Budget plan restores research center funds


President Bush's spending plan for the next fiscal year restores the $3.4 million budget of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, which had been eliminated under an earlier spending proposal.

Submitted to Congress yesterday, the fiscal 2003 federal spending proposal includes the salaries of 43 employees at the center, a leading facility for research on Chesapeake Bay ecology and on coastal ecosystems worldwide.

In a preliminary federal spending plan prepared by the federal Office of Management and Budget late last year, the budget for the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center - known as SERC - would have been transferred to the National Science Foundation.

"We're pleased by the decision that OMB made," said Ross B. Simons, SERC's director for four years and a 30-year employee of the Smithsonian Institution.

Simons had said that the proposed cuts threatened the existence of SERC because its scientists would have had to compete for their salaries and for money to fund their research. A small portion of SERC's $3.4 million budget is used for research, but most of the money goes toward salaries and the center's operating costs, he said.

"We look forward to continuing the high-quality research we do at SERC and serving the public," Simons said.

Scientists at the 36-year-old center - located on 2,700 acres and 12 miles of shoreline on the Rhode River - manage 48 projects with $19 million in grants awarded by public and private organizations.

The center has been recognized for its blue crab studies. Under the direction of marine ecologist Anson Hines, the center's assistant director, SERC scientists have conducted fundamental work on the behavior of the blue crab.

Other research activities include a long-term study of how ultraviolet rays affect marine life and a project that involves the sampling of ballast water from ships entering the United States to test for potentially dangerous microorganisms.

Although the president's fiscal 2003 budget proposal restores money to SERC, the spending plan states that the Bush administration generally supports a competitive, merit-based process in awarding federal research dollars. The Smithsonian Institution does not award research money on a competitive basis, according to budget documents.

Under the budget proposal, an outside group would be appointed to review all Smithsonian research funding to recommend how much of its money should be awarded competitively.

Simons said he does not know the details of the research budget review but that "we welcome any study."

The president's proposed budget also restores money that would have been shifted to the National Science Foundation from two other Smithsonian research sites, in Panama and Cambridge, Mass.

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