of the Science Commission (05.02.02)
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.
Commission strongly recommends that the Smithsonian Institution and
Secretary Small should immediately initiate an international search
for a new Under Secretary for Science.
The Smithsonian urgently needs an individual of stellar scientific
reputation, vision, leadership, and management skills to guide the
science portfolio and serve as the principal spokesperson for Smithsonian
Science. This individual must have a deep personal commitment to scientific
excellence, and both the vision and skills to advance the cause of
science. Once appointed, the Under Secretary must help the leadership
at the Natural History Museum and Environmental Research Center develop
their independent courses, and develop plans for the transition in
leadership at the Astrophysical Observatory. This search should be
entrusted to a committee composed of a diverse selection of Smithsonian
scientists and management, external researchers and museum professionals.
- The Commission
also strongly recommends that Secretary Small immediately initiate an
international search for an appropriate leader for the National Museum
of Natural History.
The long-term lack of stability in the Director's office has had a detrimental
impact on all facets of museum activities (8 Directors and Acting Directors
in the past 20 years). The frequent turnover of Directors appears to
be due, in part, to the failure of previous Secretaries and Assistant/Under
Secretaries for Science to delegate sufficient authority and responsibility
to attract the exceptional candidates this position demands. The Associate
Director for Science and Collections has extensive experience with scientific
management and policy but is not a scientist and serves concurrently
as Director of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center. The Commission
does not believe that "double-hatting" is, in principle, a
good long-term management strategy. With the imminent departure of Drs.
O'Connor and Rubinoff, there will be no museum scientists at administrative
levels above the Department Chairs and until recently scientific input
to the Director's Office has been lacking. As discussed in more detail
below, there is a critical need to reinvigorate the Directorship of
the Natural History Museum. Under the present circumstances, and given
the history, we strongly urge that the individual chosen as Director
of the Museum be a scientist of stature with demonstrated museum experience,
a clear understanding of the special opportunities for research in a
natural history museum, and the ability to pursue strongly the financial
and other support needed to realize these opportunities. Whereas the
Under Secretary for Science should be primarily a scientist and an administrator
with a proven track record, the Director of the Natural History Museum
should definitely be a museum professional who knows large institutions
of this type well and accepts significant collections research and public
programming responsibilities. For these reasons, we strongly recommend
that two separate searches are required.
A. Criteria for
- For the Under
Secretary an international reputation as a scientist is required to
provide sufficient internal and external credibility. Some Unit Directors
may not be scientists, but all must have an appreciation for scholarship,
a curiosity about science, and an understanding of the demands of leading
a scientific organization.
- Demonstrated personal
commitment to excellence, including the determination to hold scientists
accountable for performance, given the freedom and support they enjoy.
- Demonstrated ability
to identify and articulate clear institutional vision and goals, to
communicate a vision to engage the staff, and the management skills
to ensure effective implementation of this vision.
- Support for, and
understanding of, basic research.
- Ability to communicate
by speaking and listening to staff at all levels.
- Awareness of the
greater Smithsonian context and knowledge, and experience working in
the Washington science policy arena.
- Excellent organizational
skills and multi-tasking ability.
- Willingness and
ability to raise funds.
B. Selection of
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.
for Science - The
Under Secretary for Science must be an outstanding scientist of international
reputation, unquestioned scholarship, and outstanding management skills.
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.
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.
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
- The Smithsonian
Environmental Research Center is a growing and vibrant organization
doing excellent work at the forefront of ecological research on the
coastal interface. This largely independent unit with its own Director
should report directly to the Under Secretary for Science.
- We also recommend
that the scientists and scientific curators establish a committee of
unit representatives that would be available to advise the Castle on
policy matters affecting science across the Institution. This committee
should be proactive in raising important issues with the Smithsonian
administration and in facilitating dialog on policy, budget, and organizational
issues. Again, the Commission will present much more detailed considerations
in this regard in its final report.
- The Science Commission
has also reached consensus that better communication of scientific results
and the role of science to the Secretary, the Regents, Congress, and
the public is critical.
The Executive Committee
of the Science Commission looks forward to the opportunity to discuss
its progress at the Regents' meeting in June.
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