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Smithsonian review slams governance
Question of the Day
THE WASHINGTON TIMES An independent review committee released a scathing report yesterday, criticizing the actions of former Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence M. Small and the “antiquated” governance structure at the institution.
Mr. Small, who in March resigned the post he had held since 2000, was on track to receive $915,698 as compensation for this year, almost 2½ times the compensation of Michael Heyman, Mr. Small’s predecessor. Some of the increase resulted from Mr. Small’s request to an executive committee of the governing board of regents.
The secretary said his salary needed to be increased in order to raise the salaries of other top Smithsonian executives. The review committee disputed that point and noted that only about half of the other top executives received raises.
Mr. Small, who refused to meet with the review committee unless it abided by his ground rules, insisted on first-class travel while negotiating his initial contract, which apparently included “the use of car services and premium hotel accommodations.” Unable to obtain a first-class flight in a relatively short time window, Mr. Small used a charter jet to fly to San Antonio to receive an award one night and return for a board of regents meeting in Washington the next afternoon.
In exchange for making “his personal residence available for official Smithsonian hospitality,” Mr. Small was to receive a housing stipend to cover half of his housing costs. By basing calculations on a hypothetical mortgage rate of 8.5 percent, far above current averages, Mr. Small received the maximum housing allowance every year, ranging from $150,000 to $190,000.
The report said the board of regents as a whole never knew the details of Mr. Small’s compensation package until journalists made it public.
The committee report revealed that Mr. Small took an average of almost 10 weeks of vacation every year during his tenure at the Smithsonian. Sheila P. Burke, the deputy secretary who resigned this week before the report was released, was absent about one-quarter of the workdays during her tenure.
The report recommended that the board of regents quickly change the Smithsonian’s governance structure to restore public confidence. The committee proposed that the regents take a more active oversight role by meeting more frequently, accepting more members with expertise and establishing a governing board to handle day-to-day oversight. All members of the board of regents should accept fiduciary duties of loyalty, time and strict oversight, it said.
“We think that the problems are serious, but we are very pleased that the board of regents recognizes there were problems,” said Mr. Bowsher, who formerly served as comptroller general of the United States.
Mr. Heyman said board members were not interested in his efforts to get them more involved.
Pete Smith, a member of the independent review committee, said he was troubled by “the board’s lack of action [in response] to some signals that things weren’t going as well as they should.”
“The regents’ reaction at that time seemed to be, ‘Well, we’ve got a minor problem here, let’s just change some of the rules,’ ” said Mr. Smith.
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