28 March 2007

Smithsonian Board takes governance lessons from AU

Our great national museum is doomed to never change. After the ouster of Lawrence Small (whose expenses have been described as Ladner-esque, a term I hope doesn't enter local parlance) as head of the Smithsonian, its Board of Regents did exactly what the American University Trustees did a little over a year ago: they created a governance committee! And what do governance committees do?

They say the problems are so big that they can't possibly be resolved until well after the media feeding frenzy is over. They may eventually call for some token transparency to appease the still-incensed, but only after at least six months have passed. After that, it's back to closed-off smoke-filled rooms to find a new leader who will again be allowed to run amok. Nothing will be done to address institutional culture or repair the broken processes that allowed for such gross misspending to occur.

Corruption doesn't exist in a vacuum, especially not at the top. If a leader is tossed out for ridiculously abusing his expense account, you can probably bet that somebody somewhere down the chain is following the dear leader's example, and will probably be the first to speak up and say the problem was only at the top. Maybe, maybe the Regents of the Smithsonian will really learn from AU and see that token change isn't good enough. If not, I hope that they at least raise the ire of Chuck Grassley and company, who, at least in AU's case, weren't too shy to say that proposed reforms weren't good enough.

And now, cue the wild speculation about who the next Smithsonian Secretary will be. For the record though, former Mayor Anthony Williams has yet to be named AU's president, so careful with the speculation.

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