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Budget stress at NCAR: Management weighs in

The text below is drawn from a statement released from UCAR president Richard Anthes and NCAR director Eric Barron on 8 August in the wake of media and community interest in NCAR’s recent program cutbacks and overall budget situation.

NCAR, like many universities and other research institutions in the United States, continues to face extraordinary budget pressures, due to the decreases in real terms in federal funding for science. NSF and many other government agencies that support science have faced significant budgetary stringencies. Over the past five years NCAR has had to lay off approximately 55 people and has lost another 77 positions due to attrition, totaling roughly 16% of NCAR positions, because of sub-inflationary NSF funding and decreases in other-agency support. 

Over the past five years we have had to make painful cuts in all areas of our scientific and facilities programs—including climate, weather, atmospheric chemistry, solar physics, and certain computational and observational facilities and services. In addition, this year we have postponed all UCAR and NCAR raises from fiscal year 2008 to FY09.

Despite these negative impacts, NCAR, together with the UCAR Board of Trustees and NSF, has worked to support important priorities in computing, observing facilities, modeling, and other areas that are essential for a national center. Unfortunately, this year we are projecting a shortfall of $8 million (about 10%) in our NSF base budget and must plan for a worst-case shortfall next year of roughly $10 million.

NCAR is continuing to take actions to address this shortfall, including reducing the NCAR director’s reserve to zero for the coming year, reducing the number of administrative positions, and making additional program reductions. On 4 August we made the difficult decision to close the Center for Capacity Building. This action was not taken lightly, but the budget shortfalls are so severe that every additional budget cut impacts high-quality work in some area of NCAR’s contributions to society.

We are working to increase the resources available to the community, including NCAR, and we remain committed to a scientific program at NCAR that integrates societal needs with research in the atmospheric and related sciences.

UCAR, along with other partners including the American Meteorological Society, has developed transition materials for the next administration and Congress on what our nation needs to become more resilient to severe weather and climate change impacts. We urge the community to support our efforts to reverse the prolonged decline in science budgets in the United States.


In May, the center dissolved the administrative structure of SERE (Societal-Environmental Research and Education Laboratory). One component of SERE, the Center for Capacity Building, was eliminated in August. Another SERE component, the Advanced Study Program (ASP), is now housed within the NCAR Director’s Office. There, Maura Hagan will continue as ASP director while also serving as NCAR deputy director, a move that will reduce administrative costs.

SERE’s other major program, the Institute for the Study of Society and Environment (ISSE), will now be managed and administrated through NCAR’s Research Applications Laboratory (RAL). The move extends a number of strong research collaborations that already exist between the two groups, says ISSE interim director Lawrence Buja. He adds that ISSE brings a unique social-sciences capability to RAL and NCAR in the areas of weather, climate, and health.

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