Report Calls for Leadership Overhaul at Smithsonian

A report released Wednesday is deeply critical of the Smithsonian Institution's leadership and governance. An outside review of the federally funded museum complex was commissioned in March, after the resignation of then Secretary Lawrence Small.

The report from the independent panel is thorough and detailed confirmation that Smithsonian leadership suffered under Small. It calls his management style "secretive" and "imperialistic." The report says "his attitude and disposition were ill-suited for public service" and that he placed too much emphasis on his compensation.

For example, Small had unlimited vacation days. Since becoming Secretary in 2000, he spent 64 "business days" making money serving on for-profit boards. The review committee found instances where Small's chief of staff handed him signed, blank expense authorizations.

The Smithsonian's Board of Regents also comes under attack for a serious lack of oversight. For one thing, it was not fully aware of Small's compensation package, which reached nearly $1 million. The report says it seemed that at times the board reported to Small and not the other way around.

Part of the problem is the make-up of the board, says Charles Bowsher, a former U.S. comptroller general who headed the Independent Review. Many of the members have little time for oversight. They include members of congress, the chief justice of the United States and the vice president.

The panel recommended that the Board of Regents establish a governing board that would be in close contact with the office of the secretary. It also calls for a clarification of the roles of the chief justice and the vice president, who historically have had designated seats on the board.

Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, which allocates Smithsonian funding, says greater oversight will go a long way to restoring faith in the Institution.

The panel urges the Board of Regents to get its house in order during the next six months.

Wednesday's report also recommended a full audit of Small's expenses — and those of his wife — during his tenure.

Small's defenders have pointed to his fundraising abilities in accounting for his lavish professional lifestyle. But the report shows that private contributions and business revenue to the Smithsonian actually declined when he was secretary.

Correction June 22, 2007

The audio version of this story should have identified Sen. Charles Grassley as the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: