned a 48 x 34 portrait of himself to hang in the museum, forever reminding visitors of his legacy. The cost: $48,000. Under West's direction, the museum also spent $133,000 on a lavish going-away party for him, including $30,000 on a specially-produced DVD telling West's life story (which—and I'm just guessing, here—likely touted the splendid sacrifices West has made for a career in public service).

This is all particularly galling because by most accounts, West did a spectacularly crappy job with the museum.

Relevant factoid: Average annual income for Native Americans is about $12,900 per year.