4
NGDC Mission and Vision

This chapter deals with the two tasks that relate to the National Geophysical Data Center’s (NGDC’s) mission.

Task 3. Is NGDC appropriately aligned to support the mission, vision, strategic goals, and themes of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS)?

Task 1. Is the NGDC mission well articulated and understood by its staff and its users?

NOAA AND NESDIS MISSIONS

NGDC performs two functions that are directly relevant to NOAA’s mission: long-term archiving and dissemination of environmental data. NOAA’s mission is to “understand and predict changes in the Earth’s environment,” where “environment” includes the land, sea, atmosphere, and space.1 All of these environmental fields are within the domain of NGDC. Moreover, NOAA has been formally responsible for archiving environmental data since the agency was created in 1970.2 Thus, regardless

1  

Department of Commerce, 2003, New Priorities for the 21st Century: NOAA’s Strategic Plan for FY 2003 - FY 2008 and Beyond, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, January 16, 2003 draft, <www.osp.noaa.gov/docs/publicdraft.pdf>.

2  

Data management functions were acquired from the Environmental Science Services



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4 NGDC Mission and Vision This chapter deals with the two tasks that relate to the National Geophysical Data Center’s (NGDC’s) mission. Task 3. Is NGDC appropriately aligned to support the mission, vision, strategic goals, and themes of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS)? Task 1. Is the NGDC mission well articulated and understood by its staff and its users? NOAA AND NESDIS MISSIONS NGDC performs two functions that are directly relevant to NOAA’s mission: long-term archiving and dissemination of environmental data. NOAA’s mission is to “understand and predict changes in the Earth’s environment,” where “environment” includes the land, sea, atmosphere, and space.1 All of these environmental fields are within the domain of NGDC. Moreover, NOAA has been formally responsible for archiving environmental data since the agency was created in 1970.2 Thus, regardless 1   Department of Commerce, 2003, New Priorities for the 21st Century: NOAA’s Strategic Plan for FY 2003 - FY 2008 and Beyond, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, January 16, 2003 draft, <www.osp.noaa.gov/docs/publicdraft.pdf>. 2   Data management functions were acquired from the Environmental Science Services

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of which environmental sciences are being emphasized NGDC’s data management function is appropriate for NOAA. For these two reasons NGDC is appropriately housed at NOAA and should be supported. To carry out its mission NOAA has laid out four mission goals and six crosscutting priorities (Appendix D). NGDC data are needed to achieve most of the mission goals: bathymetry data support maritime transportation, marine sediment data provide insight on climate variability and change, and geomagnetic data are required to predict space weather. All of NOAA’s crosscutting priorities (Appendix D) are relevant to NGDC. NGDC forms a part of NOAA’s infrastructure and its data support scientific research and education about the environment, as well as practical applications, such as predicting geomagnetic-storm-induced communications disruptions. In addition, NGDC cooperates with international programs to acquire data and operates three world data centers to disseminate data to scientists all over the world. Finally, NGDC has an obvious role in an integrated environmental observation and data management system. This is a particularly important theme to NGDC, because NOAA has traditionally stressed ocean and atmosphere, areas in which NGDC has a lesser role. The NESDIS mission and strategic objectives focus on the data aspects of NOAA and are even more relevant to NGDC. The NESDIS mission is to provide “timely access to global environmental data and information services from satellites and other sources.”3 All NGDC activities are aimed at supporting that mission and the accompanying strategic objectives, with the exception of resource management (Appendix D). However, NGDC has only three satellite data streams (data for monitoring the space environment from the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program, Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites, and Television Infrared Observation Satellite). Some NGDC staff felt that NESDIS gave the center lower priority on that account.4 Both the NOAA and NESDIS strategic plans emphasize ocean and atmosphere, whereas NGDC emphasizes the Earth and near-Earth space. Nevertheless, many NOAA and NESDIS missions, objectives, and priorities could not be accomplished without NGDC. NGDC staff members recognize their importance to NOAA and NESDIS, but several told the commit-     Administration and its predecessor organizations in 1970. See Presidential Reorganization Plan Number Four of 1970, 84 Stat. 2090, and Presidential Reorganization Plan Number Two of 1965, 79 Stat. 1318-20. 3   Department of Commerce, 2001, A Strategic Plan for NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Silver Spring, Md., 28 pp. 4   Interviews with NGDC staff members, November 14, 2003.

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tee that NOAA did not give high priority to the fields of research and operations supported by NGDC. Both NGDC and NESDIS would benefit from a stronger shared agreement on NGDC priorities and future. In fact, NGDC staff would respond positively to a clear affirmation from NESDIS that their activities were relevant to the NOAA mission. These issues are discussed below. NGDC MISSION The committee found several different formulations of the NGDC mission (see Appendix D). The formal mission statement describes NGDC’s functions and the types of data it holds, but it is out of date. It refers to the center by its previous name (the National Geophysical and Solar-Terrestrial Data Center) and includes data and components the center is no longer responsible for (e.g., seismic data, World Data Center for Glaciology).5 In addition, it does not reflect the growth in the number of lay users. Visitors to the NGDC Web site see a different mission statement: “NGDC’s mission is data management in the broadest sense. We play an integral role in NOAA’s environmental research and stewardship, and provide data services to users worldwide.”6 This statement does not describe the kinds of data dealt with and probably does not distinguish NGDC from any environmental data center. NGDC’s functional statement, which appears in the NOAA organizational handbook, is a better description of the center’s activities.7 The functional statement describes the types of data and services provided by the center, identifies user groups, and summarizes the center’s interactions with national and international organizations. These mission formulations are different from but consistent with one another. Nevertheless, the fact that there are different formulations and that the formal statement is out of date indicates that NGDC’s mission is not well stated. During the site visit NGDC staff members offered a number of other ideas about what the center should do, and users that see the vague mission statement on NGDC’s home page are unlikely to have a clear idea about the mission of the center. NGDC would benefit from a restatement of its mission, one that describes its current activities and potential for future growth and that has a common thread tying the center to NOAA. The mission statement should also identify which NGDC holdings are relevant for addressing the priorities of NOAA and NESDIS. Indeed, defining its focus to NESDIS is one of NGDC’s performance measures (Appendix E). 5   15 CFR Ch IX (1-1-97 edition) §950.5. 6   <www.ngdc.noaa.gov/ngdcinfo/aboutngdc.html>. 7   NOAA Organizational Handbook, <http://www.rdc.noaa.gov/~ohb/E/EH0000.html>.

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Recommendation: NOAA, NESDIS, and NGDC should jointly participate in a rearticulation of NGDC’s mission in support of NOAA’s environmental responsibilities as defined in the NOAA draft strategic plan for 2003. This exercise should be done every three years or so to keep current with agency priorities and with ongoing scientific advances. Rearticulating the mission would increase the understanding of NGDC’s mission by its staff and users, and would also help alleviate NGDC staff member worries about the future of the center within NOAA. VISION FOR NGDC Most of the problems facing the center come down to vision and leadership. NGDC’s vision is “to be the preeminent national stewards of geophysical and relevant environmental data and to transform these data, using pioneering scientific thought and cutting-edge technology, into effective information necessary to secure a sustainable, flourishing future for our nation and world” (Appendix D). However, the follow-the-money strategy and autonomy of the divisions are not helpful in achieving this shared vision. Moreover, although NGDC’s vision is consistent with the NESDIS vision of being the source of the world’s most comprehensive environmental information (Appendix D), NESDIS has apparently not accepted any vision presented so far by NGDC as being sufficiently compelling to support at a higher level. Being good stewards of geophysical and environmental data is a worthy goal and is essential for ensuring that the holdings are useful to current and future generations of users, but NGDC has the potential to be much more. The center could become the first place users go for geophysical data on the terrestrial and space environment. This is not the case today and making this happen would require a vigorous effort to put existing datasets online, add to the archive, and link to other data collections. NGDC could also become a focus within NOAA for integrated environmental science. The center has some experience creating integrated datasets and tools, but building on this experience would require breaking down the walls between the divisions and focusing more on cross-disciplinary activities. NGDC needs a vision more than other data centers because of its unusually broad span of disparate disciplines. It also needs a strategy for achieving its vision that shows how each of the disciplines fulfills NOAA’s mission and priority on integrated environmental science. An NGDC vision understood by the staff and NOAA could allow NGDC to play its natural role in terrestrial and space environment science. The committee believes this is a strong argument for keeping NGDC intact within NOAA, rather

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than distributing the different elements of the center among other specialized data centers. Recommendation: NGDC should articulate a vision for the future that integrates the disciplines across its broad environmental roles and develop a strategy to pursue its vision. SUMMARY The answers to the tasks related to NGDC’s mission are summarized below. Is NGDC appropriately aligned to support the mission, vision, strategic goals, and themes of NOAA and NESDIS? Yes. NGDC’s activities support the mission and strategic goals of both NOAA and NESDIS. Indeed, NOAA’s new strategic plan contains priorities that are more aligned with and favorable to NGDC than previous plans. Of particular importance is NOAA’s new priority on integrated environmental approaches, an area in which NGDC has some experience and could play an important role. Moving in this direction will require a new vision for the center and less emphasis on traditional disciplinary boundaries. Is the NGDC mission well articulated and understood by its staff and its users? No. NGDC’s formal mission statement is out of date and no longer fully describes the scope of the center, its connections to NOAA, or its potential for future improvement. A number of different mission statements can be found, and NGDC staff members are able to formulate others. Users are unlikely to understand the center’s mission from the vague statement posted on the NGDC home page. A mission statement that reflects new NGDC capabilities and new NOAA priorities should be developed cooperatively by NGDC, NESDIS, and NOAA and communicated to the NGDC staff and users of the center.

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