Expanding on a report leaked a few days ago, the Washington Post’s account of Smithsonian Head Larry Small’s expenses is truly appalling. Compared to previous Secretary’s of the Smithsonian, Small has taken an enormous housing stipend, has decorated his office with museum specimens – including a rhino skull, and hired interior designers to find furniture:
Small spent nearly $160,000 on the redecoration of his offices in the institution’s main building on the Mall shortly after he took the helm of the world’s largest museum system in 2000. The expenses include $4,000 for two chairs from the English furniture-maker George Smith, $13,000 for a custom-built conference table and $31,000 for Berkeley stripe upholstery.
I. Michael Heyman, Small’s predecessor, began working in the secretary’s offices in the castle in 1994. “I didn’t change the office at all from the time that I got it,” Heyman said, adding that he was reluctant to talk about his successor. “I might have brought in a small table.”
Small acknowledges that he’s failed a major promise he made when he took the reins, to repair the Smithsonian’s failing infrastructure. In 2001, he declared that “All of the physical facilities, the physical premises of the Smithsonian, should shine.” Since then buildings have been closed indefinitely for repairs, and leaky roofs have damaged historic artifacts.
[Chairman of the Executive Board] Sant said that Small has been unable to get funding to fix the facilities. Sant blamed Congress and the administration — as well as his own Board of Regents. “We just can’t get the money to refurbish the buildings,” Sant said in an interview last month, adding that Small has “done everything he knows how. It is the one place we’re not doing the public a service.”
On the other hand, Small has taken a couple million dollars in housing and office expenses, living what Senator Grassley described as a Dom Perignon lifestyle. What could those millions of dollars have bought the Institution? Other than “English-made George Smith chairs,” described by an interior designer as “probably some of the best quality chairs you can buy.”
Couple that with Small’s conviction for trading in endangered species, and the ire he earned by trying to shutter important parts of the Smithsonian’s network of research facilities, and you have good reason to push him toward the door. But that isn’t all of the story.
The Inspector General who was tasked with sorting out the propriety of Small’s “lavish” expense reports was pressured to drop the inquiry.
“He called me to tell me he didn’t want me to do the audit, that the audit wasn’t needed,” Ritt said. “He felt the inspector general’s office was being manipulated by a few disgruntled employees.”…
Ritt, who resigned two months after announcing the audit, said the shrinking inspector general’s budget, which Small controls, hampered the office’s effectiveness and independence. “I could see the handwriting on the wall,” Ritt said. She now oversees the audit division of the Small Business Administration inspector general’s office.
It’s time to let him go.