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5 Conclusions The committee believes that the National Geophysical Data Center (NGDC) has a critical role to play within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the broader geophysical and environmental community. NGDC is the natural place within NOAA for stewardship and dissemination of geophysical data related to the terrestrial and space environment. To fulfill its potential, however, the center must first overcome six solvable problems: The center has lost touch with its users. With the switch to Web-based access and the passage of the Paperwork Reduction Act, the center has to establish new mechanisms for determining who its users are, whether they are satisfied with current services, and what products and services they will want in the future. Fulfilling user needs is the primary role of any data center, and it is essential that NGDC obtain and use a statistically valid user survey and improve its methods for evaluating usage of its Web site. NGDC’s organizational structure fosters inefficiency and scientific isolation within the center. Organizing the center so that a common set of services and functions serves all NGDC disciplines would reduce costs by eliminating parallel activities. It would facilitate cross-disciplinary activities within the center, make it easier to concentrate staff and funding resources in high-priority areas, and provide a stronger base for developing new, integrated scientific objectives. There is insufficient involvement of scientists with the center. NGDC’s holdings are scientific in nature and scientists are required to
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provide data, assure them for quality, answer questions about the data, and work with the holdings to ensure their usefulness. NGDC can strengthen relationships with scientific data providers by working with them from the beginning of data collection projects to ensure that NGDC will receive the resulting data. Relationships with scientific users could be strengthened by reestablishing the NGDC advisory committee, recruiting scientists to work with the data, or establishing a vigorous program of visiting scientists from outside the Boulder area. NGDC has had difficulty presenting a compelling mission and vision to NOAA and the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS). Historically, NOAA has focused on ocean and atmosphere and NESDIS has focused on satellite data, none of which are among NGDC’s strong points. The absence of a strong connection between NGDC and NOAA may be responsible for NGDC having insufficient base funding for essential services and staff. However, with NOAA’s new emphasis on integrated environmental approaches NGDC should have an important new role within NOAA. To take advantage of this opportunity NGDC should work with NOAA and NESDIS to reframe its mission statement accordingly. Greater attention should be paid to improving the safety and accessibility of the holdings by accelerating the data migration schedule (currently 10 years) and addressing the center’s vulnerability to disasters. The utility of the holdings could be improved by the center becoming an authority on the existence of all geophysical and complementary data relevant to NGDC’s and NOAA missions. Doing so will require NGDC to continue to work with data collection programs to acquire relevant data for its own databases and begin to provide prominent links to the holdings of complementary archives. The center can also make its own holdings more accessible by placing digital holdings online or nearline and by converting historical analog records to digital form. Most of these problems can be overcome with the assets the center has on hand: a capable, enthusiastic staff holdings that are critically important for a wide variety of scientific and operational purposes a favored location in a science city, which places scientific and technological expertise at the center’s fingertips experience creating integrated datasets and tools substantial although not necessarily sufficient funding for meeting key obligations
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The recent and upcoming retirements at NGDC and change in priorities at NOAA present an opportunity to foster new leadership and build NGDC into an integrated science center. With vision and leadership NGDC can become an essential element of NOAA for understanding and managing our environment.
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