MICHELE NORRIS, host:
A report is deeply critical of the Smithsonian Institution's leadership and governance, or lack thereof. The outside review of the federally funded museum was commissioned in March after the resignation of then Secretary Lawrence Small.
NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports.
ELIZABETH BLAIR: The report from the independent panel is thorough and detailed confirmation that Smithsonian leadership suffered under Lawrence 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 a lot of extra 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 example, they were not fully aware of Small's compensation package, which reached nearly $1 million. Further, it states, the board often minimized Mr. Small's mistakes, glossed over or ignored criticism of him, even in the face of new revelations and Congressional scrutiny. At times, the report says, it seemed the board reported to Small and not the other way around.
Charles Bowsher is a former U.S. Comptroller General who headed the independent review.
Mr. CHARLES BOWSHER (Former U.S. Comptroller General): We think when you're running a billion-dollar operation, you've got to have a very active board, putting in enough time that you really understand and provide very active oversight over what management is doing.
BLAIR: Part of the problem is the make-up of the board. Many of the members have little time for oversight. They include members of Congress, the chief justice and the vice president. The panel calls this structure antiquated, and recommends reforms, including a governing board that would be in close contact with the office of the secretary.
Senator Chuck Grassley, head of the Finance Committee, which allocates Smithsonian funding, says greater oversight will go a long way to restoring faith in the institution.
Senator CHARLES GRASSLEY (Republican, Iowa): And I get the feeling from talking to regents who are members of the Senate that they're going to shake up the status quo. They're going to keep on top of things in the future. And I compliment them for a very good attitude towards this problem.
BLAIR: The panel urges the Board of Regents to get their house in order over the next six months. Today's report also recommended a full audit of Lawrence Small's expenses during his tenure, and those of his wife. Small's defenders have often pointed to his fundraising abilities as a way of excusing his lavish professional lifestyle. But the report shows that private contributions and business revenue to the Smithsonian actually declined while he was secretary.
Elizabeth Blair, NPR News, Washington.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.