Smithsonian Secretary Bunch to Prioritize Repair Backlog

This year members of the House of Representatives introduced two separate bills to add a women’s history museum and a Latino history museum to the Smithsonian complex. While the House has been moving forward on voting on the women’s history bill, Smithsonian Institution Secretary Lonnie Bunch III said that establishing new museums is not his priority. Instead the secretary is prioritizing tackling the Smithsonian’s $1 billion repair backlog.

Bunch’s focus is on completing repair projects that are currently underway and upgrading the Smithsonian’s storage space. Currently, The National Air and Space Museum is undergoing renovation set for completion in 2025. The Arts and Industries Building is also due for repairs, and construction is underway on a new sculpture garden at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. In addition to these renovations, the Smithsonian plans to upgrade its Museum Support Center in Suitland, Maryland. The support center houses five storage pods, each the size of a football field. However, the institution needs to expand the center’s storage capacity to fit its current needs.

Bunch said that part of the reason the backlog has grown so immense is that donors do not want to give money to unglamorous repair projects. However, the amount allotted for repairs in the Smithsonian’s budget request for 2020 only covers about one percent of the total replacement cost of facilities. Cathy Helm, the Smithsonian’s inspector general, said “Deferring maintenance can reduce the overall life of facilities and may lead to higher costs in the long term.”

While Bunch is open to adding new museums to the complex, he learned from his experience establishing the National Museum of African American History and Culture that such undertakings can be a decade-long process.