- The Washington Times - Monday, March 26, 2007


The Smithsonian Institution yesterday announced that its top official, Secretary Lawrence M. Small, has resigned amid criticism about his spending.

Mr. Small, the first businessman to run the 160-year-old museum and research complex, resigned over the weekend after more than seven years as secretary. The decision was unanimously accepted Sunday by the Smithsonian’s Board of Regents.

“His long service and outstanding service were weighed against the current contrary feelings among some people in the community,” said Roger Sant, chairman of the Smithsonian board’s executive committee. “It was a very hard, conflicted decision.”

Cristian Samper, director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, was appointed acting secretary while the regents conduct a nationwide search for a permanent replacement.

An internal audit in January found that Mr. Small had made $90,000 in unauthorized expenses, including private jet travel and expensive gifts.

The audit also found that Mr. Small charged the Smithsonian more than $1.1 million for agreeing to use his 6,500-square-foot home in the affluent Woodley Park neighborhood of Washington for official functions. The housing expenses included $273,000 for housekeeping, $2,535 to clean a chandelier and $12,000 for service on his backyard swimming pool.

On Thursday, the Senate approved freezing a proposed $17 million increase in funding for the Smithsonian, citing Mr. Small’s excessive compensation and spending.

Mr. Small was to earn $915,698 this year in total compensation — more than double what he earned during his first year as secretary in 2000. Mr. Small will not be given a severance package and did not ask for any final compensation, said board member Patty Stonesifer.

“Having spent countless days and evenings promoting the interests of the Institution and having contributed over half a million dollars of my own money as well, it has truly been a labor of love,” Mr. Small wrote in his resignation letter.

Mr. Sant said he helped Mr. Small weigh his options in recent days.

“I think [Mr. Small] was really concerned about the possibility of the institution being changed fundamentally” after members of Congress questioned the Smithsonian’s funding and governance, Mr. Sant said. He added that it was difficult to ignore the Senate’s vote to withhold an increase in Smithsonian funding.

“He really feels the fundamental nature of the institution has been attacked, and he’s very upset about that,” Mr. Sant said.

Mr. Small, 65, was the 11th secretary at the Smithsonian, which includes 18 museums, the National Zoo and a 19th museum under development. He was criticized early in his tenure for imposing changes without the support of museum staff. Scientists complained that he eliminated funding for research and neglected improvements to museum facilities.

In 2004, Mr. Small was convicted on a federal charge of importing South American headdresses that included feathers from endangered birds for his personal collection. A judge sentenced Mr. Small to two years of probation and 100 hours of community service.

Last year, Mr. Small angered historians and filmmakers when he signed a 30-year semi-exclusive contract to create a new TV unit with Showtime Networks Inc., because it could limit access to Smithsonian resources.

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