To understand the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) and the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and their relationship with the university community and the National Science Foundation (NSF), it is helpful to consider the origins of this special coalition and the ongoing leadership provided by the universities. This intrinsic university role has been continuous since NCAR's founding and affects all aspects of UCAR and NCAR.


In 1956 the president of the National Academy of Sciences appointed a Committee on Meteorology to undertake a searching examination of the status of research in atmospheric sciences. The committee consisted of nine prominent scientists from the community, six of whom were in scientific disciplines other than meteorology and hence able to view the state of research on the atmosphere with broad objectivity and detachment. After more than a dozen meetings, the committee made its recommendations to the academy in February 1958. These were (1) that basic research at the universities be substantially augmented, and (2) that a National Institute for Atmospheric Research be established.

The university community responded quickly and by the end of February had organized the University Committee on Atmospheric Research and initiated a planning process to respond to the academy's recommendations. In July representatives from 14 universities endorsed the establishment of a non-profit corporation to foster support of meteorological research at the universities, organize and operate a National Institute for Atmospheric Research, and support the education and training of the personnel required to carry on an expanded program of atmospheric research.

Twelve of the 14 universities announced in October their decision to band together and assume the responsibility for organizing and operating the new institute. A major milestone in realizing this initiative was reached on March 16, 1959, when the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research was established as a non- profit Colorado corporation

to acquire, construct, establish, own, equip and operate an institute for atmospheric research and other laboratories and facilities for atmospheric research and for research in related fields.
The first meeting of the UCAR Board of Trustees was held on April 2, 1959. Later in the year, UCAR signed a contract with NSF to operate the institute, renamed the National Center for Atmospheric Research, with support from NSF. The UCAR trustees recruited Dr. Walter Orr Roberts as the first director of NCAR and president of UCAR, and in June of 1960 NCAR and UCAR were formally established with headquarters in Boulder, Colorado. Roberts described the goals that the universities, NSF, and UCAR's first leaders set for the new center:
First in our purposes was for NCAR to be an intellectual center where basic science of the utmost quality would be cultivated both through the research of the permanent staff and through cooperative work with scientists from other research and educational institutions in the United States, Canada, and abroad.
More than 35 years later, the basic mission of UCAR has remained remarkably true to the vision of Roberts and the university founders of UCAR and NCAR. That mission, as it is articulated today, is
to support, enhance, and extend the capabilities of the university community, nationally and internationally; to understand the behavior of the atmosphere and related systems and the global environment; and to foster the transfer of knowledge and technology for the betterment of life on earth.


The symbiotic relationship among the universities, UCAR, NCAR, and NSF has been essential to the planning, management, oversight, operation, resource allocation, and review of NCAR since the very beginning. This multifaceted management structure has few, if any, analogs with other organizations. It reflects the vital stakes of the participants in the partnership and the relatively small size and collegiality of the atmospheric sciences community. (A list of UCAR members and affiliates appears on the inside cover of this document.) A senior scientist at NCAR recently observed, after a lengthy description of the management structure to a foreign colleague, "Come to think of it, the relationship between NCAR, UCAR, NSF, and universities is quite complicated. Interestingly, it seems to work. Allowing universities to oversee NCAR through UCAR ensures that NCAR performs its research and service to meet the needs of various universities and to advance our science with strong collaboration with university scientists."

The positive nature of the most recent community-based reviews of NCAR demonstrates that "the system," which has evolved in an empirical way over the 36 years of UCAR history, does indeed work very well. Key to this success have been three overarching paradigms:

  1. involvement of the universities in all aspects of UCAR and NCAR's structure and activities, including governance; defining the UCAR and NCAR missions; developing strategic plans; setting goals and priorities; collaborating in research, educational, technical, and other activities; and conducting regular peer reviews of UCAR and NCAR;

  2. setting of general strategies, goals, and priorities by consensus-building among the stakeholders, including NCAR scientists, UCAR and NCAR management, university scientists, NSF program directors, and members of the larger national and international scientific community; and

  3. "bottoms up" development of specific ideas and plans, consistent with overall community priorities and the UCAR and NCAR missions, by the creative scientists, engineers, and educators in NCAR, the universities, and UCAR.

The roles of the key players implementing these paradigms are discussed in Section VII. In summary, the development, review, and evolution of priorities and goals at NCAR and UCAR are based on a multifaceted, iterative consensus-building process involving NSF, the UCAR members' representatives, the Board of Trustees, UCAR and NCAR managerial and scientific staff, and the university community at large. It is a distinctly non-hierarchical process that evolves continuously.


UCAR and NCAR management enables the NCAR staff and collaborators to achieve the highest levels of accomplishment in NCAR's mission areas-science, facilities, education, and technology transfer. In so doing, management encourages and facilitates the attributes that a national center must have to be successful. Accordingly, management has adopted the following philosophy and objectives:

  1. NCAR's programs must be of the highest quality for it to lead, to serve as a focal point for the scientific community, and to meet responsibilities to its sponsors and the tax-paying public whose dollars support the center.

  2. NCAR must interact extensively and effectively among disciplines within its own programs and with universities and other organizations nationally and globally and entrain participants into its research program from the broader community. Without such interactions the center cannot be responsive to the needs of the broader community and would fail to meet its purpose of extending and complementing the research and educational programs of the universities.

  3. NCAR must undertake an appropriate scope of activities and in particular must address important and challenging problems requiring teams of people working together over extended periods of time.

  4. NCAR as a center must possess sufficient breadth to address the important multidisciplinary problems inherent in the atmospheric sciences and also to ensure that it can interact with the breadth of talent within the university community.

  5. NCAR must be responsive to the needs of its constituencies. Because of NCAR's role as a national center, its constituents are many and include its sponsors (particularly its principal sponsor, NSF), the universities, and the public.

  6. NCAR must be able to adapt in a timely manner to new opportunities and must lead in helping to create new opportunities.

  7. Management must create an environment that is supportive of its staff. Any organization's success depends critically upon the quality of the staff. It is management's responsibility to attract and retain excellent staff members who work together to achieve individual and collective goals. Management must ensure that staff members are given the opportunity to grow to their full potential. Creating this kind of nurturing environment requires that the institution provide competitive compensation and the resources needed to do the work, involve staff in priority-setting processes, and communicate those priorities effectively and regularly at all levels.

  8. Management must provide high-quality administrative support in a cost-efficient manner. Management must also develop and implement fair and consistent policies for employees and visitors. Essential administrative support also includes providing the space and facilities necessary to enable the research, technology, education, and other parts of the NCAR mission to be accomplished.

  9. A final ingredient in successful management is fiscal responsibility and integrity, to ensure that the institution's financial resources are used effectively and efficiently.

High-quality management is an essential part of any organization. As summarized in the next section, the quality of NCAR's divisions and programs has been found to be very high and its support to the community through facilities excellent. Evidence of the quality and relevance of NCAR's staff and programs is found throughout this document. By following its management philosophy and meeting its objectives, UCAR and NCAR management plays an important leadership and support role in making NCAR the success it is.


In 1996, the third year of the present five-year cooperative agreement between UCAR and NSF, NSF conducted a review of NCAR divisions and programs using seven community-based peer-review panels. The Scientific Programs Evaluation Committee (SPEC) [SPEC Members: Franco Einaudi, NASA, Chair; Eric Varron, Pennsylvania State University; William Cotton, Colorado State University; Paul Hays, University of Michigan; William Merrell, Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment; Joyce Penner, University of Michigan; Albert Semtner, Naval Postgraduate School ] of the UCAR members participated in the review process by nominating potential reviewers for NSF consideration, providing two observers to each review panel, and reporting on the effectiveness of the review to the UCAR members. The review panel reports, as well as NSF's summary of the review process and UCAR and NCAR's responses, have been provided to the panel under separate cover.

The NSF summary cites three central findings of the reviews just completed that are directly relevant to the current review:

  1. Quality of the science is very good to excellent, often unique, and, for the most part, befitting for and greatly enabled by a center environment;

  2. Service to the community is of high quality, responsive, and fulfills the vast majority of internal and external (to NCAR) researchers' needs.

  3. Scientific and managerial leadership within each entity reviewed is highly regarded and is considered a significant factor in enabling the very positive findings on items I and II.

In addition to these central findings, each of the individual divisional review panels made comments pertinent to the current review. Each review panel noted the positive impact of the programs of the individual NCAR divisions on the quality of the nation's atmospheric and related sciences. Selected third-year review panel comments, such as the one below, are quoted verbatim throughout this document.

These divisional reviews have provided clear evidence that NCAR, as a scientific center, is unique in its breadth of activities and is fulfilling the mission expected of it by its constituents in universities and laboratories that are involved in atmospheric research and education.

"In the opinion of the panel, NCAR is an essential facility ensuring prominence of the U.S. in all parts of atmospheric science worldwide."

The reviews, as would be expected, also identified some issues to be addressed. NSF provided UCAR and NCAR management with an analysis of the overarching issues identified by the reviewers and responses were submitted to the foundation.