Lawrence Small has for the past seven years served as Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. To say that his tenure was uneventful is likely an understatement. Although the Smithsonian has seen some significant changes under Small's leadership, namely the opening of the Native American museum and a new aeronautics museum in northern Virginia, low staff morale, tight budgets, and questionable business deals also marked his tenure. Most recently, concerns emerged when some of Small's financial expenditures caught the attention of members of Congress and the media.
According to reports in the Washington Post, Small had charged $2 million in housing and office expenditures and $90,000 in unauthorized expenses. The intensity of congressional concern over Small's actions surfaced when Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) offered an amendment to freeze a $17 million budget increase for the Smithsonian's FY 2008 budget.
Small's resignation was announced on 26 March. Biologist and Director of the National Museum of Natural History, Cristian Samper was named Acting Secretary of the Smithsonian. On Tuesday, 27 March, David Evans, then Undersecretary for Science, announced his resignation. In at least one media report, Evans noted his disappointment about being passed over by Samper - who Evans recruited for the NMNH post. Following Evans' announcement, Samper named Ira Rubinoff, Director of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, to fill Evans' post on an interim basis.
Finally, on 30 March, Samper announced that former AIBS president Paul G. Risser would serve as the acting director for NMNH. Risser will assume the post effective 18 April. Presently, Risser is the chair of the University of Oklahoma Research Cabinet, where he coordinates research across the university's three campuses. Risser has served on the NMNH board for nine years. "We are very fortunate that Paul Risser has agreed to become the acting director of the National Museum of Natural History," said Cristian Samper. "His distinguished career as a scientist and university administrator, as well as his dedicated service on the museum's board, makes him uniquely qualified for this position."
"In an interesting way, the museum's extraordinary exhibits and its research and education programs are probably more important today for our country than at any time in our history," said Risser. "Our understanding of the natural sciences is unfolding at an extremely rapid rate, making it a challenge to just keep up with new discoveries and their applications."
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