Wednesday, June 20, 2007

"Live large and plunder!" The Smithsonian crawls out from under seven years of old-time Republicrookery-style mismanagement


"The independent committee criticized [former Smithsonian sheik Lawrence M.] Small's hiring by 'a very small group of regents.' That group included Chief Justice William Rehnquist, former senator Howard Baker (R-Tenn.), Rep. Barber B. Conable Jr. (R-N.Y.) and Wesley S. Williams Jr., a former partner at Covington & Burling law firm."
--a paragraph buried way, way deep in James V. Grimaldi's front-page report in today's Washington Post

If you go to the Smithsonian Institution website, you can find a link for "Mission," which brings you to the following "Vision Statement":
James Smithson's Gift
"I then bequeath the whole of my the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an Establishment for the increase & diffusion of knowledge..."
James Smithson (1765-1829)

The, uh, rest of this webpage is blank.

An oversight, no doubt. Avant-garde Web design. The Smithsonian knows its mission, and so do we. It's the gathering of everything we as Americans have accomplished, who we are, and what we dream. It is, well, "an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge."

Unless you're a thieving Republicrook, that is. Republicrooks, like modern-day Republicans in general, don't believe in knowledge. It seems to make them crazy, in fact. They seem to resent people who have any, and especially smarty-pantses who actually believe in increasing and diffusing it. Elitists, they're apt to call such people. Those people think they're just so smart.

It turns out that to this worm Lawrence M. Small the Smithsonian was his own personal sugar daddy. He wangled himself a contract that seems to have entailed no obligations on his part and infinite ones on the institution's. As Washington Post reporter Grimaldi writes, referring to the about-to-be-released report of an independent committee:
The investigators found that "Mr. Small placed too much emphasis on his compensation and expenses." Small's compensation far exceeded that of prior Smithsonian secretaries -- 42 percent higher than his predecessor's when he began in 2000 and 250 percent higher when he left seven years later.

Small "aggressively guarded each and every element of what he viewed as his rightful compensation package," including his $150,000-a-year housing allowance. Small's contract stated that the allowance was meant to compensate Small for his use of his home for job-related entertainment, but the review board determined that it was "simply additional salary."

Of course we'll be hearing noises from Mr. Small--who, incidentally, vamoosed from his job in March--that he's the victim here, that he offered his peerless services to a public institution for a minuscule fraction of their market value, and this is the thanks he gets!

In fact, there doesn't seem to be much evidence that he did a goddamn thing for the Smithsonian besides rob it blind. The Post report begins:
Former Smithsonian secretary Lawrence M. Small took nearly 10 weeks of vacation a year during seven years running the vast museum complex and was absent from his job 550 workdays while earning $5.7 million on outside work, according to an independent commission report to be released today.

What's more, Mr. Small seems to have had his own personal Mini-Me:
The Smithsonian's second-ranking official, Sheila P. Burke, was absent from her job as deputy secretary for 400 days while earning $10 million over six years on non-museum work.
(Ms. Burke quit on Monday, we learn. At a guess, she was overtaken by a sudden desire to pursue other opportunities.)

Of course, no one really knows what Mr. Small did, apart from drain money out of the Smithsonian. Least of all the Board of Regents that nominally oversaw him:
The report, obtained yesterday by The Washington Post, concluded that Small "created an imperialistic and insular culture" that discouraged dissent, kept secrets and limited the flow of information to the Board of Regents, whose job it was to hire and oversee Small.

"Mr. Small's management style -- limiting his interaction to a small number of Smithsonian senior executives and discouraging those who disagreed with him -- was a significant factor in creating the problems faced by the Smithsonian today," the report concluded. "His attitude and disposition were ill-suited to public service and to an institution that relies so heavily, as the Smithsonian does, on federal government support."

What the clueless Smithsonian regents apparently thought Mr. Small was doing was raking in money like the fundraising dynamo he claimed to be:
Smithsonian officials had defended Small's salary and housing allowance earlier this year by saying that Small had been a prolific fundraiser, "personally" raising about $1 billion. However, the independent review committee found that many of the largest gifts in Small's tenure had been initiated by predecessor [I. Michael] Heyman.

While Small helped bring in three large donations totaling $155 million, "those donations originated from the work of others," the report stated.

The committee found that Small, who received a $1.1 million housing allowance for making his home available for institution fundraising, rarely did so. Small entertained 47 donors at 18 fundraising events at his home from 2000 to 2007, mostly in the early years of his tenure.

"Calculated as a per person venue fee for fund-raising, this works out to be over $25,000 per potential donor or almost $70,000 per fund-raising event," the report said.
In fact, Mr. Small seems to have done a fairly crappy job of fundraising.
The report found that fundraising declined and business revenues dropped during Small's tenure, "making the Smithsonian more reliant on federal appropriations and grants."

But our Mr. Small seems to have been at the top of his game when it came to handling the people who were supposed to be watching him, especially this comical episode when he got slightly caught with his hand in the cookie jar:
Earlier this year, the Smithsonian inspector general wrote a confidential report, later obtained by The Post, finding that Small had $90,000 in unauthorized expenses. When two top institution officials attempted to modify the terms of his contract, Small objected.

"I'm not willing to discuss giving up one iota of what the institution agreed to provide me before I came to work," Small wrote in an e-mail. "It would represent the highest form of naiveté to think . . . I would entertain some form of 'give up.' "

Small further demanded that the Smithsonian pay his attorney's fees if he needed legal counsel and suggested that if he lost his first-class travel he would demand an increase in his housing allowance. He also insisted that the two officials, James Hobbins, his executive secretary, and John Huerta, the general counsel of the Smithsonian, not disclose the discussions to the Board of Regents or to [head regent Roger] Sant, who also chairs the board's audit committee.

I don't know about you, but I find this not just appalling, but nauseating. Think of poor, foggy old James Smithson envisioning his "Establishment for the increase & diffusion of knowledge." Lawrence Small seems to have seen it as just a giant pot of gold to be plundered, to support himself in the lifestyle to which he unaccountably imagines himself to be entitled.


Or at least somewhat right. What's more, it can also be used as a pilot plan for the eventual repayment of some of the other more egregious plunderings of the public till perpetrated on the Republican watch.

First, in the spirit of Mr. Small's famous "housing allowance," the successor to supreme regent Roger Sant [at right in the photo, with National Symphony Orchestra music director Leonard Slatkin], who must surely be resigning (just a little joke: he's not resigning if he can help it--management has already announced "reforms"), will begin by presenting Mr. Small with a bill for "room & board" in the amount of, oh, $2.500 a day. I don't know his precise length of employment, but if we figure it as seven years, that comes to $6,387,500.

Then, figuring Mr. Small should certainly have been entitled to two weeks' vacation, and maybe 10 sick days--and, what the hell, let's give the old boy two floating holidays a year--he reimburses the Smithsonian for all those other days off he took. (As for the $5.7 million he raked in for "outside work" during his tenure, well, that's between him and the outside employers. But if the work he did was of a caliber with what he contributed to the Smithsonian, they should certainly be encouraged to review their compensation issues.)

It goes without saying that all of Mr. Small's expense reports for those seven years--indeed anything else he was involved in that included $$$$$$--should be audited, with any shortfall added, with appropriate penalties, to his total tab.

Mr. Small may argue that it's unfair to leave him holding the bag alone. This is a wee bit churlish, considering how little enthusiasm he showed for sharing the wealth when he was looting the premises, except in the case of his number two, Ms. Burke. Still, if he wants to try to seek contributions from the regents who hired him and made a joke of overseeing him, I say go for it! With special emphasis on the "small group" who dug him up.

Chief Justice Rehnquist has passed on, of course. But if his estate can't handle its share, I'll bet his spiritual as well as judicial heir, Chief Justice John Roberts, would be happy to pitch in.

Labels: , ,


At 6:23 PM, Blogger Kerri said...

Oh lord I hope all your wishes come true. What a truly reptilian creature that Small is.
Sorry to all the snakes and innocent reptiles out there. The Smithsonian magazine was always one of the two magazines I would subscribe to. This time around it doesn't seem nearly as likely to plum the depths as it were. I don't know if this slimeball had anything to do with it, but it is certainly lacking these days. I won't be renewing.

At 6:59 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

'Small "created an imperialistic and insular culture" that discouraged dissent, kept secrets and limited the flow of information to the Board of Regents, whose job it was to hire and oversee Small."
This sounds like the way Bush operates.
I like your style of retribution for criminality.I hope you`re on the jury when they try the Bush gang.


Post a Comment

<< Home