By Jacqueline Trescott and James V. Grimaldi
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, March 16, 2008
One year after a spending controversy forced the ouster of the head of the Smithsonian Institution, the governing board of the world's largest museum complex picked an outsider, Georgia Institute of Technology President G. Wayne Clough, to be the 12th secretary of the Smithsonian.
Clough, 66, president of Georgia Tech since 1994, was selected after a divided Smithsonian board of regents had grappled for months over the direction to take the sprawling arts and science institution in the wake of controversies over executive spending.
"I know the Smithsonian, for many people in their minds, is about the past," Clough said yesterday at a news conference. "But it is not. It is about America's future."
The selection of Clough is a return to the practice of having a scientist occupy the top position at the Smithsonian, a tradition that began in 1846 with renowned Princeton physicist Joseph Henry. Clough follows banker Lawrence M. Small, whose promises of boosting institution coffers were overshadowed by controversial decisions and questions about his compensation and spending. Clough is the second academic administrator to be named secretary, following I. Michael Heyman, who had been chancellor at the University of California at Berkeley and was secretary before Small.
Clough, an accomplished civil engineer, won the job over Acting Secretary Cristi¿n Samper after at least two votes in the cloistered lawyers lounge at the U.S. Supreme Court. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., by statute the Smithsonian chancellor, moderated deliberations but did not cast a ballot and would have voted only in the event of a tie. Roberts did not join in the final 45-minute interviews of Clough and Samper on Friday afternoon.
Regents Chairman Roger W. Sant introduced Clough (pronounced kluf) at a rare Saturday morning news conference in the commons room of the Smithsonian Castle on the Mall. Sant, who had tapped Samper for the interim secretary's job and favored him to take it permanently, said Clough was picked because he brought "a unique combination of academic achievement, talent, leadership skill and experience in public service, science, management and development."
Samper, 42, received sustained applause and whistles from staff members and executives at the news conference when Sant announced that Samper will return to his post as director of the National Museum of Natural History on July 1, when Clough is expected to begin as secretary.
The new secretary will take the helm as the institution faces staggering problems, including a $2.5 billion backlog of building and improvement projects and a fundraising plan that members of Congress have castigated as inadequate. Government reports have documented leaks in buildings that house some of the nation's treasures, such as the Wright Flyer. Although no blockbuster artifacts have been damaged, workers have had to cover priceless exhibits with plastic.
Clough expressed optimism that he can turn around what one U.S. senator last year called "an endangered institution" responsible for conducting scientific research on the Mall and at auxiliary research facilities. With an annual budget of nearly $1 billion, about 70 percent of its funding comes from the federal government. The Smithsonian counted 24.2 million visits last year.
"There is tremendous residual goodwill toward the Smithsonian," Clough said. "We need to repair some bridges, and Cristi¿n has already started that. We need to communicate, we need to be transparent, we need to be open, we need a plan and we need to reinvigorate the excitement about the Smithsonian."
Regents were impressed with Clough's record at Georgia Tech, where he has overseen two capital campaigns that raised nearly $1.5 billion and is leading a third, $1 billion campaign. In the same time, the university's enrollment has increased from 13,000 to 18,000, and research expenditures have increased from $212 million to $425 million.
Hailing from a stalwart Atlantic Coast Conference university, Clough joked: "The Smithsonian doesn't yet have a football or basketball team -- but we will pass on that for the moment."
Clough said the challenges he faces are similar to those he inherited at Georgia Tech. "This institution is far too important to let these things linger."
Walter Massey, a former regent and member of the search committee, is a former president of Morehouse College in Atlanta and knows Clough from serving on committees together. "Wayne is really a people person," Massey said. "He really has mastered the art of being able to inspire, energize and bring out the best in people."
A native of Douglas, Ga., Clough graduated from Georgia Tech and received a doctorate in civil engineering from the University of California at Berkeley. He has taught at Stanford and Duke universities and held academic posts at Virginia Tech and the University of Washington. Clough's research interests are in geotechnical engineering, earthquakes and soil structure.
Clough will be paid $490,000 a year, much less than his predecessor and a pay cut from his Georgia Tech salary. He will resign from the boards of Noro-Moseley Partners, a venture capital fund, and credit-card processor TSYS of Columbus, Ga.
His 2006-07 Georgia Tech compensation was $551,186, including a $400,000 base salary, $133,000 in deferred compensation and $18,000 in retirement contributions.
Small's compensation jumped from $333,000 in 2000 to $916,000 in 2007. Clough will not receive a housing allowance, a benefit given to Small though his home was paid for and he did not often use it for Smithsonian entertainment near the end of his tenure. Small also had served on two corporate boards, a fact that came under attack by an Independent Review Committee that found that from 2000 to 2007, Small missed 400 days from the office. The committee and some members of Congress considered Small's salary excessive.
A Washington Post investigation last year showed that Small spent Smithsonian money on personal expenditures and had unauthorized expenses. The expenses and outside income of other senior executives were questioned, and top executives, including the deputy secretary, undersecretary of science and others, departed. Investigations were initiated by Congress, the Government Accountability Office and the Smithsonian inspector general. The regents appointed an outside panel to look at what had gone wrong.
The board of regents spent almost a year searching for a permanent leader. In recent weeks, the list had been narrowed to three, but the third candidate, from a major U.S. university, backed out, considering the requirements of the job too onerous, people familiar with the search said.
The regents were divided between Samper and Clough. The selection process also became a discussion about what direction to take the institution, which includes 18 museums, a 19th museum in the planning stages, an astrophysical institute co-operated with Harvard University, a tropical research center in Panama and the National Zoo in Northwest Washington. The Smithsonian is the keeper of some of the nation's most prized treasures, such as the Star-Spangled Banner and the Hope Diamond.
According to people familiar with their discussions who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the process, some regents favored appointing Samper, a biologist, because he had some success raising morale and was considered a favorite of many of the institution's 6,000 employees. He was well received among some on Capitol Hill, had taken steps to implement the regents' governance changes and supported bolstering the institution's scientific mission.
But other regents worried that he was too much of an insider's choice and ill-equipped to reform the Smithsonian's sometimes secretive administration. Those regents also had been disappointed with Samper's judgment and considered him at times politically naive.
Samper came under some public criticism last year over his handling of the appointment of Kevin Gover to replace W. Richard West Jr. as director of the National Museum of the American Indian: Most of the museum's governing board was kept in the dark on the selection process, and some opposed the selection. Samper said he would keep the board more informed in the future. He also had been in charge when the institution spent $124,000 in farewell activities for West.
Some government scientists criticized Samper for his role in playing down climate warming in an arctic exhibit at the Museum of Natural History, and others criticized his lack of political sensitivity regarding the solicitation of a donation from the American Petroleum Institute for a new Ocean Hall exhibition and Web site.
As provost at the University of Washington, Clough in a year had "built a sizable fan club," according to a profile in the Seattle Times in 1994, when he got the Georgia Tech job. "Professors saw him as a friend. Students saw him as an advocate."
In an interview after the news conference, Clough said he had been planning to start a new chapter in his life. The regents have asked him to commit to at least five years. "I was thinking of doing something else. In my family, everyone worked until their 70s," he said.
The regents had planned to discuss the matter Friday and wait until Monday to vote, but when a consensus emerged, they picked Clough, who had already departed and was traveling to New York on a train late Friday. When Sant reached him and told him he got the job, "I was in a car with a gaggle of young girls. There was lots of noise," Clough said. "And Roger Sant calls and says 'This is Roger.' I asked, 'Who?' I was surprised and gratified."