MCI staff formulates and conducts research and provides technical information, advice and assistance primarily to the Smithsonian but also to other institutions on matters pertaining to its areas of expertise. 

Technical studies provide analytical and technical support to all Smithsonian programs, to conservation and curation programs in other Smithsonian bureaus to assist with the care and understanding of their collections, and, on occasion, to other museums and government agencies. In coordination with the MCI research, conservation and outreach programs, larger collaborative projects with other Smithsonian bureaus are undertaken.

Conservation research in MCI strives to enlarge understanding of how materials and composite objects deteriorate. This research generates both data and models used to formulate conditions for storage, display, and other uses that will minimize deterioration. MCI projects also develop and test treatment technologies for stabilizing deteriorating collection materials. All these studies require analyses and characterizations of object materials and deterioration products and examination of the way external and internal factors, such as environmental conditions or chemical composition and physical structure, affect the nature and rate of these alteration mechanisms.

Consultation at MCI evolve, building on established successes and reaching into new areas of constituents and projects. All MCI professional staff can contribute to any of the the program's areas of activity: special topic oriented symposia, fellowships and internships, professional consultation, and professional or public outreach.

The Technical Information Office serves as the public inquiry center for conservation and general scientific information in the Smithsonian. Staff members conduct data base searches, maintain an up-to-date reprint file, answer questions on conservation-related issues or refer the inquiries to someone who can, and distribute MCI publications.