Set aside, for the moment, Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence Small’s conviction for violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Set aside, too, that he petitioned the judge to allow him to perform his 100 hours of community service by reading about that law and the Endangered Species Act, and coming up with ways to change those laws.

Set aside, too, the fact that Small has presided over a Smithsonian which is falling behind in critical maintenance, with reports of severe roof leaks in the collections. Set aside the institution’s wrongheaded almost-endorsement of Privileged Planet, a creationist movie.

Lawrence Small’s lack of qualifications for the trust he holds, the power over our “nation’s attic,” and the premier scientific collections it holds, is demonstrated most clearly by the “lavish” lifestyle he has funded on the Smithsonian’s ? and the taxpayers’ ? dime:

Lawrence M. Small, the top official at the Smithsonian Institution, accumulated nearly $90,000 in unauthorized expenses from 2000 to 2005, including charges for chartered jet travel, his wife’s trip to Cambodia, hotel rooms, luxury car service, catered staff meals and expensive gifts, according to confidential findings by the Smithsonian inspector general.

“Many transactions were not properly documented or were not in accordance with Smithsonian policies,” acting Inspector General A. Sprightley Ryan wrote on Jan. 16 to the Smithsonian Board of Regents Audit and Review Committee. “Some transactions might be considered lavish or extravagant.”

Dr. Myers is, if anything, insufficiently outraged. The Smithsonian is not just a great set of institutions for public education, they are vital to scientific research. Small’s enormous salary, his abuse of private jets, his purchases of expensive meals in contravention of Smithsonian policies, his accounting chicanery with a mortgage for a house he owes nothing on, all have deprived that institution of vital funds.

Shortly after taking power, Small tried to shutter the Smithsonian’s Conservation and Research Center, and to close the Center for Materials Research and Education. The latter is where Smithsonian researchers work on preservation of unique items like space suits and other national treasures. Due to overwhelming opposition, his bid to defund those branches was rejected.

Combined with his flouting of federal laws on the trade in endangered species, that incident showed that Small’s priorities were not in line with the Smithsonian’s scientific mission.

Under Small, the Smithsonian has been used as a tool to take the people’s goods away from them. Through corporate sponsorships like those the New Republic chronicles, and a deal with Showtime to give them the right of first refusal of any documentary using film of Smithsonian collections or personnel, Small is slowly selling off museums given to the American people. He claims this is meant to resolve funding problems. If so, he might start the path to financial solvency by examining his own pockets.

Comments

  1. #1 peter
    February 26, 2007

    Out of ignorance I ask, how is the Smithsonian secretary appointed, and for how long? At this point, what are the practical steps that may be taken to terminate that appointment?

    Is there a particular congressional committee that is responsible for this?

  2. #2 SI-staff
    February 26, 2007

    The Smithsonian Secretary is appointed by and serves at the pleasure of the Board of Regents who is entrusted by Congress to administer guidance to the Institution.

    While three senators, the Chief Justice and Vice President presently serve on the Board of Regents, there is no other congressional oversight on the management of the Institution.

    The present Smithsonian Board of Regents includes:
    – John G. Roberts, Jr., Chief Justice of the United States and Chancellor of the Smithsonian Institution

    – Richard B. Cheney, Vice President of the United States, ex officio

    – Thad Cochran, Senator from Mississippi

    – Bill Frist, M.D., Senator from Tennessee

    – Patrick J. Leahy, Senator from Vermont

    – Xavier Becerra, Representative from California

    – Sam Johnson, Representative from Texas

    – Ralph Regula, Representative from Ohio

    – Eli Broad, Founder of The Broad Foundation, Chairman of AIG Retirement Services, Inc., Founder-Chairman of KB Home; resident of California

    – Anne d?Harnoncourt, The George D. Widener Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Philadelphia Museum of Art; resident of Pennsylvania

    – Phillip Frost, former Chairman and CEO of IVAX Corporation; resident of Florida

    – Shirley Ann Jackson, President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; resident of New York

    – Robert P. Kogod, Former Co-Chairman and Co-Chief Executive Officer of the Charles E. Smith Companies; resident of Washington, D.C.

    – Walter E. Massey, President of Morehouse College; resident of Georgia

    – Roger W. Sant, Chairman Emeritus and Co-Founder of The AES Corporation, Chairman of the Board of The Summit Foundation; resident of Washington, D.C.

    – Alan G. Spoon, Managing General Partner of Polaris Venture Partners; resident of Massachusetts

    – Patricia Q. Stonesifer, Co-Chair and President of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; resident of Washington state

  3. #3 KevinC
    February 26, 2007

    And the Board of Regents is like, everyone we know lives like that. What’s the big deal? Oh, he broke rules?, need to change those, can’t let him live like a peasant.

    Smithsonian governance is sorta strange. Because it was original endowed by an individual it has a independent board, I am not sure how they are appointed but it is probably similar to a universities board of regents.

  4. #4 Josh
    February 26, 2007

    The Chief Justice is always the head of the Board of Regents. I’m not sure how that got established. Small has been Secretary since 2000, was appointed in 1999, and is the 11th Secretary. They don’t seem to transition on political boundaries.

    As for Congressional oversight, Chuck Grassely requested the report on behalf of the Finance committee before the elections, the House Government and Oversight Committee has jurisdiction over just about anything, the House Science Committee has created a new subcommittee on oversight, and the Committee on House Administration oversees the Smithsonian. The Appropriations committees set the federal part of the Smithsonian budget, of course.

  5. #5 katherine sharpe
    February 26, 2007

    I grew up in D.C., going to the Smithsonian a lot, and I interned at the National Museum of Natural History as a teenager. This news saddens me deeply. I hope the Smithsonian has the sense to get itself properly managed before irrevocable harm is done. There really is nothing else like the S.I. in the United States…

  6. #6 Diane C. Dean, LCSW
    March 5, 2007

    PLEASE TELL US WHAT THE PUBLIC CAN DO TO RELIEVE THE SMITHSONIAN FROM A DIRECTOR LIKE MR. SMALL. I HAVE BEEN FOLLOWING NEWS ABOUT HIM FOR OVER 6 MOS. VIA E-MAIL ALERTS. HE REMINDS ME OF GEO. W. BUSH, IN THAT HE NEVER SEEMS TO MAKE A SENSIBLE OR BENEFICIAL MOVE FOR ANYONE BUT HIMSELF. THE PUBLIC BE DAMNED SEEMS TO BE HIS MOTTO.

    I MUST SAY AFTER READING THE LIST OF BOARD MEMBERS, I AM NOT VERY OPTIMISTIC ABOUT EXPRESSING MY OUTRAGE ABOUT HIM. HARD TO IMAGINE THAT THEY WILL EVEN DISCIPLINE HIM–EVER–LET ALONE GET RID OF THIS GUY. THE TREASURES AT THE SMITHSONIAN DESERVE CONGRESSIONAL OVERSIGHT AT THE VERY LEAST. LET’S GET AN EXPERT NOT A HACK TO WATCH OVER THEM. COME ON ALREADY!!!! WE ALL DESERVE BETTER!!!!

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