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Interim Report of the Science Commission (05.02.02)
Science is an essential part of the Smithsonian mission to "increase and diffuse knowledge." The Smithsonian has outstanding people, facilities and opportunities in scientific research. It is the Commission's goal to help the Smithsonian achieve its potential as a scientific organization, and these interim report consensus recommendations are a small step in that direction. The final report of the Science Commission will be transmitted to Secretary Small and the Board of Regents in December 2002. The Commission has reached several unanimous conclusions, and the onset of the 2004 budget cycle and the pending departure of the Under Secretary for Science, Dennis O'Connor, make it appropriate to provide the Secretary and the Regents an interim report on our deliberations. The items discussed below are only a small subset of the many issues we have been considering, but involve issues on which we have reached consensus and which require action before submission of the final report. The latter will include a broad vision for Smithsonian science and a number of specific recommendations relating to the Commission's charge.
is the consensus of the Commission that the quality of scientific leadership
is the critical factor in the future success of Smithsonian science.
The Smithsonian Institution and its component science units can neither maintain nor advance its international reputation without effective scientific leadership. Such long-term leadership is essential in the recruitment, promotion, and motivation of scientific excellence at the Smithsonian. The Institution currently faces extremely worrisome voids in leadership that must be filled as promptly as possible, with interim appointments now and the commencement of international searches for the two key vacated positions. While the science budget is under a congressional mandate to remain stable until the Science Commission issues its final report to the Regents, it clearly is under threat and new leadership is needed as soon as possible to work with the Secretary to improve the financial prospects for Smithsonian science.
A. Criteria for
B. Selection of Scientific Leaders
These comments are largely predicated on the need to complement the talents of the present Secretary of the Smithsonian. With the exception of Department Chairs, selection of leaders at all other levels should involve national searches by an appropriate committee of Smithsonian scientists and representatives of management; inclusion of external representatives may also be indicated.
Undersecretary for Science - The Under Secretary for Science must be an outstanding scientist of international reputation, unquestioned scholarship, and outstanding management skills.
Scientific Unit Directors - Unit Directors must increasingly focus on fund raising and successful grantsmanship. The strong preference should be for scientific leaders, although in exceptional instances non-scientists with outstanding management and development skills may come to the fore. All Directors of scientific units must have an appreciation and curiosity about science. In the past, the Directorship of Natural History has been a term appointment; this is no longer an effective leadership strategy. Recruitment of such individuals will require the central Smithsonian administration to delegate appropriate authority and support to make these positions attractive, which has clearly not happened in previous searches for Natural History Directors. The Unit Director must be given significant budgetary authority and be a major participant in central budgetary planning.
Directors of Research within Units - Several units are of sufficient size that the primary role of the director will be fund raising and general oversight, necessitating the delegation of primary responsibility for research. If the Unit Director is a well-respected and accomplished scientist, the Director of Research position may be primarily managerial and may not need to be filled by a scientist, although this would be desirable. If the Director lacks such qualifications, the head of research should be a noted scientist in an appropriate discipline, with management expertise and the ability to articulate the scientific goals for the unit.
Department Chairs/Division Associate Directors - Chairs must be credible and active scientists, generally chosen from within the unit. Scientific Divisions and Departments generally benefit from long-term stability of Chairs, but this will often require unit senior management to provide sufficient administrative support in the form of GS12-14 Departmental Administrators to allow the Chair or Associate Director to provide effective leadership while maintaining an active research program. This recommendation has obvious implications for effective department size.
is not the primary problem confronting the Institution. It is the consensus
of the members of the Science Commission that there is an urgent need
for greater transparency in the development of research priorities and
There is no single strategic plan for Smithsonian Science, yet several plans at the unit level are very clear and focused upon particular scientific activity. In general, scientists play little role in formulating institutional policy, and may not be well represented even at the unit level. The lack of significant, broad-scale visibility of Smithsonian science is tied directly to the absence of direct scientific staff input to the institutional planning and "outreach" efforts. The Commission believes that these deficiencies can be remedied without sweeping structural changes. Minimal changes in structure, effective implementation of existing policies and lines of authority, and visionary leadership of key units, are required. We are investigating a modest restructuring of the Smithsonian science efforts, with an emphasis on facilitating planning, communications, and performance assessment. The core of this new structure is a strong planning and advisory staff within the Office of the Under Secretary, in conjunction with coordinated strategic planning on the unit and department levels, so that the visions of the scientists throughout the Smithsonian Institution can be coordinated into an overall vision. The Commission is still deliberating on the most valuable and cost-effective way to implement these goals. We will present a detailed plan in our final report. Structural aspects of the Conservation Research Center at the National Zoological Park and the Smithsonian Center for Materials Research and Education remain under study.
The Executive Committee of the Science Commission looks forward to the opportunity to discuss its progress at the Regents' meeting in June.