White House budget officials have backed off from a proposal to transfer some $35 million in research funds from the Smithsonian Institution to the National Science Foundation (NSF) after strong protests from Congress and the scientific community.
The Office of Management and Budget had planned to shift the money as part of President George W. Bush's 2003 budget request, which will be released on 4 February (ScienceNOW, 5 December 2001). Budget officials had argued that the funds, for the museum's astrophysical observatory, tropical research institute, and environmental center, could be better managed by NSF, which would then hold a competition open to all scientists. But late last month, Smithsonian officials were told that the plan had been withdrawn. "The change is as definite as it can be [until the budget comes out]," says a Smithsonian official who requested anonymity.
Although rumors of the budget turnabout are widespread, the institution's top management has ordered its employees not to comment on the apparent victory. But that silence may not last forever: Science has learned that the president's budget may request a study of how best to support science at the Smithsonian. Its report that would feed into a broader commission headed by University of Pennsylvania anthropologist Jeremy Sabloff that was created last spring after Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence Small proposed closing two research facilities and redirecting other funds (ScienceNOW, 10 April 2001).