OMB gives Smithsonian failing grades

The Smithsonian Institution, home to 16 museums and galleries, is the black sheep of the President's Management Agenda.

It has received failing scores for all five PMA initiatives, including competitive sourcing, financial performance and e-government, since the Office of Management and Budget started issuing its quarterly scorecard in 2002. It is the only agency to have red scores, the lowest ranking, across all categories.

The real mystery, according to the Smithsonian, is why they are on the scorecard at all. "I can't tell you why we are included," said Linda St. Thomas, a Smithsonian spokeswoman. "We are atypical," adding that only OMB could explain its decision to include the agency.

"OMB and the Smithsonian concluded that it was consistent with the President's Management Agenda and it would serve the public well to include it, even though it's a smaller agency," said an OMB official.

As for the failing scores, the official said the Smithsonian's progress has been slow because the agency wasn't exploring best management practices prior to the start of PMA, and it doesn't have access to the same resources as larger agencies.

Hundreds of small units are left off the list of graded agencies, which includes mostly large departments governed by the 1990 Chief Financial Officers Act. The Smithsonian is the only agency on the list that gets a large chunk of money--$297 million out of its $925 million fiscal 2005 budget-from private trust funds. The other $628 million came from federal appropriations.

Other agencies in a similar situation, such as the Library of Congress and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, which also are funded by federal appropriations as well as private donations, are not listed on the PMA scorecard.

OMB started issuing the scorecard as a way of marking agencies' progress on the Bush administration's management agenda. Achieving a "yellow" status, the midway point between red and green, requires having completed or announced at least one job competition involving 65 or more employees for the competitive sourcing initiative, the most controversial of the five campaigns.

According to OMB data on fiscal 2003 job competitions, the Smithsonian had identified only 20 positions that could be contested and had not held any competitions.

"We've always been red in outsourcing; that's just the nature of the Smithsonian," said St. Thomas, noting the agency's small size. The Smithsonian employs 6,000 people.

Moreover, Smithsonian jobs, said St. Thomas, are "very specialized. It makes it hard to outsource." She said the Smithsonian considered competing security jobs, but decided against it.

"Because of the national collections and special security, including working with Park Police, we decided that it's not wise for us to outsource that. We'll handle our own security on the National Mall," she said.

The union that represents Smithsonian workers, the American Federation of Government Employees Local 2463, is not complaining. "If you outsource to people who don't have a connection to the institution, you're opening yourself up to real problems," said Dwight Bowman, president of the local and a former Smithsonian photographer.

Proponents of the PMA say the Smithsonian should follow the management initiatives as strictly as other agencies. "They use taxpayer dollars like the rest. While they have a unique mission, it is not one that should exempt them from good financial and management practices," said Geoffrey Segal, director of government reform for the Reason Foundation, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization.

While the Smithsonian's overall grades are all red, they received a green score for progress on their human capital initiative and yellow scores for progress in e-government, financial performance, and budget and performance integration. Competitive sourcing was rated red for progress.

"It looks to me like we've done everything we're supposed to do," said St. Thomas of the human capital initiative.

She said the low financial performance grade is probably caused by a delay in implementing the Smithsonian's new financial system. The agency received a clean audit on their fiscal 2004 financial statements. The OMB report on the Smithsonian also noted it did not meet the early Nov. 15 reporting deadline last year.

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