Funding Model for the Academic Research Fleet
The U.S. Academic Research Fleet provides an interesting model by which a federal agency takes responsibility for not only helping support the initial construction of a key element of research infrastructure, but also the continued maintenance of that research asset.
More than half of the 22 research vessels that are part of the fleet are owned by the Navy or the National Science Foundation. These agencies support initial construction of the ships as well as operating costs, even though the ships are operated by extramural academic institutions under a Charter Party or Cooperative Agreement. The operating entity is responsible for providing a crew for the ship and providing support on shore. The ships become a part of the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS), a consortium of 61 academic institutions that serves as an advisory committee to the federal agencies.
UNOLS works with relevant federal agencies to develop the most efficient and cost-effective schedule of science cruises for each ship. Once the schedule is determined, the ship operator divides the total annual operational costs for the ship by the number of days at sea to calculate a day rate. When researchers apply for funding to conduct research on the ship, the day rate associated with that research project becomes the subject of a separate funding request from the ship operator to the agency supporting the research activities.
So, for example, if a particular research project will require $1 million in research support and 30 days of time on a ship with a day rate of $25,000 per day, that will result in one proposal from the researcher to support the $1 million science budget and a separate request from the ship operator for $750,000 to fund ship operations during the 30-day cruise.