On 6 November 2007, House of Representatives delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) introduced HR 4098, “The Smithsonian Modernization Act of 2007.” The legislation, if passed, would completely restructure the Smithsonian Institution’s governing board. Currently, the Board of Regents consists of 17 members, including three Senators, three Representatives, the Vice President, and the Chief Justice of the United States. Norton proposes increasing the board to 21 members – all private citizens, rather than public officials, appointed by the President.
According to Norton, “The present governance places immense responsibility on dedicated but overextended members of the House and Senate, the Vice President of the United States, and the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, fully half of the board, who must perform their fiduciary duties as board members while giving first priority to the sworn responsibilities as public officials.”
Norton asserts that changing the governance structure will allow the board to better lead fundraising efforts, necessary for renovating the declining physical infrastructure of the Institution. Although SI receives 70 percent of its budget from the federal government, there are not sufficient funds to pay for the $2.5 billion backlog of facilities maintenance issues.
A June report from the Independent Review Committee (IRC), formed by the regents following the Larry Small scandal, also recommended a significant reorganization of the Board. Recall that former Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence Small resigned in March 2007 amid allegations of misusing public funds for his compensation and expenditures. The IRC chastised the Board of Regents for poor governance and inadequate oversight of Small. They suggested more regents be added to the board, specifically those with expertise in financial as well as facilities and museum management.