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New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics
and NASA satellites and downlink stations are critical for communication and transfer of astronomical data from NSF’s South Pole research station. NSF radio observatories are used for the telemetry of spacecraft data. DOE physicists were essential for the successful design, construction, and operation of the Large Area Telescope on FGST, and the Dark Energy Camera is receiving both DOE and NSF funding and will be a facility instrument on an NSF-supported telescope. Scientists from all three agencies contribute special expertise in detector fabrication and data acquisition to many successful partnerships. Although funding by multiple agencies adds complexity, it also adds significant value. Each of the agencies brings special technical strengths and experts as well as unique research communities. Provided that the efforts of the different agencies are effectively coordinated, there are significant benefits to science and to the nation in collaboration, as has been demonstrated in many successful joint ventures.
Coordination between the agencies is facilitated by a variety of mechanisms and currently takes place at several levels. The agencies have program managers who meet both formally and informally to coordinate at the agency level, sometimes facilitated by OSTP. In addition, a number of standing FACA advisory committees provide expert community advice. These include the High Energy Physics Advisory Panel, for the DOE’s OHEP and NSF-PHY; the Mathematical and Physical Sciences Advisory Committee (MPSAC), for NSF-AST and NSF-PHY; the Astrophysics Subcommittee of the NASA Advisory Council’s Science Committee, for the NASA Astrophysics Division; and the Astronomy and Astrophysics Advisory Committee (AAAC), which advises NSF, NASA, and DOE. All of these FACA committees can effectively provide, and have provided, the agencies with advice on issues requiring rapid action. Some of the advice is agency specific, with one FACA committee reporting to one agency. Some of the advice crosses agency boundaries and requires the formation of an ad hoc task force.
While all of these committees play valuable roles, modifications to the advisory structure could improve the coordination between the agencies and in many instances improve the effectiveness of agency-specific advice. Over the past 10 years the advisory structure at NASA has been reorganized several times. The most recent reorganization of the NASA Advisory Council and its subcommittees appears to have effectively addressed the issue of shortening the conduit between the advisory body and the science managers for whom the advice is intended (as recommended by the NRC’s NAPA report9). NSF-PHY and NSF-AST receive only informal input from MPSAC, an advisory committee to NSF’s entire Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Sciences whose effectiveness could be improved. While MPSAC facilitates cross-division strategic coordination, NSF-AST will continue to need tactical
National Research Council, A Performance Assessment of NASA’s Astrophysics Program, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2007.