Smithsonian Institution Offers Buyouts to Reduce Its Workforce

By Jacqueline Trescott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Smithsonian Institution is offering all of its employees a voluntary buyout plan to reduce its workforce, meet its tightened budget goals and restructure the organization to match the principles of its new strategic plan.

The buyout offer was announced Monday in an internal e-mail to the Smithsonian's 6,000 workers, who are either federal employees or trust fund personnel, the latter of whom are paid through the Smithsonian's unrestricted nongovernmental accounts. The plan also includes employees at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

About 4,000 of the Smithsonian's employees are federal workers; the rest are trust fund employees.

When the Smithsonian last proposed a buyout in 2003, approximately 240 employees accepted the offer. In the new action, the institution said, the buyout amounts will vary but in no case will exceed $25,000.

"The highest priorities in refilling positions will be given to scientific, scholarly and curatorial positions aligned with the strategic plan, those necessary given legal and audit requirements, and those that bear on the demonstrated safety of visitors, staff and volunteers," said Alison McNally, the undersecretary for finance and administration, in a statement.

The Smithsonian is the world's largest group of museums and research centers. It is made up of 18 museums with a planned National Museum of African American History and Culture due to open in 2015. It includes the National Zoo and other facilities, such as the STRI operation in Panama, a leading research institute devoted to biodiversity.

The Smithsonian received $731.4 million from the federal government in fiscal 2009, which is 70 percent of its overall budget.

At a meeting of the Smithsonian Board of Regents last week, Secretary G. Wayne Clough introduced a plan to reorganize the Smithsonian from fiscal 2010 to 2015. He said the changes would be centered on designing an "interdisciplinary outlook that combines our disparate strengths in ways that increase perspective and impact." He also offered a road map for a "21st-century Smithsonian" that included "an entrepreneurial culture that leverages emerging technology, rewards innovation and invents new business models that help us build capacity and extend our reach."

By 2015, Clough said, he hopes the Smithsonian will be organized around four purposes: unlocking the mysteries of the universe, understanding and sustaining a biodiverse planet, valuing world cultures and understanding the American experience.

Those eligible for the buyout have until Nov. 6 to notify the Smithsonian's human resources office. They must have been continuously employed by the Smithsonian for the past three years and must retire or resign no later than Jan. 2.

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