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New Secretary Picked to Lead Smithsonian


From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Noah Adams.

The nation's attic has a new chief. Today Wayne Clough was named secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. There have been only 11 secretaries of the Smithsonian since it was founded back in 1846. Wayne Clough will be the 12th. He's been the president of Georgia Tech since 1994. A civil engineer born in Douglas, Georgia, he's now 66.

He appeared at a news conference today at the Smithsonian castle.

NPR's Elizabeth Blair was there in attendance. Why, Elizabeth, Wayne Clough?

ELIZABETH BLAIR: Well, Smithsonian officials say he comes from academia; he has a proven track record running a large public institution. And even today Wayne Clough, himself, said there are a lot of similarities between a big state school, like Georgia Tech, and the Smithsonian, particularly the people, whether they are curators or academics.

Mr. WAYNE CLOUGH (Secretary, Smithsonian Institution; President, Georgia Technology University): They are driven by an ability to create, and that's what they want to contribute. So the two institutions are similar, and as I told the search committee, fortunately one thing is different, the Smithsonian as of yet does not have a football or basketball team.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CLOUGH: And so we'll just pass on that for the time being because there's plenty to do.

ADAMS: That's the incoming secretary of the Smithsonian Wayne Clough. Elizabeth, you can hear the hallowed hall echo there at the Smithsonian castle.

BLAIR: That's right. It was in this very regal looking room. It's the west wing of the castle. Behind him there was a stuffed snow leopard and a stuffed black bear, and then below that there was a Gibson electric guitar. The west wing room has just lots of little pieces from all of the different museums on display.

ADAMS: Well, that's sort of emblematic of the challenge he's got in front of him.

BLAIR: Many, many challenges. For starters, the last secretary, Lawrence Small, was very controversial. He came from a corporate background, and by all accounts, he was living a champagne lifestyle at taxpayer's expense; that's how one senator put it. He would throw parties that cost thousands of dollars and say they were fundraisers and charge it to the Smithsonian. His salary and compensation reached above $900,000. And part of this was that he kept the Board of Regents, which is supposed to oversee what happens at the Smithsonian, at arms length. And many have also criticized the Board of Regents, saying that while Lawrence Small was kind of running the ship in a very imperialistic style, they were asleep at the switch. And many of those people, by the way, are still there.

ADAMS: Well, if you put aside the difficulties of the past few years with Mr. Small and just look at what confronts Wayne Clough in running something like the Smithsonian, what kind of job is it?

BLAIR: Well, the mission statement of the Smithsonian already poses a problem, it's the increase and diffusion of knowledge, and that has baffled secretaries from the very beginning. Right now, the biggest problem is money. They have a $2.5 billion backlog, and that is just for maintenance and repairs. And the problem is Congress. Congress funds 70 percent of the Smithsonian. They have said, don't come to us looking for that money. But it's also very hard for the Smithsonian to find big private donors because most private donors don't really want to spend money on fixing the leaky roof.

But I definitely got the sense from Wayne Clough today that he has worked with boards before, and that's very important. That he will be able to be independent from the board and challenge them when necessary. He really does seem like someone who knows how to run a place as complex as the Smithsonian.

ADAMS: NPR's Elizabeth Blair on the naming of Wayne Clough as the new secretary of the Smithsonian. He takes over in July. Thank you, Elizabeth.

BLAIR: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.
Noah Adams, long-time co-host of NPR's All Things Considered, brings more than three decades of radio experience to his current job as a contributing correspondent for NPR's National Desk., focusing on the low-wage workforce, farm issues, and the Katrina aftermath. Now based in Ohio, he travels extensively for his reporting assignments, a position he's held since 2003.