Expatriate Owl

A politically-incorrect perspective that does not necessarily tow the party line, on various matters including but not limited to taxation, academia, government and religion.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Grassley's on the Warpath Again

It hasn't posted yet on Senator Grassley's website, but the Senator has taken an interest in the National Museum of the American Indian; specifically, the lavish spending habits of its immediate past Director, W. Richard West, Jr. This includes some very cordon bleu travel and hostelry, as well as $48,500 from the Museum's bank account to commission an official portrait of himself.

Grassley's letter of 3 January 2008 to Roger Sant, Chair of the Smithsonian Board of Regents (which was carried in the 7 January 2008 Tax Analysts newsletter in the LEXIS-NEXIS database, citation 2008 TNT 4-65) is now asking that the Smithsonian give full documentation of these travel expenses, as well as documentation (including e-mails) regarding the approval of those expenses by the NMAI and/or Smithsonian Boards. Grassley's letter no doubt will eventually post on his website and/or elsewhere, and you will then be able to read the details. And I would not be the least bit surprised if some very high-placed toochases at the Smithsonian and/or NMAI get a brisk paddling (and there may be some taxation issues which might attract some attention from some bureaucrats, lowly ranked or otherwise, a few blocks away at 1111 Constitution Avenue).

The folks at the Smithsonian just don't get it! The resignation a few months ago of former Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence Small for similar profligate living off of the Smithsonian's coffers should have been the signal for everyone to pull the purse strings a bit tighter. But Rick West continued to live high off the hog, and apparently, his superiors uttered nary a word of question or disapproval (and, perhaps, may even have inked the voucher papers behind the disbursements).

As reflected in some e-mails obtained by the Washington Post (not my favorite rag, but hey, give credit where credit is due), the mortar and building blocks of the Museum figuratively contain many a nickel and dime from many Native American youngsters who skipped their lunches so that the NMAI could be built. We are talking about Indian Reservations where notoriously abject poverty abounds, and yet, these young boys and girls were willing to make significant cutbacks in their impecunious budgets to help make NMAI a reality. Nobody was asking Richard West to go without lunch; only to buy his lunch and dinner and travel at reasonable prices.

I cannot help but compare and contrast Rick West to Rabbi Avrohom Pam. Rabbi Pam founded the Shuvu Schools in Israel to give the émigrés from the former Soviet Union the adequate Jewish education which the Israeli government failed to provide. The story is told (and I do not doubt it in the least) that Shuvu once needed about $800 to get a particular program for girls off the ground in Haifa. The Rabbi's wife had planned to visit Israel, but ended up forgoing her trip so that the approximately $800 she had intended to use for airfare could go to a more worthy cause.

Uncle Sam is living under conditions of a stressed budget. When my household budget gets tight, we all do what we can to cut out at least the most extraneous items. But there is a tax gap to be filled, and, for the past few years, Congress and the IRS have amply made clear their intentions to give increased scrutiny to tax-exempt organizations.

The message is that we need a healthy tax-exempt sector to continue to do its good works in our society. But if you are going to have the privileges of a tax exemption for your existence, then you are expected to manage your financial affairs with a minimum of waste and inefficiency, and with a lot of transparency. This is especially so if, in addition to your tax exemption, you are the recipient of government funding or other largesse.

Expect to hear more from Senator Grassley on the Rick West affair!

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  • At 10 January, 2008 19:39, Blogger A Shadow of Myself said…

    Just want to let you know that I'm a loyal reader of your blog. It's in my favorites list and I check it for new material. You write very well, and our points of view, plus our lists of favorite people, seem to be quite compatable. Keep up the good work, and thank you for taking the time to blog.

  • At 11 January, 2008 03:56, Blogger Expatriate Owl said…

    Much appreciated.

    I have a very, very active and tiring schedule projected for next few months, which likely will heavily burden my creative energies.

    But will try to keep posting now and then.


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