Facing independent investigations by the Internal Revenue Service and the Senate, the Arlington, Virginia-based Nature Conservancy has announced a broad restructuring of its governing board to strengthen accountability and oversight, the Washington Post reports.
The changes at the $3 billion nonprofit organization include creation of an eleven-member executive committee, which will wield power formerly distributed across the thirty-six-member board, and an audit committee that will focus on ethics, whistle-blowers, conflicts of interest, and "broad legal issues that have ramifications across the Nature Conservancy." The organization will also appoint an internal audit director with powers similar to inspectors general in the federal government.
The changes were approved at a January 30 board meeting of the world's largest environmental organization but were announced only this week. At the meeting, the board adopted the recommendations of a governance advisory panel of outside experts led by Ira M. Millstein, a New York lawyer and expert on business ethics, and including former Harvard University president Derek Bok and former Packard Foundation president and Los Angeles Times publisher Richard T. Schlosberg III. The Conservancy created the advisory panel last year after a series of articles in the Washington Post spotlighted controversial practices at the organization. The announcement of changes comes as the Senate Finance Committee revealed that it is seeking thousands of pages of additional documents in its ten-month-old investigation into the organization. An eighteen-page letter sent to the Conservancy refers to a number of business transactions never before made public.
"The Board of Governors recognized the need to become more directly involved," wrote Conservancy chairman Henry M. Paulson Jr., chief executive of the Goldman Sachs Group, in a memo that discussed the changes. "We need to tighten up our oversight and risk management controls to ensure we operate at the highest standard."
The complete text of the board's statement is available at the Nature Conservancy Web site: http://nature.org/aboutus/leadership/art12214.html.