The Committee on Major U.S. Oceanographic Research Programs realized that the impact of the major programs is felt by ocean scientists throughout the United States, whether they are involved directly in the programs or not. For example, every three years the NSF Advisory Committee on Geosciences forms a Committee of Visitors to examine various aspects of ocean research funded through NSF/OCE. Since 1989, these Committees of Visitors have produced 3 reports (1989, 1993, and 1995), which have raised, to varying degrees, questions related to the growing emphasis on major programs within NSF/OCE. In addition, perspectives about these programs are as diverse as the natural processes they were designed to study. Thus the impacts, legacies, and value of these programs cannot be easily gauged without thorough review. Conversely, the size and complexity of the programs (i.e., number of sponsors, the number of principal investigators, the number field programs), and the various degrees of maturity of the programs presented a formidable challenge to the study.
As will be evident in the following chapters, a detailed analysis of any one existing program would involve the collection and assimilation of a large amount of information (for example, the U.S. component of the World Ocean Circulation Experiment [WOCE] program, one of the more mature of the ongoing programs, lists nearly 600 publication titles on its databases, coordinates activities of over 250 separately funded projects involving over 125 different investigators, and received funds or in-kind contributions from five different federal agencies). The U.S. WOCE program office and its counterpart at the Ocean Drilling Program (ODP) were able to provide a range of program-wide information. Similar information was not readily available from other programs, making side-by-side comparison of various existing programs difficult. Furthermore, although ODP and its predecessors have been operating for multiple decades, many of the other ongoing programs began 5 or 6 years ago and are several years from their planned conclusion. Both sponsors and the committee agreed that an examination that emphasized a selected subset of the existing programs should be conducted so as to draw general conclusions about the impact and value of the large programs on our understanding of the ocean.
Early in its deliberations, the committee recognized that a highly diverse set of information would be required to support any meaningful findings or recommendations regarding such a complex or controversial topic as the role of large, organized research programs in the study of the ocean. Budgetary information would be needed to understand the value that federal funding agencies placed on these programs, as would funding histories to understand how funds were used to support research efforts. The goals of each program and the scientific plans to achieve those goals would have to be specified, as would the scientific philosophies and views of the scientific steering committees and nonprogram scientists.