Set aside, for the moment, Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence Small’s conviction for violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Set aside, too, that he petitioned the judge to allow him to perform his 100 hours of community service by reading about that law and the Endangered Species Act, and coming up with ways to change those laws.
Set aside, too, the fact that Small has presided over a Smithsonian which is falling behind in critical maintenance, with reports of severe roof leaks in the collections. Set aside the institution’s wrongheaded almost-endorsement of Privileged Planet, a creationist movie.
Lawrence Small’s lack of qualifications for the trust he holds, the power over our “nation’s attic,” and the premier scientific collections it holds, is demonstrated most clearly by the “lavish” lifestyle he has funded on the Smithsonian’s – and the taxpayers’ – dime:
Lawrence M. Small, the top official at the Smithsonian Institution, accumulated nearly $90,000 in unauthorized expenses from 2000 to 2005, including charges for chartered jet travel, his wife’s trip to Cambodia, hotel rooms, luxury car service, catered staff meals and expensive gifts, according to confidential findings by the Smithsonian inspector general.
“Many transactions were not properly documented or were not in accordance with Smithsonian policies,” acting Inspector General A. Sprightley Ryan wrote on Jan. 16 to the Smithsonian Board of Regents Audit and Review Committee. “Some transactions might be considered lavish or extravagant.”
Dr. Myers is, if anything, insufficiently outraged. The Smithsonian is not just a great set of institutions for public education, they are vital to scientific research. Small’s enormous salary, his abuse of private jets, his purchases of expensive meals in contravention of Smithsonian policies, his accounting chicanery with a mortgage for a house he owes nothing on, all have deprived that institution of vital funds.
Shortly after taking power, Small tried to shutter the Smithsonian’s Conservation and Research Center, and to close the Center for Materials Research and Education. The latter is where Smithsonian researchers work on preservation of unique items like space suits and other national treasures. Due to overwhelming opposition, his bid to defund those branches was rejected.
Combined with his flouting of federal laws on the trade in endangered species, that incident showed that Small’s priorities were not in line with the Smithsonian’s scientific mission.
Under Small, the Smithsonian has been used as a tool to take the people’s goods away from them. Through corporate sponsorships like those the New Republic chronicles, and a deal with Showtime to give them the right of first refusal of any documentary using film of Smithsonian collections or personnel, Small is slowly selling off museums given to the American people. He claims this is meant to resolve funding problems. If so, he might start the path to financial solvency by examining his own pockets.