By James V. Grimaldi
Washington Post Staff Writer
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.
The 17-member Board of Regents, which hires and oversees the secretary, in January dismissed the findings of the inspector general and defended most of Small's expenses, including those for his office and home, as "reasonable." After the Post report, the regents met again on Feb. 28 and decided to establish an independent three-person committee to review the issues raised, citing the interest of Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee. Grassley and other members of Congress requested the inspector general's review last year.
The regents also created a governance committee to review the board's practices. "We're taking these criticisms seriously," Sant said. "If we've been wrong, we'll be the first to admit it."
Senate investigators, speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, said a review of Small's expenses by an independent accountant working for the Smithsonian inspector general did not include hundreds of transactions. The investigators have since requested documents on those transactions.
"Mr. Small's champagne lifestyle turns out to be Dom Perignon," Grassley said. "The authorized expenses are over-the-top by any measure. The manipulation of the audit might be even worse."
Small's financial staff had coded each line item with a "Y," for yes, and "N," for no, to determine which expenditures the independent accountant should review. Inspector General A. Sprightley Ryan said she approved the categorization of the expenses and said she determined that the excluded items were unrelated to personal expenditures by Small.
"I believe the senator got that one wrong," Sant said. "There was such a column of yes and no, but it was only a way of determining expenses in the secretary's office versus his personal expenditures."
Among the Small housing invoices sent to the Smithsonian is a $5,700 bill from a contractor to patch a roof, repair a skylight and redo walls in Small's house in January 2005, records show.
Those repairs came three months before the Government Accountability Office reported that roof leaks were plaguing Smithsonian art museums, archives and the National Air and Space Museum. One leak left a stain on the canvas wing of the Lilienthal Hang-Glider, a pioneering piece of early flight design that influenced the Wright Brothers.
Small, in a speech at the National Press Club shortly after taking over as secretary, promised to find either public or private money to repair "shabby" Smithsonian buildings, including the Arts and Industries Building, the institution's second-oldest building.
"All of the physical facilities, the physical premises of the Smithsonian, should shine," Small said in April 2000.
Sant said that Small has been unable to get funding to fix the facilities. Sant blamed Congress and the administration -- as well as his own Board of Regents. "We just can't get the money to refurbish the buildings," Sant said in an interview last month, adding that Small has "done everything he knows how. It is the one place we're not doing the public a service."
Last year, the Smithsonian archives and other tenants were forced to abandon the Arts and Industries Building. Signs on the door say the building is "closed for renovations," but there currently are no plans to reopen the building.Offices in the Castle
Small's office suite is on the second floor of the east wing of the Smithsonian Castle, the historic Gothic revival building that is the oldest in the institution's system. The first secretary of the Smithsonian and his family in the late 1800s lived in the space that now contains Small's offices.
I. Michael Heyman, Small's predecessor, began working in the secretary's offices in the castle in 1994. "I didn't change the office at all from the time that I got it," Heyman said, adding that he was reluctant to talk about his successor. "I might have brought in a small table."
In late 1999, as Heyman was moving out, the Smithsonian retained an architectural firm, Adamstein & Demetriou, which had designed Marriott Corp.'s board room and adjoining test kitchen. The architects were paid $43,000.
Small's office also turned to a Georgetown interior designer, August Georges, to purchase two chairs that now sit in his office. Debbie Winsor of August Georges described English-made George Smith chairs as "probably some of the best quality chairs you can buy." Winsor said she did not remember the purchase for Small because the sale occurred seven years ago.
One chair was purchased in January 2000 and the second in April, according to a spreadsheet. They cost $2,043 each, plus shipping.
Small also borrowed from the Smithsonian collection to decorate his offices. On the landing outside his office, Small placed a large stuffed Bengal tiger from the Natural History Museum and placed it on the royal blue carpeting. It sits in front of the model of a jet airplane from the Air and Space Museum. Inside Small's office are artworks from Smithsonian galleries, artifacts from Air and Space and the skull of a black rhinoceros from Natural History.
"It looks like the Smithsonian Castle has been turned into Mr. Small's palace," Grassley said. "It's a display of disregard for the Smithsonian's mission to keep institution artifacts and artwork in the executive office. With tax benefits and tax dollars, donations are made and items are purchased for the public to enjoy. Having a catalogue's worth of art in your office goes against the standards set by top museum directors."
Heyman said that he and his predecessor did not showcase artifacts in the secretary's office, but he expressed no objection. Asked if he thought the offices needed a makeover, Heyman said: "No. That's all in the eye of the perceiver."
Sant said he does not think Small's office is ostentatious. "I think it is only appropriate for a museum director or secretary of the Smithsonian to have some artifacts in his office because that's what he represents," Sant said. "That doesn't mean that there ought to be artifacts withheld from the public."Housing Allowance
Some previous Smithsonian secretaries have been allowed to live rent-free in an institution-owned house. But Small owned his own home in Washington when he became the 11th secretary. He received a housing allowance so he could use his residence for "official Smithsonian hospitality," according to his employment agreement.
Heyman, who paid rent for a house in Washington, said he received no housing nor any reimbursement for the few times he entertained at home.
Under the terms of his housing allowance, Small was allowed to be reimbursed for half of his actual housing costs, up to $150,000 for the first year. He was required to provide receipts of his expenses, but the inspector general in her review found that he was allowed to stop filing receipts after a few months for "administrative ease." Every year of his tenure, Small has collected the maximum reimbursement, which has grown to $193,000 this year.
But the accountants who reviewed Small's housing expenses for the inspector general found that they were far short of the amount that Small needed to show in order to receive the maximum reimbursement, according to Senate investigators.
For example, in 2000, Small's actual housing expenses amounted to $92,000 -- which would only entitle him to $46,000 under the formula rather than the $150,000 he received that year, the investigators said.
After the review began, Small's staff retroactively submitted paperwork for a "hypothetical mortgage," noting that Small's contract permitted him to claim reimbursement for the "equivalent costs of home ownership." It was hypothetical because Small does not have a mortgage and owns his $3.5 million home outright, the inspector general said.
The hypothetical mortgage added $24,000 a month to his housing expenses, allowing him to qualify for the maximum in housing allowances, according to investigators.
The inspector general on Jan. 16 found some fault with the hypothetical calculation, stating "the overall costs could have been lower." She found that the hypothetical mortgage rate of 8.32 percent was higher than available market rates. But she did not recommend that Small reimburse the institution for his housing allowance. Thirteen days later, the Board of Regents revised his contract to permit a lump-sum housing allowance of $193,000.
The Smithsonian has not responded to requests from The Post or the Senate Finance Committee to provide information on how often Small has entertained at his home. A spreadsheet of Small's expenses given to the inspector general makes reference only to two dinners at the secretary's home, both in 2000. Investigators said they have seen documents showing that Small occasionally charged for catered events that he hosted outside the institution. Most of those events were held at a separate apartment on Calvert Street NW that Small used as a gallery for his own Amazonian artifacts, investigators said.
Accountants working for the Smithsonian inspector general disallowed $30,000 for planting trees around Small's home because that was deemed to be "capital expense," which was not eligible for reimbursement under his employment agreement.
Research director Lucy Shackelford contributed to this article.