Historians again protest Smithsonian's Showtime deal

In the wake of the recent controversy over the Smithsonian Institution's (SI) exclusive and confidential agreement with Showtime, and recognizing that a new Congress presents new opportunities to derail the controversial agreement, a group of concerned historians, scholars, filmmakers, and others recently sent a letter to Congress demanding action.

The Business Ventures unit of the Smithsonian Institution has been under scrutiny for some time now regarding accounting and management issues. However the contract entered between the SI and Showtime dramatically increased public criticism. The letter to relevant Congressional appropriations and oversight committees notes that the Smithsonian Institution has been under attack by scholars and film makers since entering into a controversial contract that grants the Showtime Network certain exclusive rights to the Institution's staff, collections, and archives. The letter states that while the details of the contract are unknown, it has been established that it includes a "30-year term, a non-competitive procurement" and that organizations such as PBS and the History Channel (to name but two), are all viewed as "competitive," and hence the contract impacts their and other independent film makers potential access to the Smithsonian for programs they wish to produce.

For months, the Smithsonian has steadfastly refused to release the terms of the contract or address the concerns and criticism to the satisfaction of critics. The letter notes that SI officials have also not responded to questions from the Senate Finance Committee, the House Appropriations Committee or the House Committee on Administration. While Congress has authorized the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct a study, the draft report remains confidential as well.

The letter calls on Congress to take action and shed light on the Smithsonian Showtime deal. At the very least, the contract "should be made available to the public and reforms could be instituted that would allow for increased dialogue and consultation with the public before a contract is agreed upon." With the House and Senate set to convene to discuss bills left to be conferenced, there is an opportunity to amend bills that limit public access to contracts.

To view the letter, visit http://public.resource.org/smithsonian_congress.html.

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