The Smithsonian Institution wants to close two research centers as part of a move to consolidate and reshuffle its scientific activities. Many researchers are upset about the plan, and some worry that other programs may be cut as well. The plan is not final, however, and an influential member of Congress has asked Smithsonian officials to rescind it.
Considered by many to be the United States' equivalent of a ministry of culture and science, the Smithsonian consists of 16 museums, the National Zoo, and a half-dozen research centers. Slated for the ax are the Center for Materials Research and Education, which seeks to improve preservation and curation techniques for museum artifacts, and the Conservation and Research Center (CRC), a 1290-hectare rural breeding and study facility for threatened or endangered species, operated by the zoo.
The proposed closures are "a redirection of spending," as the Smithsonian focuses on a few key disciplines, says Lawrence Small, a former investment banker who last year took over as secretary of the 150-year-old institution. Smithsonian researchers say that they are shocked by the news, as are observers. "It's kind of amazing," says Devra Kleiman, a former zoo researcher and now a conservation biologist at Conservation International in Washington, D.C. Most zoos are trying to emphasize research and conservation, she says, but "the Smithsonian National Zoo, which was a model for that 25 years ago, [is] eliminating those functions."
The proposed cuts must still pass muster with Congress, which provides about 60% of the institution's $750 million budget, and with the Smithsonian's governing board, which is expected to review them next month. Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA), a member of the House appropriations panel whose district includes the CRC, immediately chastised the Smithsonian for the plan and called for a reversal of the decision. "I have let Smithsonian officials know of my extreme displeasure," Wolf said in a statement 6 April.