Secretary David J. Skorton

Dr. David J. Skorton is the 13th Secretary of the Smithsonian. He assumed his position July 1, 2015.

David SkortonAs Secretary, Skorton oversees 19 museums and galleries, 20 libraries, the National Zoo and numerous education and research centers, including the Smithsonian Astrophysics Observatory, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, and the Smithsonian Science Education Center. He is responsible for an annual budget of $1.3 billion, 6,500 employees, 6,300 volunteers, and 8,500 digital volunteers.

Under Skorton’s leadership, a new strategic plan has been developed with a focus on convening critical conversations about topics of vital public interest. An example of this was the first-of-its-kind Earth Optimism Summit on Earth Day weekend 2017, which brought together scientists, thought leaders, conservationists, and students to share conservation and sustainability solutions that have worked and can work on a larger scale. The strategic plan also calls for increased outreach and attention to the relevance and impact of the Smithsonian’s activities.

Since Skorton took the helm two years ago, the Smithsonian has exceeded its national campaign goal of $1.5 billion; opened the National Museum of African American History and Culture, a must-see destination for Washington visitors; and elevated the arts to a priority along with scientific, historical and cultural research and programs. Educational efforts, both onsite and through digital technology, have accelerated since Skorton’s arrival. 

Skorton, 67, a board-certified cardiologist, previously was the president of Cornell University, a position he held from July 2006. He was also a professor in the Departments of Medicine and Pediatrics at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City and in Cornell’s Department of Biomedical Engineering at the College of Engineering. His research focus is congenital heart disease and cardiac imaging and image processing. Skorton is the first physician to lead the Smithsonian.

An ardent and nationally recognized supporter of the arts and humanities, Skorton has called for a national dialogue to emphasize the importance of funding for these disciplines. He asserts that supporting the arts and humanities is a wise investment in the future of the country.

Second Opinion

With its breadth and depth of expertise in science, the arts, history, technology, and education, the Smithsonian Institution is uniquely poised to be a catalyst for convening a national conversation about the critical issues of the day.

Second Opinion is an Institution-wide partnership to create a digital platform for thought leaders to explore challenges facing the nation and the world at large, from climate change to education to technology to the arts. Our goal is not to advocate but to educate: The more we understand the different opinions that can arise from the same suite of facts, the better we can work together towards a common solution.

“I think we can and should take a more prominent role in convening discussions important to people, even when these reveal differences. Exchanging ideas among ourselves and with other experts in open conversations will enrich the exhibitions, research, education, and programs we produce.”
— Smithsonian Institution Secretary David J. Skorton, M.D., from his essay "Proud To Be Your Colleague"