June 20, 2007
By Vernon Horn
The Smithsonian has announced the resignation of Sheila Burke who has been the Deputy Secretary and Chief Operating Officer since 2004. Burke was first hired by former Director Lawrence Small. While working for the Smithsonian Burke also sat on the board of the Chubb group, which coincidentally happens to hold the Smithsonian’s insurance policies.
Burke’s resignation came on the eve of a report issued by the Governance Committee, a group established by the Smithsonian Board of Regents in March, announcing a thorough overhaul of its governance policies. The report contains 25 recommendations to help promote a "culture of accountability" and put an end to a variety of ethically questionable practices that the Washington Post has richly detailed in the past several months. It also promises to ensure that the controversial Smithsonian Business Ventures "will follow established Smithsonian policies" but continues on to extend itself a mile-wide loophole for “specific pre-approved circumstances when an exception is necessary to accomplish SBV mission requirements." Though lofty in rhetoric, it remains to be seen what, if anything, this will actually mean for historians.