What Didn’t Work: Tongue-Tied at the Top
For the most part, meetings of the regents entailed brief summaries of previously distributed reports and board votes when necessary. There were few opportunities to introduce new agenda items. Moreover, the board rarely met without Small present, and so the regents had few chances to discuss his performance openly.
The Smithsonian regents tried to work around this problem by convening meetings of a “committee of the whole” preceding the official board meetings, a process that provided some time for meaningful discussions. But even there, Small controlled the meeting agendas and presentations, precluding frank and open discussion.
In the ensuing years, Small’s compensation increased an average of 5 percent per year—not atypical for nonprofit leaders in this period. Nonetheless, by 2007 Small’s total compensation had grown to $915,698, which was higher than that of almost all nonprofit CEOs in the United States and more than three times that of his predecessor.
In June 2006, Sen. Grassley, then chair of the Senate Finance Committee—overseer of the Smithsonian’s budget—requested an audit of Small’s compensation and expenses. The Smithsonian undertook an internal audit, during which Debra Ritt, then the institution’s inspector general (the federal term for internal auditor), complained that Small put pressure on her to curtail the audit.
Ritt eventually resigned, saying that her independence was compromised because she had to report to Small rather than to the regents. Small similarly instructed Ritt’s successor, Sprightley Ryan, to have no direct communication with the regents. Small also isolated the Smithsonian’s general counsel and chief financial officer from the regents.
The regents then ordered a separate external audit, which identified nearly $500,000 of questionable expenses, which included first-class travel and repairs to Small’s home. Yet on receiving this report, the regents merely passed two resolutions that retroactively approved the expenses. Small’s office drafted the resolutions.