Recommendation: NGDC should develop a strategy for recruiting and retaining staff that places a high priority on enhancing the scientific vigor of the center and ensures that key technological expertise resides on the permanent staff.
NGDC’s hardware infrastructure—built on a network of Linux servers and a modern tape robotic mass storage system—has the capacity to meet the data distribution and archival needs of the center. However, the pace of data migration (10 percent per year) is slower than is generally accepted, potentially jeopardizing the safety of the data. Another concern is that the offsite backup storage facility is not located at a significant distance from Boulder. The proximity of the primary and backup storage locations creates the potential for significant data loss through natural disasters and power outages, and interruptions of data availability from loss of Internet connectivity to the Boulder area.
Recommendation: NGDC should improve its data stewardship, guided by practices at other data centers, to accelerate its data migration schedule and its rate of archive transcription, and should also address the center and backup site disaster vulnerability.
Performance measures provide a means for evaluating progress. However, many of the performance measures used by NGDC in FY 2002 have more to do with the efficient operation of a federally supported facility than with good data center performance. For example, NGDC’s current performance measures include “alternative dispute resolution” but do not include “ease of access to holdings.” With the revision of the NOAA and NESDIS strategic plans, NGDC has an opportunity to propose a new approach to defining performance measures—one that begins with determining the characteristics of a good data center (e.g., data are easily found and accessed by users) and then defines performance measures accordingly.
NGDC is at a turning point. Recent and upcoming retirements at NGDC and the change of focus at NOAA present a tremendous opportunity to install new leadership and build NGDC into an integrated science center. In doing so it can take advantage of existing strengths, including a capable staff; some critically important data that are not held elsewhere; a favored location in Boulder, Colorado, which places scientific expertise at their fingertips; and experience creating integrated datasets and tools. With vision and inspired leadership NGDC can improve its effectiveness, fulfill its potential within NOAA, and more effectively contribute to pressing global concerns of understanding and managing our environment.