In defense of Richard West

Attached is a letter I sent to the Washington Post regarding its recent article about NMAI Founding Director W. Richard West, Jr.

Dear Editor,

Readers of your October 29 article on the Smithsonian Inspector General's report on the travel and expenses of W. Richard West, Jr., the founding director of the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) would have trouble discerning that the report largely exonerates Mr. West of the charges contained in your newspaper’s original sensationalized articles and that it places far more blame on the Smithsonian than on Mr. West.

Unfortunately, your article on the OIG’s report is of a piece with your earlier stories that ignored basic facts and the context of Mr. West’s important work.

The IG’s report recognizes the central role played by Mr. West in the creation and development of the NMAI, pays tribute to the fact that he was “a beloved and accomplished leader at NMAI,” and states that his travel and entertainment activities “were not only integral to his work as Director of NMAI, they also greatly benefitted the entire Smithsonian Institution.” Your article glides over these central findings in passing, ignoring the portions of the IG’s report that place Mr. West’s travel and entertainment in the broader context of his job.

Astonishingly, the article states that the IG’s report “confirmed many of The Post’s’ findings.” You fail to note that the report failed to substantiate most of them, and explicitly rejected some – e.g., your completely false claim about his travel to NY, which the IG found cost hundreds of dollars per night less than you claimed.

Your original articles claimed extensive first-class transportation; the IG found only one instance of inappropriate first-class travel, the result of an administrative error. You claimed excessive use of “chauffeured cars;” the IG report found to the contrary. The list goes on and on.

Of the $9,700 that Mr. West has willingly agreed to reimburse the Smithsonian, the biggest ticket item was the result of a bizarre and illogical federal travel rule, of which Mr. West was completely unaware, that permits reimbursement of laundry expenses on domestic trips, but not on international trips. That fact might have amused and informed your readers, but the central point of your article seems to have been an attempt to vindicate your earlier misleading reporting.

Mr. West has apologized for not exercising better judgment on various matters addressed in the IG’s report. The Post owes an apology to Mr. West and your readers for your consistently shoddy, misleading, and unfair reporting on this matter.

Michael R. Bromwich

(Mr. Bromwich represented Mr. West in connection with the OIG investigation.)