Smithsonian staff shortages are threatening the safety of priceless treasures and putting people at risk, security officers told The Washington Post.
Their comments came after an unidentified man gained entry Monday to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, which was supposed to have been closed.
The man came in through an exit-only door and bypassed screening procedures.
“He was in the building for more than five minutes,” said Tanesha Sollers, who works as an armed security guard for the museum. “He could have been armed, had explosives. He definitely wasn’t supposed to come in. There was no officer there, nobody to stop him.”
The Post, noting the man was escorted out, said the incident might be “the most visible and disturbing example of the impact of the severe staff shortage” at the Smithsonian.
More than 250 cases of the omicron variant of COVID-19 have been recorded among staff at the Smithsonian since Christmas, according to a Smithsonian spokeswoman, leading to shortages.
”Like many other organizations, the Smithsonian has been managing the direct and indirect outcomes of the latest surge,” the museum said in a Dec. 28 statement.
”Over the last few days, the Smithsonian has seen an increase in positive COVID cases and associated quarantine periods among our essential and operational staff.”
As a result, the Smithsonian closed some buildings and reduced public hours at most of its museums and the National Zoo for a two-week period ending this coming Monday.
And officials of the American Federation of Government Workers Local 2463, the union representing security and maintenance staff, are urging the Smithsonian to shut down all its public venues. They said the reductions aren’t doing enough to protect their members, the public and the valuable art and artifacts exhibited in the museums.
But the Smithsonian said it has sufficient security on hand.
Doug Hall, the Smithsonian’s acting deputy undersecretary for administration maintained the reduced schedule has allowed the museums to be adequately staffed. He said visitors, staff and the collections are safe.
“Our day-to-day number of officers protecting the museums has not changed,” he said. “The Smithsonian has 750 on its security force, about 525 of whom are needed daily when museums are open. The African American Museum alone requires at least 55.”
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