Smithsonian's Small Quits in Wake of Inquiry
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence M. Small, the banker who took over the world's largest museum complex seven years ago, has resigned under pressure following revelations regarding his housing allowance and office and travel expenditures.
Museum officials announced Small's departure yesterday and named Cristián Samper, a biologist who heads the National Museum of Natural History, as acting secretary.
In recent weeks questions about Small's leadership and his personal expenditures had created a crisis at the Smithsonian. Small, 65, had been sharply criticized by members of Congress and his pay and expense accounts have been subjected to scrutiny by the Smithsonian inspector general. Last week, two separate committees were appointed by the regents to look into management operations at the Smithsonian, which includes 18 museums and research facilities as well as the National Zoo.
Roger W. Sant, a member of the institution's Board of Regents and chairman of its executive committee, said Small submitted his resignation Saturday to John G. Roberts Jr., chief justice of the United States and chancellor of the regents. The regents held a meeting Sunday evening at the offices of a Pennsylvania Avenue law firm and voted to accept it.
Sant, who said that Small would not receive a severance package, noted that there were "some regrets" among the regents because of his "long and outstanding service." Small's accomplishments, including record fundraising, "were weighed against the current contrary feelings among some people in the community."
Last week, several lawmakers denounced what Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) called Small's "Dom Perignon lifestyle." Thursday the full Senate voted to freeze a $17 million increase in the institution's proposed 2008 budget.
The measure, sponsored by Grassley, would have remained in effect until the Smithsonian reformed how business is done in the secretary's office and would have capped salaries for Smithsonian executives at $400,000, the current pay for the president.
"It would be hard to ignore something like that. That has to be one of the factors," Sant said.
Small's letter of resignation said:
"Making the Smithsonian more bureaucratic and political, however, is not, in my view, conducive to sustaining the momentum the Smithsonian enjoys today and, therefore, I'm very troubled about what I see happening.
"I really see no compelling reason for me to continue to lead the Smithsonian and resign from my position effective immediately."
Congressional criticism mounted after articles in The Washington Post detailed $2 million in housing and office expenditures by Small, as well as $90,000 in unauthorized expenses.