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With two of the top leadership positions in Smithsonian science to be vacant following the May 31 departure of Under Secretary for Science Dennis O'Connor, who also is serving as acting director of the Natural History Museum, the Smithsonian Science Commission is recommending to Secretary Small and the Board of Regents that work begin immediately to fill these two positions permanently and, in the interim, on an acting basis.
The commission advocates these interim appointments to fill a "critical void," Science Commission head Jeremy Sabloff said during an April 17 press briefing, because "finding good candidates could take some time." During this period, "lots of important decisions, from budget to planning, are not going to stop. Science needs a representative at the table" where these decisions are being made.
"There has been an assumption that the Smithsonian should wait until the Science Commission has issued its final report before trying to fill these positions," Sabloff added. "Our final report is not due until December, and we have been concerned from day one that a lot of things are being put on hold. Science and Natural History can't afford to be in stasis until the end of the year."
During its April meeting, the commission discussed some of the criteria that will be necessary to attract top scientific talent to both jobs. "Our initial discussions with the Secretary indicate that he will do his best to attract top people," Sabloff added. For both positions, the commission would like strong scientists who have considerable administrative experience. The MNH director should have fund-raising experience as well.
Sabloff also said that the commission will be recommending no major changes to the present organizational structure of science at the Smithsonian; it also is still examining the Smithsonian Center for Materials Research and Education and the Zoo's Conservation and Research Center.
"There have been all kinds of ideas floating about and talk about major changes at Natural History and other science units," Sabloff said. "More and more, the commission is coming to realize what needs to be addressed is process and leadership. Our interim report will address leadership in general."
During a March 2 press conference, Sabloff stated that the commission has found that Smithsonian science programs have eroded and need support. He compared their erosion to the deterioration of the Institution's physical plant, saying that, due to budget constraints, SI has lost some 25 to 30 percent of its curatorial, research and technical staff in the last 12 years. SI's collections also are suffering, he said.