Research is an intrinsic part of the mission of the National Museum of Natural History and the National Zoological Park. These centers should continue to be exempt from open competition for research funding because of the uniqueness and special contributions conferred by association with their collections.
The Smithsonian Center for Materials Research and Education occupies a highly specialized research niche that is of unique and major value to museums of the Smithsonian Institution and to the museum community at large. Hence, the Committee believes that the center should continue to be exempt from open competition for research funding because of its uniqueness and special contributions to the museum community.
The Committee believes that the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, and the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center should continue to receive federally appropriated research funding. Use of public funds by these facilities is already producing science of the highest quality. Much of the “research funding” (for other than salary and infrastructure costs) is already obtained via competition. Any benefits of shifting these three facilities to the jurisdiction of another organization would be greatly outweighed by the harm done to their contributions to the relevant scientific fields.
Regular in-depth reviews by external advisory committees are essential for maintaining the health, vitality, and scientific excellence of the Smithsonian Institution. Although details of the nature and processes of the reviews may vary to accommodate differences among the six centers, such institutional reviews should be uniformly required for all six Smithsonian science centers and for their individual departments, if warranted by their size. Retrospective external peer review is especially important for areas not routinely engaging in competition for grants and contracts. Regular cycles of review followed by strategic planning offer the best means of ensuring that the quality of SI’s science is maintained.
The research programs at the Smithsonian Institution provide essential support to the museums and collections, make substantial contributions to the relevant scientific fields, and fulfill the broader Smithsonian mission to “increase and diffuse knowledge.” The Committee urges a stronger sense of institutional stewardship for these research programs as integral components of the Smithsonian. The Secretary and the Board of Regents should improve communication with the research centers and become strong advocates for their goals and achievements in a manner that is compelling to the Executive Branch, Congress, and the public.