Smithsonian 'Grand Challenges' Move Ahead in Slow Motion

14 February 2011 3:56 pm

The Smithsonian Institution fares well under President Barack Obama's proposed budget for 2012, but it won't be moving forward very fast on its scientific grand challenges, part of a new strategic plan put forth by Secretary Wayne Clough in 2009. The new request calls for this aggregation of 19 museums, a zoo, and 20 libraries and research centers to get $861.5 million, a 13% increase from the 2010 budget of $761 million (a 2011 budget was never enacted and thus federal agencies have been operating under a continuing resolution set at 2010 levels). Many of the Smithsonian's 1000 scientists and research fellows are engaged in research related to two challenges: understanding the universe by studying stars, planets, and galaxies and understanding and sustaining a biodiverse planet. The proposed budget sets aside $100,000 for the former and $1.65 million for the latter. That's much less than what was requested a year ago, when biodiversity and climate change research was slated to receive $8 million and understanding the universe, $500,000. That funding was never approved by Congress.

Of the $1.65 million for biodiversity and climate change work, $750,000 is for a global change research program primarily dealing with long-term forest research, $250,000 for a species identification program called Barcode of Life, and $300,000 for an online database of species called the Encyclopedia of Life.

Overall research and development at the Smithsonian would total $212 million, including $41 million for facilities. That's a drop of $1 million from the current funding established under the continuing resolution. But it includes a $17 million overhaul of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, Maryland, as well as $500,000 for the care of collections at the National Museum of Natural History and animals at the National Zoo.

Federal support represents about 70% of the total Smithsonian budget. Of the $861.5 million, $636.5 million is for salary and expenses, whereas the rest is for facilities, including construction of new museums.

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