Smithsonian Head's Expenses 'Lavish,' Audit Says
Sunday, February 25, 2007
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."
Small, who in 2000 became the 11th Smithsonian secretary, will earn $915,698 this year in total compensation -- more than that of the outgoing president of Harvard University, which has an endowment about 30 times the size of the Smithsonian's. Over the past seven years, Small has also received $1.15 million for making his house available for official functions.
Small declined an interview. "Mr. Small is not going to talk about his own compensation," said Smithsonian spokeswoman Linda St. Thomas. "The regents determine all secretaries' compensation."
Small, 65, reports to the institution's 17-member Board of Regents, which referred the inspector general's findings to its audit committee, made up of four regents. The board last month accepted the committee's decision to dismiss the findings and defended Small's expenses as "reasonable." The regents also decided to rewrite several rules to authorize many of the transactions that had been deemed in violation of policy.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), who had requested the inspector general's review when he was chairman of the Senate Finance Committee last year, expressed outrage at the audit committee's response.
"I am shocked at what the Smithsonian is spending its money on when it comes to food, flowers, alcohol and other items," Grassley said in a letter last week to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who chairs the Board of Regents. Grassley criticized "what appears to be an 'anything goes' culture by the Smithsonian secretary and his staff, which views that his champagne lifestyle should be subsidized by the taxpayer."
The inspector general's letter and accompanying audit report were kept confidential at the request of Small's office, according to Grassley's staff.
Copies of the letter and report were obtained by The Washington Post.
The findings provide a rare look into Small's management style at an institution that encompasses 19 museums and galleries and the National Zoo and contains such national treasures as the Hope Diamond and the 1903 Wright Flyer. The Smithsonian is both a nonprofit organization under tax laws and a creation of Congress that receives 70 percent of its funding from the federal budget -- $715 million last year.
In the past seven years, the regents have nearly doubled Small's base salary, from $330,000 in 2000 to $617,672 today. The regents said they wanted to bring his pay in line with the median for college presidents and museum directors. Small's expenses for his first six years as secretary amounted to about $850,000, according to the audit report.
After reviewing the inspector general's findings, the regents' audit committee concluded that Small did not charge for expenditures "solely for personal benefit." The committee's report was written by Small's office using an outline provided by the committee, according to Grassley.