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Ga. Tech Chief Selected As Head of Smithsonian

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Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, March 16, 2008; Page A01

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.

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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."


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