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Smithsonian Salary Cap Passes Panel

Yesterday afternoon, the Smithsonian announced that Small and Sheila Burke, the Smithsonian's deputy secretary and chief operating officer, had scheduled meetings today with committee members.

The 28 jobs with compensation of more than $200,000 in 2005 are paid from the Smithsonian's trust funds. This money comes from donations and earnings from the museum's endowment, not from public funds.

Included on the list are Burke with a base salary of $370,000; the undersecretary for science, David Evans, with $300,000; and the undersecretary for art, Ned Rifkin, with $430,000. The list shows only five, not six positions with pay equal to or more than the president's, but the committee figured that Burke's bonus, which was not disclosed, would put her over the line.

Smithsonian on Demand and other for-profit divisions are part of Smithsonian Business Ventures, which operates with private money and has a separate salary structure from the rest of the museum. The list released by Congress showed Gary Beer, Business Ventures chief executive officer received $558,075, including bonuses.

"I can't go back to Idaho and justify this," said Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho). "I can barely justify my salary." Regula conceded that "for a farm boy from Ohio, the salaries look pretty big."

The Smithsonian has maintained that the salaries are set to attract the best people in their fields.

"Who can argue that someone should be paid more than the president of the United States? But in fact there are 40 museum directors around the world that are. It is not just the Smithsonian, but everyone who is recruiting for those positions," said Roger W. Sant, the Washington businessman who is chairman of the regents executive committee.

The salaries are reviewed by the regents compensation committee, Sant said. "We spend hours looking at the comparable salaries," he said.

In recent weeks, the committee and the Smithsonian have been exchanging letters about the Showtime deal, announced in early March. One letter, from Taylor and Dicks, asked the Smithsonian regents to discuss the contract at their meeting on Monday and make the terms public.

The regents responded in a letter late Tuesday, saying: "When a filming request involves significant, more than incidental use of Smithsonian content, the filmmaker has several options -- approach the Smithsonian on Demand joint venture to see if the venture is interested in producing the film (a very attractive option to filmmakers who do not already have financing in place); . . . discuss a co-production with the Smithsonian Institution outside the venture; or reduce the proposed use of Smithsonian resources to an incidental component of the film. Again, should the filmmaker choose not to work with the venture, the Smithsonian has the ability to produce a number of films outside the venture each year. However, as has always been the case, there is the possibility that in rare cases, use of Smithsonian resources will not be possible."

Sant said he was mystified by some of the controversy. "Obviously, we have made some people angry and we are disappointed at that. We are doing our best to find out what is making them angry," he said. "We feel we have disclosed almost all of it. All of us have read the contract. We went over the provisions that have caused concern. We all feel comfortable."

The governing board of the Smithsonian is headed by Chief Justice John Roberts. A spokeswoman for the court, Kathy Arberg, said Roberts would have no comment on the Showtime matter.

Showtime referred all questions to the Smithsonian.

The Smithsonian's appropriation and the salary cap will be reviewed by the Senate, and any dispute will be settled by a House-Senate conference committee in the fall.

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