In the cooperation between research and operational agencies, there may be differences in the types of approaches to planning and changes. For example, NASA’s [National Aeronautic and Space Administration] research approach is to solicit for almost everything. However, operational agencies like EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] or NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] may adjust activities to immediate priorities, including the data and analysis they need. Therefore, partnerships between NASA and these agencies require flexibility in projects and in accountability. For example, if NASA runs a solicitation for projects, there may be changes in EPA’s and NOAA’s priorities during that year and the projects NASA solicited may not align with the new priority. Therefore, in activities trying to link knowledge to action, there should be a balance between longer-term projects (especially innovative applications achievable through solicitations and longer-term funding) and shorter-term directed projects (that target the specific needs to serve a particular project). However, the program plans, project plans, and accountability measures need to reflect the dual nature of these activities. Performance measures may need flexibility to adjust to immediate concerns while making progress toward longer-term goals.
Participants pointed out that flexible programs that can respond to changing needs are more likely to withstand pressures of political change. The dilemma of political uncertainty was described by one participant: “How to make results tangible and useful enough to meet goals across administrations … The missing thing is the long-term theme that transcends administrations, that allows things to rise and fall as they meet needs … Let’s figure out the real research needs.”