Museum's Deputy Secretary Resigns
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
The Smithsonian Board of Regents yesterday took steps to overhaul the way the museum system is managed and accepted the resignation of its second-ranking executive as it offered stern self-criticism of how the institution has been run in the past decade.
The regents also acknowledged that they had failed in several key areas of oversight; significantly changed the duties of the chancellor of the institution; and took steps to tighten rules by limiting paid service on corporate boards.
The developments came as Sheila P. Burke offered her resignation as deputy secretary and chief operating officer, after working for the Smithsonian for seven years while earning more than $1.2 million in six years for outside duties, a Washington Post review showed.
Burke's resignation letter said: "I have great respect for the Smithsonian, and my resignation is tendered in the belief that it is in the best interest of the Institution and the fine people who work here."
Her resignation was announced by Cristián Samper, the acting secretary of the Smithsonian, at a briefing of the Board of Regents, which released a new set of governing policies to make the museum a "more dynamic body."
The review of Smithsonian leadership and management was triggered by criticism from Congress and public investigations into the employment agreement and expenses of then-Secretary Lawrence M. Small, who resigned in March. Also questioned were the outside income of Small and Burke, who both sat on the board of Chubb Group while the insurer held Smithsonian policies. The decision to use Chubb was not approved by Small or Burke, according to a spokeswoman.
Several factors influenced the timing of her decision, Burke said.
"Obviously, I have been very concerned about the criticism. But the more important thing for me is that the institution be able to move on. We are in the midst of the appropriations process and with the governance recommendations, we are turning the page. We need to move on," Burke said. Burke joined the Smithsonian shortly after Small arrived in 2000 and after a highly visible role as chief of staff to former Senate majority leader Robert Dole.
Burke's resignation came on the eve of an independent report that sources said would criticize her extensive outside activities, including highly compensated corporate board seats, academic appointments, a federal commission that oversees Medicare, and numerous nonprofit organizations.
Burke, whose responsibilities included oversight of Smithsonian building projects and many aspects of its infrastructure, earned $400,000 from the Smithsonian in 2006. During her tenure, she served on 10 boards for which she was not paid. Her outside earnings in 2006 included cash and stock from Chubb valued at $169,675 and options to purchase 56,000 shares. She also received $395,381 last year from WellPoint, a health-care company.
Dealing directly with this aspect of the recent controversies, the regents yesterday eliminated paid board memberships for senior executives.
The new policy says: "To avoid even an appearance of conflict of interest or divided loyalty, the Regents adopt the policy that, beginning October 1, 2007, Smithsonian senior executives should not be permitted to serve on the board of a for-profit company."