Correction to This Article
Earlier versions of this article transposed the number of workdays that former Smithsonian secretary Lawrence M. Small and former deputy secretary Sheila P. Burke were absent between 2000-2007. Small missed 400 days while Burke missed 550. This version has been corrected.

Report Slams Small's Tenure

By James V. Grimaldi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 20, 2007; 4:58 PM

Former Smithsonian secretary Lawrence M. Small took nearly 10 weeks of vacation a year during seven years running the vast museum complex and was absent from his job 400 workdays while earning $5.7 million on outside work, according to an independent commission report to be released today.

The Smithsonian's second-ranking official, Sheila P. Burke, was absent from her job as deputy secretary for 550 days while earning $10 million over six years on non-museum work.

The report, obtained yesterday by The Washington Post, concluded that Small "created an imperialistic and insular culture" that discouraged dissent, kept secrets and limited the flow of information to the Board of Regents, whose job it was to hire and oversee Small.

"Mr. Small's management style -- limiting his interaction to a small number of Smithsonian senior executives and discouraging those who disagreed with him -- was a significant factor in creating the problems faced by the Smithsonian today," the report concluded. "His attitude and disposition were ill-suited to public service and to an institution that relies so heavily, as the Smithsonian does, on federal government support."

The report also found that Small's fundraising ability, which earlier had been used to justify his salary and housing allowance, was less effective than that of his predecessor, I. Michael Heyman, who raised more money his last year on the job than Small did in 2006. The report found that fundraising declined and business revenues dropped during Small's tenure, "making the Smithsonian more reliant on federal appropriations and grants."

The 108-page executive report to be released today was prepared by an independent panel led by former U.S. comptroller general Charles A. Bowsher with the assistance of the Williams & Connolly and Arnold & Porter law firms. The panel investigated lavish spending and management at the nationally revered 160-year-old institution, which encompasses 18 museums and the National Zoo.

Roger Sant, chairman of the regents' executive committee, said in a statement last night that the regents were "sobered by the findings on executive compensation, financial controls and ineffective policies. We take all the findings very seriously. . . . We have identified and are learning from our mistakes. We are now turning the corner."

The review committee was formed by the regents following reports about unauthorized expenditures, including charges for chartered jet travel, Small's wife's trip to Cambodia, luxury car service, hotel rooms and expensive gifts. On Monday, in anticipation of the report, the regents announced management reforms.

Small, while taking substantial time off, earned his full salary -- $915,568 his last year on the job -- because he was permitted unlimited leave. Burke, who also had no restrictions on leave, earned $400,000 in her last year on the job. The terms of Burke's employment were known in most instances only to Small and Burke. Information about Burke's outside employment and activities on more than a dozen nonprofit boards and commissions was not shared with the Board of Regents, the report found.

Small resigned in March and Burke announced her resignation on Monday on the eve of the independent review report.

The investigators found that "Mr. Small placed too much emphasis on his compensation and expenses." Small's compensation far exceeded that of prior Smithsonian secretaries -- 42 percent higher than his predecessor's when he began in 2000 and 250 percent higher when he left seven years later.

Small "aggressively guarded each and every element of what he viewed as his rightful compensation package," including his $150,000-a-year housing allowance. Small's contract stated that the allowance was meant to compensate Small for his use of his home for job-related entertainment, but the review board determined that it was "simply additional salary."

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company