Smithsonian board criticized in lack of spending oversight

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Since the Smithsonian Institution was created by Congress in 1846, top lawmakers have held seats on its board, along with the chief justice and the vice president of the United States.

Now, after an audit found questionable spending by the Smithsonian's chief, watchdogs are wondering who's paying attention.

In January, an internal audit found that since 2000, Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence M. Small had $90,000 in unauthorized expenses and charged the Smithsonian $1.1 million for use of his home. The expenses include $160,000 to redecorate his office and $273,000 for housekeeping at the home.

But even as congressmen promised to scrutinize the expenses, it didn't go unnoticed that six members of Congress sit on the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian, a nonprofit and public trust that receives nearly $680 million annually from the federal government -- about 70 percent of its budget. This is the same board that approved Small's spending and then tried to keep the audit secret -- much to the dismay of nonprofit watchdogs and some Smithsonian curators and scientists.

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