IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Smithsonian board seeks virtuous new leader

Salary alone should not motivate the next secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, Sen. Patrick Leahy said in the first public explanation of how the next top official of the museum complex will be selected.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Salary alone should not motivate the next secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, Sen. Patrick Leahy said in the first public explanation of how the next top official of the museum complex will be selected.

Leahy and other members of the Smithsonian Board of Regents took questions Monday from citizens and museum staff about the process of replacing Lawrence Small, who resigned in March over questionable spending and excessive compensation.

The board, which includes members of Congress and private citizens, typically conducts its business behind closed doors. But part of Monday's meeting was opened for a discussion of the search process.

Many questions focused on how the next Smithsonian chief will balance business and fundraising interests with the scientific and academic traditions of the institution.

"I think there's a feeling on Capitol Hill that you have to have someone whose first interest is always the Smithsonian," said Leahy — a member of both the board and the search committee. "It's also got to speak to the scientific part of the Smithsonian so that every year it's moving significantly forward."

Board sees previous ‘excesses’
Leahy, D-Vt., said many board members saw what they considered the "excesses" of Small's administration, which brought more focus to the business of the Smithsonian, not its scientists and curators.

Smithsonian board member Alan Spoon, a Massachusetts businessman and former president of The Washington Post Co., who is leading the search, said the board identified several virtues they want in the Smithsonian's 12th secretary — intellectual vigor, curiosity, enthusiasm, commitment to diversity, fundraising experience and a commitment to the public trust.

Acting Secretary Cristian Samper, a biologist, is a candidate for the permanent position. Spoon said the board is pleased with his work.

The board hopes to interview other candidates for the top post by January and make a final selection shortly afterward, Spoon said.

Some museum staff members, who submitted questions without giving their names at the meeting, pressed for details on how much the next secretary would be paid. Small was to earn $915,698 this year in total compensation, which stunned some members of Congress and nonprofit watchdogs.

"We're not recruiting a corporate leader here," Spoon said. "We're recruiting the secretary of the Smithsonian."

Board members said they were still discussing what compensation to offer the next secretary.

"Whatever number we come up with, it's going to be a lot lower than what we came up with last year," said Roger Sant, chairman of the board's executive committee.

Fundraising, donations increase
Also Monday, Samper said the Smithsonian's fundraising and attendance are up as the fiscal year comes to a close.

The Smithsonian received donations totaling about $140 million in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30 — about $25 million over its goal of $115 million, Samper said. At the same time, attendance had increased about 9 percent.

The gifts included a $10 million donation to the National Air and Space Museum for its education programs. Samper did not identify any of the institution's major donors.

He said the institution's financial outlook was welcome news after a year that brought the resignations of at least four top officials.

"We were wondering if there would be any slip in our fundraising, in light of recent events," Samper said. The increase "means we did very well."

Also, the majority of funds for the ongoing overhaul of the National Museum of American History had been secured, Samper said. The renovation involves the creation of a new skylight and atrium at the museum's core with reorganized galleries around a new centerpiece exhibit of "The Star-Spangled Banner."

"All the key engineering is done" at the history museum, he said. Asked whether it would reopen on time in July 2008, Samper knocked on a wooden table. "So far, so good."