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Air Force faces flak over handling of artworks, artifacts

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The U.S. Air Force Academy may be facing a sequel to the famous government warehouse scene at the finale of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" as the school faces criticism over its ability to keep track of thousands of historic pieces and valuable artwork.

The Colorado Springs, Colo., school "is the only U.S. military academy without a museum, and the heritage program was managed by one person," according to a new report by the Pentagon's internal watchdog, the inspector general.

That lone person has had to contend with more than 5,000 historical objects such as rifles and uniforms, plus more than 3,000 paintings and other pieces of art.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, inspectors found there might be a labor shortage for handling such a high volume of artifacts.

Every piece is supposed to be photographed and its condition noted when it is received, along with official paperwork recording that it's in the academy's collection. But the IG found that many times these documents were lacking or were difficult to find.

The curator, a former museum specialist, told investigators that "there were heritage assets scattered across the [Air Force Academy] campus," the location of which wasn't recorded in any database.

The IG found storage rooms in the basements of buildings with artifacts boxed and piled up. That caused investigators to worry about preservation, as they found the person in charge of the collection "did not ensure that the heritage assets were adequately protected against agents of deterioration, destruction and theft."

And because a single person has been working with the collection, only he or she knew the location of many of the artifacts. Investigators had to have the former museum specialist lead them through the campus library to find a French infantry musket dating from the 1700s, as its location wasn't recorded anywhere.

Likewise, only the curator knew the location of a Norman Rockwell painting that investigators said could be worth as much as $6 million.

An inventory of all the historic pieces is supposed to be completed every two years, but the IG said no such recording was done in 2007 and 2009.

Officials at the academy said they are reviewing the IG's recommendations and will decide by December if they need to hire additional staff for the program.

"We understand the importance of preserving our Air Force heritage assets for current and future generations," said Maj. Brus Vidal, USAFA spokesman.

He noted the academy has already addressed several concerns expressed in the IG report and is working to correct the rest.

"The Air Force Academy will continue to use audits and other external and internal reviews of our processes to ensure we are efficiently and effectively executing our duties as good stewards of the nation's resources," Mr. Vidal said.

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