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IG: Academy's historical artifact collection in disarray

Sep. 24, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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The Air Force Academy’s collection of museum artifacts and other so-called “heritage assets” is in disarray and must be improved, according to a new inspector general report.

The academy’s faulty management and recording of its heritage assets has resulted in hundreds of rare and valuable historical objects being mishandled, improperly stored, and even lost, the Defense Department’s IG said in a Sept. 23 report.

For example, the specific location of an original Norman Rockwell painting was not recorded in the Air Force Museum Artifacts Tracking System. The report did not say how valuable the Rockwell painting is, but said a similar Rockwell original is worth more than $6 million.

The report said that 25 other surveyed heritage assets, such as a late-18th Century French infantry musket, also only had their general locations — such as their building — entered into the tracking system, but not their specific locations. Because the system did not list the floor, hallway or specific room in which those objects were located, IG auditors were unable to find them without the help of a retired museum specialist who, before he retired, was the only person in charge of the academy’s heritage assets.

The Air Force Academy is the only U.S. military academy without a museum, and its roughly 5,000 heritage assets are stored throughout the campus.

One of those assets IG auditors reviewed was a collection of 118 items known as the Humiston Prisoner of War Collection that, at one point, was transferred to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. But the national museum said it only received 93 of those items, the report said, and a September 2011 report from the museum said that the academy’s specialist was unable to find the 25 missing Humiston artifacts, which remain lost.

The academy’s former specialist, who retired last year, also didn’t properly maintain folders for each newly acquired asset containing photographs, descriptions of each item’s condition and permanent tracking numbers, the report said.

And the specialist did not make sure that items were protected against mold and mildew, insects or vermin, dust, pollution, vandalism, and excessive heat, humidity and ultraviolet light, the report said, placing 17 of the 25 surveyed assets at risk for deterioration, destruction or theft.

The basement storage room of the academy’s Harmon Hall contains several paintings, airplane models, maps, officer’s uniforms and trophies — some leaning against one another — that were not adequately protected and preserved, auditors said.

Another item, a Japanese lantern that is more than 100 years old, was left on the patio of the academy superintendent’s residence without protection from rain, snow, cold or other inclement weather that could chip or crack it, the report said.

The IG report raps the academy and the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force for not properly staffing the academy’s heritage asset program.

It cites a September 2011 report from the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force that said the former specialist — who was the sole person at the academy responsible for managing thousands of artifacts — was also responsible for maintaining an inventory of furnishings at academy guest houses, was the client support administrator for the office computer systems, and coordinated memorial events and dedication ceremonies.

The museum’s 2011 report said all those other duties left the specialist without enough time to focus on properly accounting for and caring for the heritage assets, or to develop, research or present new exhibits.

In March 2011, the report said, academy officials said a second person was needed to help track and oversee heritage assets, but that position was never funded.

In response to the IG’s recommendations, the academy pledged to improve its tracking of heritage assets. The academy also said that by the end of December, it will complete a study of the manpower needed to properly care for its artifacts and request funds for any additional positions that are necessary.

The report also said the academy has not maintained proper records for guest house furnishings purchased with monetary gifts, and has not appointed the appropriate personnel to oversee that property. This places guest house furnishings at risk of misuse, loss or theft.

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