Executive Summary

In its fiscal year 2002 budget summary document1 the Bush administration expressed concern—based in part on the findings and conclusions of two National Research Council studies2—about recent trends in the federal funding of astronomy and astrophysics research. The President’s budget blueprint suggested that now is the time to address these concerns and directed the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to establish a blue ribbon panel to (1) assess the organizational effectiveness of the federal research enterprise in astronomy and astrophysics, (2) consider the pros and cons of transferring NSF’s astronomy responsibilities to NASA, and (3) suggest alternative options for addressing issues in the management and organization of astronomical and astrophysical research. NASA and NSF asked the National Research Council to carry out the rapid assessment requested by the President. This report, focusing on the roles of NSF and NASA, provides the results of that assessment.

Overall, the federal organizations that support work in astronomy and astrophysics manage their programs effectively. These programs

1  

Executive Office of the President, A Blueprint for New Beginnings: A Responsible Budget for America’s Priorities, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 2001.

2  

The two National Research Council reports are Federal Funding of Astronomical Research (2000) and Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium (2001), National Academy Press, Washington, D.C.



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U.S. Astronomy and Astrophysics: Managing an Integrated Program Executive Summary In its fiscal year 2002 budget summary document1 the Bush administration expressed concern—based in part on the findings and conclusions of two National Research Council studies2—about recent trends in the federal funding of astronomy and astrophysics research. The President’s budget blueprint suggested that now is the time to address these concerns and directed the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to establish a blue ribbon panel to (1) assess the organizational effectiveness of the federal research enterprise in astronomy and astrophysics, (2) consider the pros and cons of transferring NSF’s astronomy responsibilities to NASA, and (3) suggest alternative options for addressing issues in the management and organization of astronomical and astrophysical research. NASA and NSF asked the National Research Council to carry out the rapid assessment requested by the President. This report, focusing on the roles of NSF and NASA, provides the results of that assessment. Overall, the federal organizations that support work in astronomy and astrophysics manage their programs effectively. These programs 1   Executive Office of the President, A Blueprint for New Beginnings: A Responsible Budget for America’s Priorities, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 2001. 2   The two National Research Council reports are Federal Funding of Astronomical Research (2000) and Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium (2001), National Academy Press, Washington, D.C.

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U.S. Astronomy and Astrophysics: Managing an Integrated Program have enabled dramatic scientific progress, and they show excellent promise of continuing to do so. Nonetheless, the existing management structure for the U.S. astronomy and astrophysics research enterprise is not optimally positioned to address the concerns posed by the mounting changes and trends that will affect the future health of the field. The existing management structure for astronomy and astrophysics research separates the ground- and space-based astronomy programs. NSF has responsibility for the former and NASA has responsibility for the latter. The ground-based optical/infrared observatories funded by private and state resources constitute an important third component of the system. In astronomical and astrophysical research, NASA’s strength has been the support of work related to major space missions. NSF’s strength in astronomy and astrophysics has been the support of a broad spectrum of basic research motivated by the initiative of individuals and small groups in the scientific community and by its role in assuring the continued availability of broadly educated scientists. The NSF also funds research in related fields such as physics, geophysics, computation, chemistry, and mathematics, providing a broad multidisciplinary context for astronomy and astrophysics research that can promote productive connections among these fields. Three important changes have occurred in the field over the last two decades. First, ground- and space-based research activities have become increasingly interdependent as well as increasingly reliant on large facilities, major missions, and international collaborations. Second, NASA’s relative role in astronomy and astrophysics research has grown markedly. (In 1980, most of the research grants in the fields of astronomy and astrophysics were provided by NSF. Today, most of the grants are provided by NASA.)3 And third, large state-of-the-art optical/infrared telescopes built with non-federal funds now dominate this component of ground-based astronomy. These changes necessitate systematic, comprehensive, and coordinated planning in order to sustain and maximize the flow of scientific benefits from the federal, state, and private investments that are being made in astronomy and astrophysics facilities and missions. The increasing financial and intellectual demands to be met by more than one nation in supporting large projects, particularly on the ground, require that the United States develop a unified planning and execution structure to effectively participate in such international ventures. To develop the needed integrated and comprehensive strategy for the field, the committee rec- 3   This trend was noted in Federal Funding of Astronomical Research.

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U.S. Astronomy and Astrophysics: Managing an Integrated Program ommends the formation of an interagency planning board for astronomy and astrophysics. The Committee on the Organization and Management of Research in Astronomy and Astrophysics was charged to consider, among other options, moving NSF’s astronomy responsibilities to NASA.4 Such a move would consolidate the bulk of the federal programs5 in a single agency and, to some degree, integrate space- and ground-based astronomy. The committee concluded, however, that moving NSF’s astronomy and astrophysics activities to NASA would have a net disruptive effect on scientific work. Because of its combined commitment to investigator-initiated research, interdisciplinary research, and educating the scientists of the future, NSF is the right institution to sponsor ground-based astronomy and astrophysics. And further, such a move would not necessarily address integration of the third component of the system (i.e., the ground-based optical/infrared private and state observatories). NSF’s close working relationship with the college and university community makes it the natural focus for integration of this third component. The committee’s recommendations address improving the present overall management structure, as well as strengthening NSF’s ability to support ground-based astronomy and astrophysics and to work effectively in conjunction with the other two primary components of the system. The committee’s detailed recommendations are contained in Box ES.1. In Chapter 1 the committee discusses the discipline of astronomy and astrophysics and the role of the periodic self-assessments carried out by the community.6 Chapter 2 summarizes the roles and responsibilities of NASA and NSF and discusses some key aspects of their missions, pro- 4   It would be unreasonable to consolidate under NSF, i.e., to place space missions under NSF, since NSF has no space experience, does not operate its own facilities, and does not have a large enough budget to carry out space missions. 5   Additional important federal components include the Department of Energy, which conducts research in particle, high-energy, nuclear, and plasma physics and in computational science related to astronomy and astrophysics; the Smithsonian Institution, which plays a significant role in astronomy and astrophysics research through the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory; and the Department of Defense, which supports research in areas such as solar physics, astrometric astronomy, and observing technology that is carried out primarily through multiple programs in the Navy and Air Force research offices. 6   The latest of these decadal self-assessments conducted by the National Research Council is Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium (National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 2001). The reports of the seven discipline panels established under the Astronomy and Astrophysics Survey Committee are forthcoming in a companion volume titled Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium: Panel Reports (National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 2001).

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U.S. Astronomy and Astrophysics: Managing an Integrated Program BOX ES.1 Recommendations of the Committee The National Science Foundation’s astronomy and astrophysics responsibilities should not be transferred to NASA. In order to maximize the scientific returns, the federal government should develop a single integrated strategy for astronomy and astrophysics research that includes supporting facilities and missions on the ground and in space. To help bring about an integration of ground- and space-based astronomy and astrophysics, the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Office of Management and Budget should take the initiative to establish an interagency planning board for astronomy and astrophysics. Input to the planning board from the scientific and engineering community should be provided by a joint advisory committee of outside experts that is well connected to the advisory structures within each agency. The recommended interagency Astronomy and Astrophysics Planning Board, with a neutral and independent chair to be designated by the Office of Management and Budget in conjunction with the Office of Science and Technology Policy, should consist of representatives of NASA, NSF, the Department of Energy, and other appropriate federal agencies such as the Smithsonian Institution and the Department of Defense. The Planning Board should coordinate the relevant research activities of the member agencies and should prepare and annually update an integrated strategic plan for research in astronomy and astrophysics, addressing the priorities of the most current National Research Council decadal survey of the field in the context of tight discretionary budgets. The membership of the Planning Board’s advisory committee should be drawn in part from the external advisory panels of the Planning Board’s member agencies. The advisory committee should be chaired by an individual who is neither a member of the agency advisory panels nor an agency employee. The committee should participate in the development of the integrated strategic plan and in the periodic review of its implementation. NASA and NSF should each put in place formal mechanisms for implementing recommendations of the interagency Astronomy and Astrophysics Planning Board and integrating those recommendations into their respective strategic plans for astronomy and astrophysics. Both agencies should make changes, as outlined below, in order to pursue effective roles in formulating and executing an integrated federal program for astronomy and astrophysics. These changes should be coordinated through the interagency Planning Board to clarify the responsibilities and strategies of the individual member agencies. The NSF, with the active participation of the National Science Board, should: Develop and implement its own strategic plan, taking into account the recommendations of the interagency Planning Board. Its strategic plan should be formulated in an open and transparent fashion and should have concrete objectives and time lines. NSF should manage its program in astronomy and astrophysics to that plan, ensuring the participation of scientifically rel-

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U.S. Astronomy and Astrophysics: Managing an Integrated Program evant divisions and offices within NSF. To help generate this plan, NSF should reestablish a federally chartered advisory committee for its Astronomical Sciences Division to ensure parity with the NASA advisory structure. The chair of this Astronomical Sciences Division advisory committee should be a member of the Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate advisory committee. Furthermore, the Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate advisory committee should make regular written and oral reports of its key findings and recommendations to the National Science Board. Address the outstanding issues that are affecting ground-based astronomy at present. Lead the development of an integrated strategy for assembling the resources needed to build and operate the challenging suite of ground-based initiatives recommended by the most current decadal survey. Work to create an integrated system for ground-based optical/infrared astronomy and astrophysics encompassing private, state, and federally funded observatories, as advocated by the decadal survey. Improve and systematize the process for initiating, constructing, managing, and using ground-based facilities, so that it includes: clear lines of authority for negotiations, particularly those involving international partners, an open bidding process for contracts, comprehensive budgeting that provides for all aspects and phases of projects, and provision of the resources required to exploit the scientific potential of the facilities, including associated instrumentation, theoretical work, data analysis, and travel. Undertake a more concerted and well-funded effort to inform the press and the general public of scientific discoveries, and cooperate with NASA in developing a coordinated public information program for astronomy and astrophysics. In parallel, NASA should: Implement operational plans to provide continuity of support for the talent base in astronomy and astrophysics should critical space missions suffer failure or be terminated. Continue and enlarge its program of research support for proposals from individual principal investigators that are not necessarily tied to the goals of specific missions. Support critical ground-based facilities and scientifically enabling precursor and follow-up observations that are essential to the success of space missions. Decisions on such support should be considered in the context of the scientific goals articulated in the integrated research plan for astronomy and astrophysics. Cooperate with NSF in developing a coordinated public information program for astronomy and astrophysics.

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U.S. Astronomy and Astrophysics: Managing an Integrated Program gram management approaches, and planning processes. Chapter 2 also describes the need for more cooperation and coordination between these two primary funding agencies for the discipline, and it mentions a few related issues that affect the implementation of the recommendations that arise from the community’s self-assessments. Chapter 3 specifically addresses the advantages and disadvantages of moving NSF’s astronomy and astrophysics responsibilities to NASA. In Chapter 4 the committee presents its findings and recommendations. Committee biographies, meeting agendas, detailed funding and organization data, and a glossary and acronym list are included as appendixes.