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Date: Oct. 31, 2002
Contacts: Bill Kearney, Media Relations Officer
Andrea Durham, Media Relations Assistant
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Direct Government Funding of Smithsonian Science Centers Should Continue

WASHINGTON -- Three research centers of the Smithsonian Institution should remain exempt from having to compete for federal research dollars because they make unique contributions to the scientific and museum communities, says a new report by the National Academies' National Research Council. The committee that wrote the report also said that three other Smithsonian research centers should continue to receive federal funding since they are performing science of the highest quality and already compete for much of their government research money.

A second report to be issued today by the National Academy of Public Administration -- a separate organization that is not part of the National Academies -- also calls for the continuation of direct appropriations for Smithsonian science centers. Its study was conducted parallel to the Research Council study.

"It is true that competition for federal research funding helps ensure high-quality science, but much of the research at the Smithsonian is already supported by competitive grants, and its quality is not in doubt," said the Research Council committee's chair Cornelius J. Pings, president emeritus, Association of American Universities, now living in Pasadena, Calif. "There would be little or no scientific benefit to transferring funds away from Smithsonian research to a competitive mechanism. In fact, withdrawing federal support would likely lead to the demise of much of the institution's research and compromise its mission to 'increase and diffuse knowledge.'"

The White House Office of Management and Budget asked for the review of Smithsonian research after expressing concern that the research was not "inherently unique" enough to justify noncompetitive funding. In particular, OMB wanted to know how much of the money directly appropriated for Smithsonian research should be made available to all scientists via competitive grants that would be administered by the National Science Foundation.

The Research Council committee found the research performed at the National Museum of Natural History, the National Zoological Park, and the Smithsonian Center for Materials Research and Education indeed to be unique. And although the committee did not characterize research at the Smithsonian's Astrophysical Observatory, Environmental Research Center, and Tropical Research Institute as unique, it did call the research "world-class," and said any attempt to transfer directly appropriated funds away from these three centers would have a moderate-to-serious effect on the quality of their research, or perhaps even end it. Even though much of the research funding at these centers is already obtained through competition, the directly appropriated money supports key scientific staff and infrastructure costs.

Researchers at the Natural History museum and Zoological Park should continue to be exempt from competition for research funding "because of the uniqueness and special contributions conferred by association with their collections," the committee said. The Center for Materials Research and Education should remain exempt because it fills a highly specialized research niche that is of unique value not only to the Smithsonian but also to museums everywhere.

The committee did say, however, that the Smithsonian's internal evaluation of its own research and individual scientists is variable and inconsistent. Regular, in-depth reviews by external advisory committees are needed for all six science centers, especially for areas that do not routinely compete for grants and contracts.

In addition, communication between the research centers and the central management of the institution appears to be weak, the committee said. The secretary of the Smithsonian and its board of regents should improve communication with the centers and become strong public advocates for them.

The committee was not asked to review the funding provided to research centers that report to the Smithsonian's undersecretary for American museums and national programs.

The Research Council study was sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution at the request of OMB. The National Research Council is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Engineering. It is a private, nonprofit institution that provides science and technology advice under a congressional charter. A committee roster follows.

Read the full text of Funding Smithsonian Scientific Research for free on the Web, as well as more than 2,500 other publications from the National Academies Press; tel. (202) 334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or on the Internet at Reporters may obtain a pre-publication copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).

Division on Earth and Life Studies
Board on Life Sciences
Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences
Board on Physics and Astronomy

Committee on Smithsonian Scientific Research

Cornelius J. Pings1 (chair)
President Emeritus
Association of American Universities
Pasadena, Calif.

Barbara L. Bedford
Senior Research Associate
Cornell University
Ithaca, N.Y.

Marc Davis2
Professor of Astronomy and Physics
University of California

Hugh W. Ducklow
Glucksman Professor of Marine Science
College of William and Mary
Williamsburg, Va.

Jonathan H. Fink
Professor and Vice President for Research and
Economic Affairs
Arizona State University

Anthony C. Janetos
Senior Research Fellow
H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics, and the Environment
Washington, D.C.

Kenneth I. Kellermann2
Chief Scientist
National Radio Astronomy Observatory, and
Research Professor
University of Virginia

J. Patrick Kociolek
Curator and G. Dallas Hanna Chair in
Diatom Studies
California Academy of Sciences
San Francisco

Daniel C. Livingstone
James B. Duke Professor of Biology and Earth and
Ocean Science
Duke University
Durham, N.C.

Michael J. Novacek
Senior Vice President
Provost of Science, and
American Museum of Natural History
New York City

Bruce A. Rideout
Head of Pathology Division
Center for Reproduction of Endangered Species
Zoological Society of San Diego
San Diego

Ethan J. Schreier
Vice President of Advanced Projects
Associated Universities Inc.
Washington, D.C.

Patricia C. Wright
Department of Anthropology
State University of New York
Stony Brook


Evonne Tang
Study Co-Director

Michael Moloney
Study Co-Director

1 Member, National Academy of Engineering
2 Member, National Academy of Sciences