Chairperson Lofgren Opening Statement at Oversight Hearing of the Smithsonian Insitution
Chairperson Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) opening remarks ad prepared for the Committee hearing on "Oversight of the Smithsonian Insitution:"
"Good morning and welcome to this hearing providing oversight of the Smithsonian Institution.
"In 1836, Congress accepted a bequest from James Smithson, an English scientist who had never visited the United States, but nevertheless decided to leave his substantial fortune to our young country for “the increase and diffusion of knowledge.” Ten years later, in 1846, the Smithsonian Institution was formally established by Congress.
"In the 173 years since, the Smithsonian has grown to a complex of 19 museums, numerous research centers, a library system, a network of more than 200 affiliate organizations, archives and the National Zoo.
"Today, the Smithsonian serves as steward to more than 154 million artifacts, works of art and specimens.
"Visitors from across the country and around the world flock to see this broad collection, and in 2018 alone, there were nearly 29 million visits to the Smithsonian.
"The Smithsonian also works with entities around the world to advance critical scientific discovery and research. Earlier this year, thanks in large part to the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory's leadership, the first ever image of a black hole was unveiled to the public. And just last week, we learned that Smithsonian researchers in the Amazon discovered a new species of electric eel described as the most powerful ever found.
"The Smithsonian Institution, however, is not without challenges as it continues to work through the Strategic Plan we discussed back in our 2017 Committee hearing.
"These challenges must be addressed for the Smithsonian to carry out its mission to increase and diffuse knowledge, and include: a deferred maintenance backlog approaching $1 billion; a shortage of storage space for the Institution’s ever-growing collection; insufficient diversity among Smithsonian staff and leadership; and inadequate information technology security.
"The Smithsonian is also in the midst of a large-scale, multi-phase renovation of the National Air and Space Museum.
"These challenges exist in the context of a transition period for the Smithsonian, which, as of June of this year, has a new Secretary. We are honored to have Secretary Bunch join us this morning, for his first appearance before Congress as Secretary.
"In addition to these challenges, there are a number of Congressional proposals for new museums at varying levels of maturity.
"These proposals include H.R. 1980, Representative Carolyn Maloney’s, Smithsonian Women’s History Museum Act and H.R. 2420, Representative Jose Serrano’s National Museum of the American Latino Act. These proposals would establish an American Museum of Women’s History and the National Museum of the American Latino, respectively.
"Similar to the authorizing legislation for the National Museum of African American History and Culture, these proposals contemplate a combination of federally appropriated and privately raised funds to finance the construction of the museum building, and direct the Smithsonian to appoint a Director to manage the museum.
"This hearing will inform the Committee consideration of these proposals as well."