Smithsonian Institution:

Better Care Needed for National Air and Space Museum Aircraft

GGD-96-9: Published: Oct 19, 1995. Publicly Released: Oct 19, 1995.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed aircraft restoration at the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum (NASM), focusing on: (1) the adequacy of facilities for preserving aircraft; and (2) options to improve NASM aircraft restoration efforts.

GAO found that NASM: (1) commits fewer resources to aircraft restoration than it does to its other museum activities; (2) lacks adequate space to properly display or store restored aircraft; (3) must determine how to better preserve its aircraft collection despite its limited financial resources and lack of space; (4) needs to develop criteria for what constitutes historically significant aircraft and consider which aircraft should be kept in its collection; (5) could help preserve its aircraft collection, alleviate its storage capacity problems, and share its collection with the public by using second-party restorations; (6) expansion plans at Dulles Airport could help alleviate storage facility problems, but funding is uncertain and the extension could take years to complete; (7) could reduce short-term costs by limiting the new storage space to the same size as current storage facilities; and (8) does not have a management plan describing how each aircraft will be used in future exhibits, the extent that each aircraft will be restored, and who is responsible for monitoring the condition of each aircraft.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NASM has prepared a new mission statement and has decided not to collect any more foreign aircraft, but believes that the foreign aircraft it has are significant and should be retained.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Smithsonian and the Acting Director, NASM, should consult with the appropriate congressional committees to better define the mission of a national air and space museum, and within that definition, criteria for identifying historically and technologically significant aircraft. As part of this effort, the Secretary and NASM Director should specifically consider the extent to which the museum should include foreign aircraft in its collection and duplicate aircraft contained in the collections of other federally funded museums.

    Agency Affected: Smithsonian Institution

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NASM has prepared a new mission statement and has decided not to collect any more foreign aircraft, but believes that the foreign aircraft it has are significant and should be retained.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Smithsonian and the Acting Director, NASM, should consult with the appropriate congressional committees to better define the mission of a national air and space museum, and within that definition, criteria for identifying historically and technologically significant aircraft. As part of this effort, the Secretary and NASM Director should specifically consider the extent to which the museum should include foreign aircraft in its collection and duplicate aircraft contained in the collections of other federally funded museums.

    Agency Affected: Smithsonian Institution: National Air and Space Museum

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NASM has prepared a new collections rationale determining the relative priority of aircraft contained in the NASM collection.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Smithsonian and the Acting Director, NASM, should determine the relative priority of the aircraft contained in the NASM collection in the context of historically and technologically significant aircraft.

    Agency Affected: Smithsonian Institution

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NASM has prepared a new collections rationale determining the relative priority of aircraft contained in the NASM collection.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Smithsonian and the Acting Director, NASM, should determine the relative priority of the aircraft contained in the NASM collection in the context of historically and technologically significant aircraft.

    Agency Affected: Smithsonian Institution: National Air and Space Museum

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NASM has completed a list of the number and types of aircraft that will be retained and displayed at the new Dulles facility.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Smithsonian and the Acting Director, NASM, should determine the number and types of aircraft that should be retained, given the newly established criteria and actual and expected levels of funding and storage capacity.

    Agency Affected: Smithsonian Institution

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NASM has completed a list of the number and types of aircraft that will be retained and displayed at the new Dulles extension.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Smithsonian and the Acting Director, NASM, should determine the number and types of aircraft that should be retained, given the newly established criteria and actual and expected levels of funding and storage capacity.

    Agency Affected: Smithsonian Institution: National Air and Space Museum

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NASM has increased the number of aircraft loaned to other museums, but has no plans to deaccession aircraft.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Smithsonian and the Acting Director, NASM, should deaccession those aircraft in the NASM collection that either do not meet the historically and technologically significant criteria or cannot be adequately stored and maintained with available resources. In pursuing the latter, additional consideration should also be given to second-party restorations and temporary loans of aircraft.

    Agency Affected: Smithsonian Institution

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NASM has increased the number of aircraft loaned to other museums, but has no plans to deaccession aircraft.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Smithsonian and the Acting Director, NASM, should deaccession those aircraft in the NASM collection that either do not meet the historically and technologically significant criteria or cannot be adequately stored and maintained with available resources. In pursuing the latter, additional consideration should also be given to second-party restorations and temporary loans of aircraft.

    Agency Affected: Smithsonian Institution: National Air and Space Museum

  9. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NASM reports that it has prepared a list of artifacts that will be relocated to Dulles and a restoration schedule for the aircraft collection, and determined responsibility for monitoring the aircraft.

    Recommendation: The new Director, NASM, should develop a management plan for those aircraft that are to remain in the NASM collection which includes: (1) whether and how exhibits will be developed for purposes of displaying the collection; (2) the extent to which each aircraft will be restored and when such restoration will be done; and (3) which organization will be responsible for monitoring each aircraft.

    Agency Affected: Smithsonian Institution: National Air and Space Museum

  10. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NASM reported that interaction between the curators and collections management staff has increased as a result of a reorganization effort.

    Recommendation: The new Director, NASM, should develop a plan to increase the interaction of the curators and collections management staff.

    Agency Affected: Smithsonian Institution: National Air and Space Museum

  11. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NASM plans to construct a restoration shop and storage/exhibit space initially and build the theater, gift shop, and educational facilities at Dulles later.

    Recommendation: The new Director, NASM, should further explore private funding alternatives and the feasibility of options to better care for aircraft, such as constructing a smaller, environmentally controlled facility to house those aircraft that will remain in the collection and are currently in inadequate storage facilities, as an initial phase of the Dulles Airport extension.

    Agency Affected: Smithsonian Institution: National Air and Space Museum

 

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