Senate Pushes for Smithsonian Reform
Friday, March 23, 2007
In a stern rebuke to Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence M. Small, the Senate yesterday voted to freeze a $17 million increase in the institution's proposed 2008 budget.
The budget bill amendment sponsored by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) would keep the freeze in effect until the Smithsonian reforms how business is done in the secretary's office. The measure, which passed on a voice vote, specifically caps salaries for any executive at the Smithsonian at $400,000, the current pay for the U.S. president. Small's compensation this year is $915,698.
The amendment also requires that Smithsonian travel expenditures conform to federal regulations and that Smithsonian employees follow ethics guidelines used by all federal employees.
Yesterday's action was prompted by recent reports in The Washington Post about Small's spending since he took the job in 2000. A Post review of his expense accounts found that Small, the Smithsonian's chief executive, had $90,000 in unauthorized expenses. Also, the institution's Board of Regents had approved $2 million in expenses for Small's private home and offices. The Smithsonian's former inspector general told The Post that Small had asked her last year to stop an audit of Smithsonian Business Ventures, the division that brings in revenue for unrestricted use.
After questions were raised about Small's expenses and other Smithsonian practices, the regents this week appointed an independent review committee to look into the matters.
Roger W. Sant, chairman of the regents' executive committee, was out of town yesterday for a speaking engagement and was not available to comment on the Senate vote. A Smithsonian spokesman said that officials routinely don't comment on bills or amendments until the process is completed on Capitol Hill. Small has declined to be interviewed about the reports on his expenses.
Earlier this week Grassley released additional expense accounts that showed Small and his wife went to Las Vegas on Smithsonian business in 2002, and the institution paid for first-class air travel and hotel. The tickets cost $3,464.50 each.
Grassley is the ranking member of the Finance Committee and a senior member of the Budget Committee. Hearings on the Smithsonian budget and reports about Small's spending are scheduled to be held next month.
After the amendment passed yesterday, Grassley said, "It signals to the Smithsonian that a champagne lifestyle at taxpayer expense is unacceptable."
The Smithsonian receives 70 percent of its budget from the federal government. The White House has requested $678.4 million for the Smithsonian for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. The budget includes salaries, rents, utilities, travel and security, as well as an account that is dedicated to repairs and construction.