- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 17, 2001

Ever since becoming secretary of the Smithsonian Institution more than a year ago, Lawrence Small has shown more interest in crowd-pleasing exhibits than serious science, say some scientists from the National Museum of Natural History and the National Zoos research arm.
"Larry Small is really mismanaging research, and the cancellation of the zoo program is an example of that," said one scientist, who asked that his name not be disclosed.
Nearly 80 scientists and other Smithsonian staff showed their disapproval of proposed cuts in the Smithsonians research budget by signing a petition Monday afternoon at the National Museum of Natural History asking that Mr. Small include them in the reorganization. The 155-year-old Institution comprises 16 museums, the National Zoo and several research facilities, including the Conservation and Research Center in Front Royal, Va.
Mr. Small presented the proposed 2002 budget last week, incuding an increase in funds for renovations and a decrease in dollars for scientific research mainly conducted at the Conservation and Research Center (CRC) in Front Royal. The budget cuts affect researchers at the CRC, but funding has been consistent at the National Museum of Natural History.
The petition came instead of an expected "no confidence" vote on Mr. Smalls leadership. The meeting was organized to send a signal to Smithsonians Board of Regents, which meets May 7 to consider the proposed budget, and to the public that the scientists are united in their disapproval, organizers said.
The petition, which was to be hand-delivered to Mr. Small later in the afternoon, also asked that all areas of the Smithsonian be included in the secretarys reorganization efforts. A senior scientist said researchers have been excluded from the reorganization process.
Mr. Small, a former president and CEO of Fannie Mae, is the first nonacademic to run the Smithsonian. Several groups had opposed his appointment, saying he would lack understanding of the importance of research.
"Our worst fears are coming true," one scientist said.
Mr. Small was not available for comment at press time, but Linda St. Thomas, a spokeswoman for the Smithsonian, acknowledged that the secretary was aware of the concerns of the scientists.
J. Dennis OConnor, undersecretary for science, who had seen the petition, said he wanted to assure the scientists they would be involved in future reorganization, adding that the closing of the CRC could actually benefit other scientific research departments.
"The money we save frees up resources for other research," Mr. OConnor said.
He acknowledged that there is "a lot of angst right now" among researchers and welcomed more dialogue between management and research units.
Rep. Frank Wolf, a Virginia Republican who backs the scientists, held a meeting with about 30 representatives from several zoos and environmental groups last Thursday in an effort to salvage the CRC, the research arm of the National Zoo.
"I am extremely disappointed in your decision not to reconsider the closing of the Conservation and Research Center (CRC) in Front Royal," Mr. Wolf wrote in letter to Mr. Small last week.
Among animals at the CRC are the black-footed ferret of North American and Elds deer of Southeast Asia, some of the worlds most threatened mammals, Smithsonian researchers say.
Mr. Wolf and others fear that closing the CRC is just the beginning of a scientific downturn at the Smithsonian.
"What makes the Smithsonian different from other museums and zoos is the history and research," Rep. Wolf said. "This is the death of science and research at the Smithsonian."
Mr. Small is expected to address the staff this morning during his monthly town hall meeting at the National Museum of Natural History.
"I see a lot less research and a lot more Disney-type attractions in the future," the scientist said. "The emphasis is to make the buildings shine research is not a high priority ."

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