The Smithsonian Institution Building, Washington, DC. Photo: Wikipedia.

Preparing for $22M in Losses, Smithsonian Cuts Pay of Senior Executives to Avoid Furloughs

Expecting a shortfall of around $22 million due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, which comprises nineteen museums and the National Zoo, will reduce the pay of its top executives and implement salary and hiring freezes as it attempts to cut costs and avoid furloughing employees. According to the Washington Post, the bulk of the institution’s 6,300-member staff won’t be affected.

The salary of Smithsonian secretary Lonnie G. Bunch III, whose earnings the institution refused to disclose—his predecessor David J. Skorton made $896,345 in 2018—will take the steepest cut, of 15 percent. Deputy secretary Meroë Park’s pay will also take a 15 percent cut, and the salaries of nearly ninety other senior executives will be reduced by between 10 and 12 percent, effective May 24. Bunch told the Washington Post that the move is “part of a process that will allow me to control the deficit. We don’t know how long this will go for.”

If the institution, which has been closed since March 14, remains shuttered beyond May 31, Bunch predicts the $22 million revenue loss could balloon to as much as $50 million. While Colorado, Georgia, Montana, and South Carolina are among the states that have cautiously begun allowing businesses to resume operations, the pace of reopening has divided Americans, and Bunch said that he would not speculate on a date for the reopening of the Smithsonian.

Despite the $7.5 million the Smithsonian received from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which will go toward personal protective equipment and essential supplies that allow staffers to work remotely during the quarantine, the institution is preparing for further financial hardship as the summer, its peak season, approaches. Even if it is able to reopen in the coming weeks, strict social distancing measures would mean that many ticketed events would still be canceled.

While the nearby John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts received $25 million from the CARES Act, it responded to the economic fallout from the pandemic by furloughing and laying off around one thousand employees and cutting the salaries of the musicians who are a part of the National Symphony Orchestra. Its president and CEO, Deborah Rutter, who earns $1.2 million a year, has also agreed to take a salary of $0. The National Gallery of Art, which is not affiliated with the Smithsonian, but is located on the National Mall, is attempting to retain all of its employees and has also pledged to continue paying workers who cannot work off-site.