2007-11-16 / Front Page

Reagan Library staff works on inventory of 100,000 artifacts

Reaction fast to reports 80 percent of items are not accounted for
By Darleen Principe darleen@theacorn.com

Hundreds of visitors at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library wandered through the rooms and corridors of the museum this week, exploring the replica of the Oval Office, touring Air Force One and gazing at the thousands of artifacts on display.

On the surface everything seemed normal. But internally, much of the staff was hustling to make things right behind the scenes and in the vaults below the museum.

Following recommendations made recently by the National Archives and Records Administration office of inspector general, the Reagan Library staff is now in the process of completing a full inventory of its artifacts.

In an audit completed Oct. 26, the inspector general cited major issues at the Reagan Library that resulted in the inability to account for more than 80,000 items, or roughly 80 percent, of the library's collection.

Allen Weinstein, archivist with the National Archives and Records Administration- which is responsible for administering 12 presidential libraries throughout the nation and maintaining more than 540,000 artifacts, issued a written statement last week saying he welcomed the recommendations made in the audit.

"The Reagan Library has already begun implementing the inspector general's recommendations by creating a plan," Weinstein said. "To carry out this plan, the library has upgraded its management inventory software, is hiring additional trained museum staff, has begun a 100 percent inventory and is addressing the storage issues by working to purchase earthquake protection materials and reshelving artifacts."

According to the audit report, insufficient record keeping only allowed the inspector general to identify and locate, at most, 17,746 of the estimated 100,000 artifacts at the Reagan Library.

"We found that information necessary for the identification, location and verification of artifacts was missing, incomplete and erroneous," the report stated.

The document also detailed inadequate storage conditions where the inspector general observed deteriorated items, damaged artwork because of how they were stacked, unwrapped vases and sculptures in danger of breaking in the event of an earthquake and inefficient shelving.

At the time of the audit, the inspector general's investigative unit was also responding to theft allegations. But the investigation was hindered because of the library's weak internal controls.

Officials at the Reagan Library have declined to comment.

Frederick J. Ryan Jr., chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation said in a statement that he expressed "serious concerns" and disappointment to Weinstein on behalf of the foundation and Nancy Reagan.

"By law the historic artifacts at the presidential libraries are property of the American people," Ryan said. "The National Archives is entrusted with the responsibility of preserving these important objects for future generations. The Reagan Foundation has asked the National Archives to move swiftly in addressing all of the shortcomings identified in the report."

A total of six presidential libraries were audited by the inspector general including the Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Gerald R. Ford, George H.W. Bush and William J. Clinton presidential libraries.

The audit revealed the archives was weak in accounting for artifacts in a timely manner, identifying "at risk" artifacts in need of special preservation and proper procedures to de-accession items that don't warrant long term retention, such as consumable gifts.

According to Weinstein's statement, new internal control procedures were established in 1998 in regard to receiving presidential gifts, but changing from paperbased cataloging to computer database collections management was "challenging" for the museums.

"Early collections of artifacts came to presidential libraries with few controls and incomplete information relating to the collections," Weinstein said. "Compounded by limited resources within the libraries, it has been difficult to complete 100 percent inventories on the more than 500,000 items that comprise the collections at all of the libraries."

City Council member Steve Sojka said he hoped the situation wouldn't adversely impact the library's reputation.

"All I've known for the last 10 years dealing with them is that they're a first-class operation," Sojka said. "I don't know everything that's going on but I'm sure they're going to be able to fix the problem."

In the meantime, historical memorabilia already on display, such as Reagan's love letters to the former first lady, campaign buttons, Hollywood posters and belt buckles, will remain in their exhibit cases for all to see.

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