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Fall 1998


by Jack Fellows
UCAR Vice President for Corporate Affairs

UCAR president Rick Anthes has asked me to reflect on my first year at UCAR. It's been a challenging but good year, and I've learned a lot about UCAR people, traditions, priorities, programs, and policies.

A little over 12 months ago, I sat in the White House Rose Garden watching President Clinton sign a piece of legislation that I had worked on. It was a bittersweet event. I had been there often, but this time was my last. I knew I would be leaving soon. Thirteen years had passed since I was asked to join the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). During this period, I had served under Presidents Reagan, Bush, and Clinton. My responsibilities had grown from a few hundred million dollars of science and technology programs to over $20 billion, and I now focused more on policy issues than on budgets. It had been a very demanding period, but also very exciting. Now I had a flurry of unexpected job offers, and it seemed to be time to go. At the end of the day, I turned in my White House access badge and left the building for the last time.

A few days later, I arrived in Boulder. Soon I was riding my bike through glorious mountain passes and beginning my parade through 70 homes, looking for the right one to buy. Mmy family joined me several months later--right around the time of a 31-inch snowstorm.

During my first months at work, I had a lot of help from my UCAR colleagues getting settled into my new UCAR position--actually, positions. My responsibilities include:

  • Vice President of Corporate Affairs: overseeing the Board of Trustees and related committees, government affairs, development, and communications.

  • Director of the UCAR Office of Programs: supporting the nine science, service, technology, and education programs that make up UOP.

  • Policy development: supporting a broad range of corporate policy functions.

  • Chairman of the Information Technology Council: focusing on adopting evolving technologies to better serve our organization and the UCAR science community.

    I knew there would be a steep learning curve with any new job and, with this broad collection of responsibilities, I thought my curve might be even steeper than usual. I was not wrong. But throughout the year many things have remained constant, particularly UCAR's goals and the high quality of the people working here. From my observation, NCAR and UCAR staff are well respected around the world. The UCAR goal is clearly serving the atmospheric sciences and related community in a broad range of ways.

    I'm not sure I fully appreciated the importance of governance by the 63-university consortium before I came--that is, the fact that the very community UCAR serves provides its governance. This creates an important and positive tension to ensure that UCAR makes the most effective investment on behalf of the community. The direct input of the university community involves a significant amount of energy in terms of trustee and member meetings, corporate and scientific planning, government affairs, and communication activities.

    UCAR is doing many important things on behalf of the community. I have had the privilege of participating in a few of them. With the risk of slighting other activities, I'll single out COSMIC and the ITC.

  • COSMIC (described in the last issue of the UCAR Quarterly) is a constellation of eight microsatellites that will measure the bending of GPS signals in the atmosphere, giving scientists a new way to obtain meteorological measurements and ultimately improving weather, climate, and ionosphere forecasting models. I think COSMIC is particularly important to the community because these inexpensive and simple spacecraft and instruments may revolutionize how forecasting and research are undertaken.

  • As part of its recent and very positive review of UCAR/NCAR, NSF requested UCAR to develop a plan on how it could adopt emerging information technologies (IT) to better serve UCAR and the entire UCAR scientific community. The ITC is about to publish its IT Strategic Plan and begin the implementation of a broad range of IT recommendations. Particularly, these recommendations will move UCAR toward object-oriented IT approaches for business and scientific functions. The approaches are three-tiered: we hope to incorporate a "middle IT layer" that will facilitate connections between users--the first tier--and data bases--the third tier. We have also identified things like plans, regulations, budgets, reports, models, presentations, and travel authorizations that are common to both science and business functions. These "objects" are programmed into the middleware. They represent UCAR's business and science "rules," can be easily changed, and can be reused in a variety of functions. The objects were identified during more than 75 hours of modeling sessions focused on how UCAR currently operates and should operate. We have shown this plan to expert consultants in the three-tier, object-modeling community and were told that we are in the top 1% of organizations that are doing this kind of modeling.

    Although I had known UCAR/NCAR since the early 1980s, I had a lot to learn about how the organization worked. I quickly had to adapt to a few important challenges:

    New budget and personnel issues. While my budget oversight dropped from around $20 billion to roughly $30 million, the character of the budget oversight changed radically, and the number of people directly and indirectly reporting to me rose by several orders of magnitude. The functions I oversee are funded largely through indirect cost pools, and I feel a significant responsibility to ensure that those functions are low in cost, are focused on the corporation's and community's highest priorities, and are very high in quality. I consider this to be earning the right to serve the corporation.

    Meetings. At OMB, meetings were usually heavily scripted and they were expected to be brief. Decisions were top-down and made fairly heavy-handedly. Meetings at UCAR are much more formative and participatory--and much longer! I quickly realized that UCAR's governance and structure, culture, and scientific focus demand this. For example, I participated in the NCAR planning retreat in June and found it very interesting how intensely the NCAR programs are reviewed and adjusted to reflect current community and scientific needs.

    Travel. I have traveled more in the last year than in 13 years at the White House.

    Work environment. At the White House, I wore dark suits and power ties. Here at UCAR, things are much less formal. I wear casual clothing, and I have a view of the mountains out of my windows. I feel quite privileged to be in such a beautiful setting. Work environment was one challenge that I quickly mastered.

    One final thing I'm proud of is being a member of Team UCAR in the Multiple Sclerosis 150 Mile Bike Tour. Thanks to "captain" Rick Anthes, we actually rode 175 miles and raised about $600 for this worthy cause. The team will be back for several other charity events this fall. This sense of service within UCAR extends both to the Boulder community and to the science community we serve. I'm proud to be a part of that tradition.

    Rick Anthes (left), Jack Fellows (middle), and GPS Science and Technology Program director Randolph Ware on the MS 150 Mile Bike Tour. (Photo courtesy of Jack Fellows.)


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