Grievance List: Actions taken by the Office of the Secretary that have negatively affected the SI Research Environment
1) Elimination of core research facilities at SI without peer review or consultation with the research staff: The decision to close the Front Royal Conservation Research Center and the Smithsonian Center for Materials Research and Education was made by Dennis O'Connor and Lucy Spelman without
consultation with the Directors for those centers and in spite of international recognition of those facilities as centers of excellent research. Funds saved by those permanent closures were to be
reallocated to support a one time upgrade of a computer financial management system for better management of the SI budget.
a. Decisions for closure of the CRC and SCRME facilities were made in the 2002 budget request submitted on April 9, 2001 to the U.S. Congress, and thus pre-empted review by the entire Board of
Regents at the May meeting.
b. Congressional representatives and senators of the districts in which the CRC and SCRME facilities are located were angered because they were not consulted prior to announcement of the
c. Closure of SCRME violates the legislation founding the museum support center, which calls for a conservation laboratory there.
2) Development of a major science reorganization plan by the Office of the Secretary without input of the SI bureau directors or SI research
staff: The NMNH Science Council, departmental chairs, and numerous research staff collectively invested thousands of hours in creating a science plan
for NMNH that was guided by recommendations in the NMNH External Review Committee reports. However, the "Science in the 21st Century" plan from the Office of the Secretary ignored all but
the broadest organizational outline of the NMNH Science Plan and advocated a top-down management scheme that would eliminate oversight of NMNH research by the NMNH Director and would further separate
management of Public Programs and Research. The Castle's model was presented to Regents in spite of grave concerns expressed by the NMNH National Board, members of the SI Council and numerous groups
and individuals among the SI research staff.
a. During the April 17 Town Meeting at NMNH Mr. Small stated that there was no detailed reorganization plan that was going to be presented to the Regents; however, statements made repeatedly to NMNH
staff by Dennis O'Connor and Tony Coates after the Regents meeting indicate that a plan had in fact been presented by the Office of the Secretary.
b. Dennis O'Connor and Tony Coates stated at several meetings with NMNH science staff that the Board of Regents voted to separate Public Programs from Research at SI and, therefore, any Science Plan
submitted for consideration by the Science Commission would require a revote by the Regents. However, disclosure of the vote that was taken by the Regents reveals only endorsement of "a new strategic
direction for Smithsonian science creating centers of research excellence" with no mention of separation of these two vital functions of the SI.
c. Despite promises that details of Dennis O'Connor's reorganization plan would be made public after the May 7 Regents meeting, and despite subsequent requests and promises afterwards, no
organizational plan or outline has been presented to anyone outside the Office of the Secretary.
d. The separation of research from public programs is not a new idea at the SI. Secretary Robert Mcc. Adams tried the same strategy during his tenure, 1984-1994, but this management structure
was abandoned because it proved unworkable in practice. Under Adams, all research staff reported to an Assistant Secretary for Research and all public programs staff reported to an Assistant
Secretary for Museums. The resulting confused lines of authority and lack of communication between research and public programs proved so detrimental that the earlier, and present, structure
e. The proposed centralization of science was explicitly rejected by the Commission on the Future of the Smithsonian in its 1995 report. This report, commissioned and endorsed by the Board of
Regents, advocated a decentralized management of research at the Smithsonian, after a two year long, careful, thoughtful study of the institution by an outside panel of experts.
3) Redirection of $3.5M of unrestricted funds (Source 402) to support "priority initiatives" in June 2000: This included confiscation of discretionary
funds generated through a variety of initiatives by the research staff (e.g., speaking fees, book royalties, etc.). Although this action was reversed two months later following protest by SI research
staff, no explanation was provided as to why the action had been taken in the first place and there was no acknowledgement that this decision was inappropriate. This action began the erosion of trust
between the Secretary and Smithsonian staff.
4) Surrendering control of SI exhibits to private donors: Large private donations for exhibits have been accepted without consultation of research
staff regarding the terms of the gifts or oversight of content. This began at NMNH with acceptance of a $20M gift from Kenneth G. Behring, which pre-empted the priorities of the carefully designed
Vision 2000 exhibits plan for NMNH. Problems with managing the schedule of payments and the diverse stipulations of this donation have impacted other exhibits throughout the museum. In recent
events, the Secretary has accepted large gifts from donors who have been allowed to dictate the content of future exhibit halls. In essence, they have been allowed to purchase advertising space in
the National Museum, despite the fact that the national museums were built and are primarily funded through tax dollars. We believe this practice is inappropriate for a public institution
5) Takeover of NMNH Congressional Family Night: Congressional Night is an event that was developed and continued by NMNH. This event had been worked
on by the Senate of Scientists and Special Events Office at NMNH beginning in October 2000 and was originally planned to take place in March of 2001. The March date was postponed because the SI
Office of Government Relations was made aware of a conflict in the Congressional calendar. The second date, May 5, was postponed because the Under Secretary for American Museums and National Programs
(Sheila Burke) had a conflict in her schedule. A third date of September 8 was targeted but Ms. Burke elected to postpone the NMNH event until Spring 2002 and begin a rotation of Congressional Family
nights among four museums, beginning with the NMAH in October 2001. This decision was made without consultation with the primary organizers of the event and without explanation why the NMAH event
should come first when the much of the work on NMNH event was completed and sponsors were already lined up. The Senate of Scientists sent a memo of protest to Sec. Small but received a dismissive and
negative response from Undersec. O'Connor.
6) Bypassing a review cycle for Scholarly Studies Fund proposals: The Scholarly Studies Program allots funds to SI research staff for research
projects for such expenses as research assistants, equipment, and travel to field sites or other museums. These funds were set aside for such research expenses when the U.S. Congress forbid
Smithsonian staff to apply for those types of funds from NEA, NEH and NSF. Because of necessary budget cuts the office of the Undersecretary for Science only funded one (not the usual two) cycles of
the Scholarly Studies program in FY 2000. In addition, in the following year, FY 2001 funding for only one cycle was provided. Essentially the funding for the program was cut in half both
years. The future of the Scholarly Studies Program remains unclear, particularly in light of the fact that the Office of the Secretary has renamed the Office of Fellowships and Grants as the
Office of Fellowships (see SI organization on SI web page).
7) Delay of announcements for Fellowships Program: The approval for sending out fellowship awards on the announced notification date of April 15th in
FY 2000 was delayed by two weeks, causing concern among many of the applicants. Although the program was advertised as usual for FY 2001 final approval for funding was withheld until after the
application deadline. Fellows make excellent use of our collections and maintain a high level of intellectual activity at the institution. However, the number of applicants declined this year, as the
most talented students turned to other funding sources to support their research. The future of the Fellowship Program remains uncertain.
8) Delay of peer performance evaluation reviews with no specified date when or if the reviews will be reinstated: A group of NMNH curators who were to
have their research and public outreach performance reviewed (for possible promotion) during Winter and Spring of 2001 were denied those reviews by decree of the Office of the Secretary. The stated
reason for the indefinitely delayed reviews was that there is no SI wide consistency in the evaluation quality. However, no steps are being taken to develop consistency. In addition, we believe
that the work practices and standards of biologists, anthropologists, astrophysicists, art historians, folklorists, geologists, and historians are so different that standards are cannot be applied
with any degree of consistency.
9) Threats to SI staff to not talk to the press: In a town hall meeting at the National Museum of American Art shortly after his arrival, Secretary
Small instructed the staff and docents/volunteers not to speak on their own to the media. The Public Affairs officers in the various Smithsonian units have also been instructed not to speak to
the media without clearance from the central office of Public Affairs, a radical change from earlier policy. It is our belief that it is illegal for the Secretary to forbid federal employees and
Smithsonian volunteers to speak to the media, a violation of sunshine and whistleblower laws. Top people at the Smithsonian attempted to block at least one media story, and employees were
excluded from the recent Press event to announce results of the Regents' meeting. Repeated attempts by staff to go through internal channels to obtain a copy of "Science for the 21st
Century," a document summarizing SI science for the Regents' meeting, were unproductive. Secretary Small has recently admitted that he cannot prevent federal staff and volunteers from speaking to the
media, but the perception remains that there will be reprisals against staff who do.
10) Proposal to revise criteria for supervisors that would make supervisee turnover rate a positive indicator of management success: This is
completely at odds with hiring and retaining the best possible scientific and collections staff, who typically become more valuable the longer they remain on their jobs. It reflects a management
style and philosophy that is incompatible with sustaining good science at the Smithsonian.
11) The announcement of the closing of SCMRE, to the Staff, was handled in aheavy handed, disrespectful, and contridictory manner: On April 4, 2001,
Dennis O'Connor held staff meeting at SCMRE, with only a few hours notice, to announce that the Center would be closed December 31, 2001 because it did not "fit within the Smithsonian's new science
plan". O'Connor informed the staff that they were all subject to a RIF (Reduction in Force) effective on the closing date, but would not be officially notified until October as the Institution
had no RIF authority from Congress. The staff was instructed to tell no one of the RIF. This edict was followed up on April 9, 2001 with a memo to the SCMRE Director from Mary Tanner for Dennis
O'Connor forbidding communication with the Media, Congress or the Public without first vetting it through the Deputy Secretary's Office, the Office of Public Affairs, and the Office of Government
Relations. In the April 4, 2001 meeting O'Connor also announced that representatives of the Smithsonian's Office of Human Resources were already scheduled to meet with staff to discuss benefits
and that a contract had already been let with an outside consulting firm to help staff with resume preparation and job searches. OHR has informed staff members that they are ineligible for
priority consideration given to RIFed employees in seeking other Federal positions until RIF notices are in hand, giving them only two months to apply. Scheduled seminars with the contract
consulting firm had been canceled or postponed until after the SI's Congressional Budget mark up for fear that Congress would learn of the unseemly rush to move SI staff out the door and take
umbrage. And under a directive from the Office of Public Affairs, the Museum Support Center (which houses SCMRE) is to keep the Media away from SCMRE.