At the Smithsonian, we have a secret weapon at our disposal—a vast army of dedicated employees and volunteers who support all of our efforts across the Institution. These people, whose labors are often unseen by the public, are commonly known as “mission enablers.” They do the unsung work that makes it possible for us to increase knowledge and diffuse that information to the world, our founding mission that still guides us today.
Our mission enablers manage facilities and finances and take care of collections, conduct audience research and marketing, and connect with new audiences using new media and technologies. They keep our employees and visitors safe and turn our dreams of new buildings into reality. They navigate the legal intricacies inherent to the world’s largest museum and research complex. All allow us to push the boundaries of science, art, history, and culture and share that knowledge with the American people and the world through education and outreach.
My specialty has been in these mission-enabling services. When I came to the Smithsonian as Under Secretary for Finance and Administration and Chief Financial Officer in 2011, I became responsible for managing more than 2,200 employees in facilities and maintenance, human resources, security, and financial operations, all of which fall under the aegis of “mission enabling.” But as I reflect on my tenure as Acting Secretary, one of the invaluable insights I have gleaned is that in many ways, we are all mission enablers—our individual actions make collective achievement possible.
Pulling this all off may look easy from the outside, but it takes the efforts of many for the Smithsonian to operate smoothly. I have seen our colleagues clearing snow at four o’clock in the morning so our museums could open to the public, sometimes even when the rest of the government had closed for the day. Our animal-care staff at the Zoo and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute ensures that our “living collections” are healthy and well cared for. Exhibitions teams in our museums and at Exhibits Central collaborate with curators to plan and execute important programs across all areas of scholarship. Smithsonian educators breathe life into our displays and work to reach students of all ages in Washington D.C., across the United States, and throughout the world. This is a big organization with even bigger ambitions, and it takes a team effort to make all of this happen. We are fortunate to have dedicated, skilled, hard-working teammates who all contribute to our success.
For me, these experiences have reaffirmed my belief that behind the scenes, people in all jobs across the Smithsonian work together astonishingly well. The collaboration is off the charts. That pays off in the myriad ways we benefit constituents, visitors, researchers, and lifelong learners.
Having the opportunity to serve in this office has been a privilege. I was fortunate to take the reins after dynamic, principled leader Wayne Clough led us on our current course. As we prepare for the next era of the Smithsonian and our incoming Secretary, David Skorton, I know we are in a terrific position to build on our current momentum and hit new heights. Dr. Skorton knows how valuable all our mission enablers are. He recently told the Washingtonian magazine that he hopes to shine the light on all the people of the Smithsonian who work behind the scenes to help us achieve our mission. The focus is certainly well deserved, as the employees, volunteers, interns, and fellows who work here are equal parts creative, committed, and effective.
We all have different roles to play, but we are all necessary to achieve James Smithson’s grand mission that has guided us since our founding. It has been an honor working with you in the capacity of Acting Secretary over the past six months. As I return to my duties as Under Secretary, I thank you for all you do for the Smithsonian and for making this an immensely rewarding experience for me: you have taught me a lot! With Dr. Skorton at the helm and all of you supporting our efforts, I know that the Smithsonian will continue its bold quest to inspire the world with exciting discoveries, thought-provoking exhibitions, and illuminating educational programs. That is a mission to be proud of. Thank you.
Posted: 28 May 2015