UCAR Communications


staff notes monthly

March 2004

It's a go:
NCAR reorganization
plan gets green light

The UCAR Board of Trustees has approved NCAR's reorganization plan, which will help the center place a greater focus on broad, interdisciplinary initiatives and make it easier to carry out research with its partners in the university community.

"The reorganization will allow us to respond to the changing world of atmospheric sciences in a way that will best serve the community and the nation,” explains NCAR director Tim Killeen. “These changes will better align NCAR’s structure with our strategic priorities, help facilitate multidisciplinary research, and nurture complementary activities across NCAR divisions and with our university partners.”
Tim Killeen

The trustees approved the plan on February 25. The NCAR Directors Committee and the UCAR President's Council had endorsed the plan unanimously on January 7.

The plan organizes NCAR into five large sections, or laboratories, with broad themes such as Sun, Weather, and Climate (see chart).

It also enhances the Advanced Studies Program and creates new institutes that will pull together scientific programs across NCAR. One of these, the Institute for Mathematics Applied to the Geosciences (IMAGe), will build on existing geophysical statistics and geophysical turbulence programs and the data assimilation strategic initiative. Another, Earth System Studies (ESS), will build on NCAR’s biogeoscience, wildfire, and water cycle strategic initiatives. In addition, ESIG will be expanded and given a new name: Institute for the Study of Society and Environment (ISSE).

NCAR's new organization chart.

The plan incorporates key features of a draft submitted last year by a realignment committee that was chaired by NCAR deputy director Larry Winter. But it departs from that recommendation in one important aspect: the creation of an organizational chart that is cleaner and easier to interpret. The new plan is now being referred to as a reorganization, rather than a realignment.

Implementation will be phased in over a period of about 12 to 18 months, beginning in June. To work out the many details, Larry and UCAR vice president of finance and administration Katy Schmoll are co-chairing an implementation committee, comprising staff members drawn from across the institution.

The committee faces a number of scientific and administrative questions. On the scientific side, it will address how to implement and manage the plan to emphasize overarching research themes, such as modeling mass and energy through the whole Sun-Earth cycle. On the administrative side, it will address such key issues as the salaries of the directors of the new labs and the amount of administrative staff they need, which are important challenges in a time of tight budgets.

“We’re going to do this very carefully,” Larry says. “This is an opportunity to make our organization more efficient, as well as more focused on major scientific themes.”

Larry Winter

One implementation subcommittee in particular, the Strategic Integrative Science Committee, will examine management issues related to strategic integrative science and how to facilitate interactions across NCAR and into the community.

The big picture

The reaorganization has two primary goals. One is to place a larger focus on broad themes in the atmospheric sciences, such as Earth’s water cycle
and interactions among the Sun, atmosphere, oceans, and land cover. This will require building on and strengthening the already strong disciplinary science at NCAR. The other is to encourage even more collaboration, both within the center and between the center and the broader research community.

These changes come at an important time for NCAR. The National Research Council's Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate is carrying out a study to determine the best ways for NSF to support the atmospheric sciences community. UCAR will also face competition in three years when NSF opens bidding for management of NCAR to other institutions. At the same time, funding for many types of research is becoming tight.

“It is important to have an NCAR that is organized in as efficient and productive a way as possible to address the most important problems in atmospheric and related science and to support the universities as we move into these
next few years,” says UCAR president Rick Anthes.

Positioning NCAR within the nation’s scientific community means emphasizing the type of science that cannot easily be handled by a small number of atmospheric researchers at a university. An example is the development of a Sun-Earth System Model, which would require the contributions of all five laboratories, each with clearly defined roles. Such a project would integrate theory, computational science, observations, and experimentation, thereby integrating the efforts and talents of staffers across NCAR.

“A national center has got to take a comprehensive view of things,” Larry explains.

The reorganization seeks to achieve this goal in several ways:

  • It creates an executive committee that will comprise top managers in the NCAR directorate office, the directors of the five new laboratories, and a representative from the NCAR Scientist Assembly. The committee will be charged with promoting integration, both across NCAR and with outside universities and other agencies.

  • It orients scientific activities along broad themes. For example, ACD, CGD, HAO, and MMM, all of which study fundamental aspects of the Earth’s atmosphere and the larger Sun-Earth system, will be grouped in a single laboratory.

  • Through the new institutes, it focuses on broad, interdisciplinary areas while maintaining disciplinary strengths.

  • It places a greater emphasis on “cross-cutting” initiatives that will encompass several laboratories. To foster this, a number of scientist positions may be joint appointments to two divisions.

The reorganization is also designed to facilitate and strengthen collaboration with the atmospheric science community by bringing community members into the organization as visitors, graduate fellows, advisors, and in some cases rotating managers. NCAR will also look for opportunities to enter strategic partnerships with other institutions.

Some of the new programs are intended for close interaction with outside researchers. IMAGe, for example, will work with two other mathematical centers: the Statistical and Applied Mathematical Sciences Institute in North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park and the Institute for Pure and Applied Mathematics at the University of California, Los Angeles. The executive committee also will play a role in ensuring continued collaboration with the larger research community.

“With the reorganization, we will foster a cultural change that will make NCAR a more open, participatory, and responsive organization,” Tim says.

Budget challenges

The reorganization comes at a time of large federal deficits, and NCAR may be facing a period of flat funding. This fiscal year, the organization is not expected to get a significant funding boost from NSF, and the outlook for next year remains uncertain.

“Keeping the costs down is definitely an important issue in any budget year,” Rick says. “We need to make this work without increasing the bureaucracy. We also need to contain the superinflationary growth of costs in other areas, such as employee benefits and other indirect costs. These are not easy times.”

Tim has set forth a goal of “go as you pay.” To accomplish this, Tim says, NCAR initially will fill many positions from within. For example, SCD director Al Kellie will act as the director of the Computational and Information Systems Laboratory (which will comprise SCD and IMAGe), and RAP director Brant Foote will act as director of the Science Applications Laboratory (which will comprise RAP and the new Development Test Center).

NCAR has not yet determined how the top position in the Sun, Weather, and Climate Laboratory will be filled. Tim says that one option under discussion is to set up a rotation among existing directors and promote the respective deputies to full division directors during the period of rotation.

Larry also says administrative costs will be held down as much as possible. For example, the implementation committee will look into whether current budget and planning staff members may be able to handle work for the new sections. At a minimum, the front office of each laboratory will have an associate director and an administrative assistant. The front offices will not hire numerous administrative staff.

As Larry says, “This is an opportunity to make our organization more efficient.”


The new laboratories

The five new laboratories are organized in a thematic way to align with NCAR’s mission. Each laboratory will have primary, but not exclusive, responsibility for a specific aspect of NCAR’s mission. All laboratories will participate in every mission area to some degree.

Sun, Weather, and Climate Laboratory—Plan, organize, and conduct atmospheric and related research programs in collaboration with universities and other institutions.

Earth Observing Laboratory and Computational and Information Systems Laboratory—Provide state-of-the-art research tools and facilities to the atmospheric sciences community.

Advanced Studies, Education, and Training—Support and enhance NCAR’s role in atmospheric and related science education.

Scientific Applications Laboratory—Transfer technology to the public and private sectors.


For more information:

The Reorganization Communications Committee

Also in this issue...

The importance of early warnings

Kaye Howe wins YWCA award

COMET staffer writes science fantasy

Scientific American recognizes NCAR scientists

Delphi Question: Foothills Lab Crosswalk

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