Smithsonian Regents Name Stonesifer as Chairwoman

Patricia Stonesifer will take over for Smithsonian Chairman of the Board Roger Sant in January.
Patricia Stonesifer will take over for Smithsonian Chairman of the Board Roger Sant in January. (Adam Crowley)
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By Jacqueline Trescott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Smithsonian Board of Regents yesterday continued to transform its operational structure by electing Patricia Q. Stonesifer, the former chief executive of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, as the chairwoman of its board.

The position was created more than a year ago in the wake of scandal at the institution. Stonesifer will take over from current chairman Roger Sant in late January.

Stonesifer, a member of the regents since 2001, serves on its executive committee and has been a leader in reforming how the regents operate since the Smithsonian faced a severe crisis of management last year. The regents, the Smithsonian's governing board, which includes the U.S. chief justice and the vice president, yesterday officially created a post of vice chairman to share some of the leadership duties and to set up a successor path. Stonesifer was elected to that job for the next four months.

"The institution is on a great, great track," said Stonesifer, 52. She acknowledged that the regents had made mistakes in the past and "we should have held ourselves" to a higher standard in fulfilling the public trust. She will have a major role in developing a strategic plan for the Smithsonian's future and organizing a capital campaign to raise billions for building repairs and new initiatives. The Gates Foundation, which distributes grants, has assets of $35.9 billion. The Smithsonian endowment is valued at $1 billion.

"The Smithsonian has to increase its diversity of funding," said Stonesifer, who has directed the Gates Foundation since 1997. She said she will continue as a senior adviser at its Seattle office.

The election was another step in stabilizing the Smithsonian's oversight and strategic planning, and comes after the appointment of Secretary G. Wayne Clough, charged with running the institution's day-to-day operations, in July. Clough succeeded acting secretary Cristián Samper. Samper replaced Lawrence M. Small, who left in March 2007 after investigations showed he had used Smithsonian funds for personal extravagances.

Richard Klausner, a former director at the National Institutes of Health who directed the global health program at the Gates Foundation for four years, says Stonesifer is a good leader for the Smithsonian as it recovers after a tumultuous time. "She is very smart, she picks up things quickly. She can be extremely charming and at the same time cut through stuff. She also has very strong opinions," Klausner said.

Yesterday was Clough's first regents meeting and the board approved a partnership with George Mason University that had been under consideration, illustrating the type of synergy and education focus Clough has been discussing. GMU students will be able to take a credited course at the Smithsonian Conservation and Research Center in Front Royal, Va. "The students will come and get hands-on experience with our endangered species program," Clough said. The deal includes an investment by the university and the Smithsonian's development of three of the 3,000 acres at the center.

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