Smithsonian Documents Detail Chief's Expenses
Monday, March 19, 2007
Internal Smithsonian documents offer a glimpse into what one senator called the "Dom Perignon" lifestyle of the taxpayer-supported institution's chief official, who turned in a $15,000 receipt for the replacement of French doors at his home and spent $48,000 for two chairs, a conference table and upholstery for his office suite.
Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence M. Small's spending has been the subject of intense public scrutiny after The Washington Post published details last month from a confidential inspector general's report delving into his $2 million in housing and office expenses over the past six years.
Spreadsheets and invoices obtained by The Post include previously unreleased details on expenses deemed by the Smithsonian Board of Regents to be authorized and "reasonable" under the terms of Small's employment agreement.
Small spent nearly $160,000 on the redecoration of his offices in the institution's main building on the Mall shortly after he took the helm of the world's largest museum system in 2000. The expenses include $4,000 for two chairs from the English furniture-maker George Smith, $13,000 for a custom-built conference table and $31,000 for Berkeley stripe upholstery.
Small has also received $1.15 million in housing allowances over a six-year period in return for agreeing to use his 6,500-square-foot home in Woodley Park for Smithsonian functions. To justify those expenses, Small has submitted receipts for $152,000 in utility bills, $273,000 in housekeeping services and $203,000 in maintenance charges, including $2,535 to clean a chandelier. The home-repair invoices show $12,000 for upkeep and service on his backyard swimming pool, including $4,000 to replace the lap pool's natural gas heater and pump.
The office expenses were permitted under Smithsonian policies and procedures, and the housing allowance was part of Small's employment agreement. The $160,000 in office renovations are part of $846,000 in total office expenses Small filed between 2000 and 2005. About $90,000 was found by the institution's inspector general to be unauthorized, including charter jet travel and transactions that "might be considered lavish or extravagant," The Post reported last month.
In addition to the $90,000, about $28,000 in expenses had insufficient or no supporting documents. These were variously labeled as "reimbursement," "one-time vendor" and "Smithsonian petty cash," documents show.
Small, whose total compensation will top $915,000 this year, said in a statement that he is declining to comment while an ongoing Senate Finance Committee investigation looks at his expenses.
The controversy over Small's spending comes amid recent reports describing a broad decline in the Smithsonian's physical plant and institution-wide austerity measures ordered in recent years. The Smithsonian, for example, sent out an e-mail a year ago urging employees to save energy: "Use task lighting instead of general lighting whenever possible. Turn off decorative or accent lighting."
Roger Sant, the chairman of the executive committee of the Board of Regents, has taken the lead in defending the secretary. Sant praised Small's ability to raise money for the institution.
"He has raised $1.1 billion, and contributed more than half a million dollars himself," Sant said yesterday. "I don't think he does this job for money. He has been generous with his own money and he's gotten other people to be generous with their own money."
Sant noted that Small has strengthened financial controls, reduced staff, increased productivity, opened three new museums, overseen the opening of new exhibits, updated "old and run-down" exhibits, hired undersecretaries of science and art, and directors at five museums and the National Zoo.