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Spring 1998

NSF review of UCAR proposal to continue the management and operation of NCAR

On 18-20 November 1997, an NSF-appointed panel met in Boulder to review UCAR's proposal to NSF for the continued management and operation of NCAR. The proposal, "NCAR and UCAR at the Millennium: A Vision for Science, Facilities, Service, and Leadership," describes the shared vision of UCAR and NCAR staff and the UCAR Board of Trustees for the next five years and beyond. This forward-looking proposal builds upon "NCAR--Science, Facilities, and Service" , prepared for the NSF panel that met in April 1997 to review NCAR's accomplishments and UCAR and NCAR management. A lot of effort went into preparing these documents, and I think you will find them interesting to read. I reported on the April review in the Summer 1997 issue of the UCAR Quarterly. In this column I summarize the results of the November 1997 review.

The NSF Review Panel comprised a broad group of highly qualified scientists from universities and research laboratories (see sidebar). The panel was charged with reviewing UCAR's proposal under two broad NSF review criteria: (1) What is the intellectual merit of the proposed activity and (2) What are the broader impacts of the proposed activity. Each panel member was asked to submit a written review of the proposal before the November meeting. Issues from these reports were summarized and provided to UCAR and NCAR management for their response and discussion during the meeting. The panel met with UCAR and NCAR management; John Snow, chairman of the UCAR Board of Trustees; and representatives from each NCAR division and program. Dick Greenfield, Cliff Jacobs, Jewel Prendeville, and Phyllis Hurley represented NSF.

The 1997 proposal requests a renewal of the present five-year cooperative agreement between UCAR and NSF, which expires on 30 September 1998. That agreement called for a two-part review process. The first part of the process was a review by expert panels (about seven scientists per panel) of the NCAR divisions during 1996. The second part was the overall review of NCAR and of NCAR and UCAR management in April 1997. The UCAR Scientific Programs Evaluation Committee (SPEC), chaired by Franco Einaudi (NASA), participated actively in these reviews. These earlier reviews made it possible for the November 1997 panel to concentrate on the UCAR strategic proposal for the next five years (fiscal years 1998 through 2002).

We (the UCAR trustees and UCAR and NCAR staff) were pleased with the overall positive review, which examined virtually all aspects of NCAR and UCAR and our relationship with the universities:

The unanimous view of the panel is that NCAR, under UCAR's management, has unquestionably served the atmospheric science community very well. The program is excellent.

The panel also commented favorably on a number of specific aspects of the NCAR and UCAR programs, including, for example, community models (such as the Climate System Model, the Chemical Transport Model, several mesoscale models, and the Thermosphere-Ionosphere-Mesosphere-Electrodynamics general circulation model), the Solar Magnetism Initiative, development of the next-generation high-performance instrumented airborne research platform, the U.S. Weather Research Program, many educational and training activities, and the increasing emphasis on societal impacts of weather and climate. The panel also commented favorably on the strong efforts by UCAR and NCAR to increase the participation of underrepresented groups in the atmospheric sciences through SOARS (Significant Opportunities in Atmospheric Research and Science).

The panel recognized the importance of university involvement in NCAR's and UCAR's activities.

Because of the complex, interdisciplinary nature of the important problems facing atmospheric science, a National Center for Atmospheric Research with strong ties to the nation's intellectual pool in the universities is essential for the solution of these problems.

The stability of NCAR and its partnership with the university community are particularly important at a time when the nation is in a critical period where national and international policy decisions increasingly depend upon timely and reliable estimates of the environment's response to human activities.

And finally, the panel reaffirmed the importance of having the UCAR consortium of universities manage and operate the national center on behalf of NSF.

Having addressed all of these questions, the unanimous view of the panel is that UCAR's management of NCAR has unquestionably served the atmospheric science community very well. UCAR's program management has been and can be projected with confidence to be excellent.

UCAR is uniquely qualified to manage NCAR in a manner that fosters a broad scientific program of the highest quality--one that positions the U.S. atmospheric sciences so that they are preeminent in the world.

These positive findings led to the first specific recommendation from the panel:

The review panel strongly recommends that the cooperative agreement for the operation of NCAR for the next five years be renewed and that NSF be authorized to negotiate this agreement with the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research.

The panel then made three recommendations to UCAR and NCAR. The first concerns the balance of NSF and non-NSF funding and the impacts of non-NSF-funded projects at NCAR. The panel recommended that UCAR management review the mechanisms that it uses to monitor the impacts of non-NSF funding and also noted that NSF should continue its careful review of the overall balance of funding sources and their implications.

Members of the NSF review panel

Edward Hayes, vice president for research, University of Ohio (chairman)

Marcia Baker, professor of atmospheric sciences and geophysics, University of Washington

Stephen Cox, head, Department of Atmospheric Sciences, Colorado State University

Nancy Crooker, research professor, Center for Space Physics, Boston University

Dana Hartley, professor, School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Georgia Institute of Technology

Carl Kreitzberg, professor, Department of Physics and Atmospheric Sciences, Drexel University

Jerry Mahlman, director, Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, NOAA and Princeton University

Jerry Melillo, co-director, Ecosystem Center of the Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole Institution of Oceanography

Philip Merilees, superintendent, Marine Meteorology Division, Naval Research Laboratory

James Pitts, professor, Department of Chemistry, University of California, Irvine

Thomas Potter, National Weather Service Western Region, Salt Lake City

Jeffrey Thayer, SRI International

We understand the potential problems associated with non-NSF funding. This panel and previous reviews have noted that non-NSF funds have significantly strengthened the overall NCAR program. These funds are not pursued for the sake of growth, but rather to allow us more fully to carry out our missions and to meet the expectations placed upon NCAR by the broad community, consistent with the long-range plans of NSF and the UCAR community.

We will remain vigilant in the acquisition and use of funds from sources other than NSF. In particular, we will continue to monitor the nature, scope, and quality of non-NSF-funded projects through a number of formal mechanisms. These include the integration of non-NSF-sponsored programs into the annual Program Plan developed by NCAR and submitted annually to NSF's Division of Atmospheric Sciences (ATM). We also carefully review all proposals before submission, following a set of five criteria that were established in concert with NSF/ATM and the University Relations Committee. These criteria include consistency with NCAR's mission, absence of unfair competition with the universities, university collaboration, community benefit, and the basis for cosponsorship, where appropriate. Other mechanisms include advice from the NCAR Divisional Advisory Committees and review by NCAR and UCAR management, the UCAR Board of Trustees, and the University Relations Committee.

The panel went on to recommend a streamlined, two-part review process for the next five-year cooperative agreement, which would include an in-depth science review of each NCAR division followed by an overall review of UCAR/NCAR management combined with a review of research plans for NCAR. We responded that we will work with NSF to develop a review process that retains the quality and thoroughness required of such a review and meets NSF and community needs, while reducing the amount of time required.

Finally, the panel recommended that NCAR management foster appropriate levels of attention over the coming years to the areas of surface hydrology, air quality, and space weather. We agreed with the panel that these three areas, like other specific areas that were not highlighted in the proposal because of space limitations, are important. Indeed, there are significant efforts under way in these areas, and they are important to the NCAR vision for the next five years.

We also pointed out that with limited resources NCAR cannot be as prominent in all areas of atmospheric science as might be desirable. Therefore, we will continue to work with the university community and other parts of the national and international atmospheric sciences community through a variety of collaborative efforts, partnerships, and strategic alliances.

I would like to express my deepest appreciation to everyone involved in making NCAR and UCAR the institutions of excellence that they are: the UCAR and NCAR staff, our visitors and collaborators from around the world, NSF and our other sponsors, the UCAR Members' Representatives and Board of Trustees and their committees, the University Relations Committee, the NSF and SPEC reviewers, and all the other UCAR and NCAR advisory committees.

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Edited by Carol Rasmussen, carolr@ucar.edu
Prepared for the Web by Jacque Marshall
Last revised: Tue Apr 4 14:51:09 MDT 2000