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BUILDING AN EFFECTIVE ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT SCIENCE PROGRAM:: INITIAL ASSESSMENT The DOE must also become cognizant of other federal and nonfederal research efforts in order to obtain access to a broader researcher and knowledge base, to improve the focus of the EMSP, and to reduce needless duplication. The committee is aware of several research programs that are potentially relevant to the EMSP, including the following examples: The joint DOE, EPA, National Science Foundation (NSF), and Office of Naval Research program in bioremediation. The joint EPA and NSF program in water and watersheds. EPA research programs addressing risk, ecological assessment, and hazardous waste. NSF “core” research programs in the physical and social sciences, and NSF interdisciplinary programs focused on environmental problems. Research programs of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (part of the National Institutes of Health complex). DOD research programs. Research sponsored by nonfederal organizations (e.g., the Gas Research Institute). The committee will be gathering information on such programs and will comment on effective coordination strategies in future reports. FY 1996 PROGRAM PRIORITIES AND SOLICITATION The process for reviewing proposals and making awards in the FY 1996 EMSP is well under way. Congressional action required DOE to initiate the FY 1996 program on an accelerated schedule, which may not have allowed researchers adequate time to educate themselves about EM 's cleanup problems and research needs or to prepare proposals that were fully responsive to, or addressed the full breadth of, problem areas outlined in the program notice (Appendix B). The FY 1996 schedule also presented significant challenges to both ER and EM in managing the review process (Appendix A). Future competitions (in FY 1997 and beyond) offer important opportunities to reflect on the experience of the FY 1996 program and to give further careful consideration to both the content and the process of the EMSP.
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BUILDING AN EFFECTIVE ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT SCIENCE PROGRAM:: INITIAL ASSESSMENT In the FY 1996 program notice, DOE provided several criteria for evaluating proposals and making awards (Appendix B), including (1) scientific and technical merit (e.g., assessment of the potential for addressing problems identified in the program notice and of relevance to the cleanup mission) and (2) appropriateness of the approach. In making award decisions in this first round, the committee recommends that DOE focus first on scientific merit and then on potential relevance to the cleanup mission and place less emphasis on the “anticipated” institutional funding allocations announced in the program notice (Appendix B; see also footnote 2). In this regard, the committee knows of no scientific justification for DOE's allocation of $20 million for proposals from national laboratories and $20 million for proposals from academia and industry—and in fact believes that this allocation could prevent DOE from funding the most meritorious and relevant proposals. The committee strongly recommends that the DOE relax this allocation to the extent allowed by the law, and award funds to support the most scientifically meritorious and relevant work, regardless of the institution of origin. Additionally, when evaluating the merit of collaborative research proposals, the committee encourages the DOE to focus on the potential value added by the nature and scope of the proposed collaborations, not only on the number or size of institutional or researcher commitments to a particular project. The review process that DOE outlined for the FY 1996 program (Appendix A) seems reasonable to the committee, particularly given the short time frame for decision making. The original plan called for external reviews to assess scientific and technical merit by using panels of scientists. Following external review, EM program managers were to review the proposals for relevance and to prioritize them for EM management.10 The committee had some initial concerns that this process could have diluted the quality of the science because the “relevance” review appeared to be a somewhat separate process. Based on a briefing it received at its May meeting, however, the committee now understands that the proposals are to be judged first for scientific quality; the group of most meritorious proposals then will be reviewed for relevance by knowledgeable EM managers assisted by ER staff (Appendix A). The committee endorses such a joint effort because it will serve to keep scientific and technical merit “front and center” in the review process while giving proper weight to the important criterion of relevance. The committee intends to revisit the review process 10 As noted in a memorandum dated May 6, 1996, from C.W. Frank to Deputy Assistant Secretaries and Assistant Managers for Environmental Management.
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BUILDING AN EFFECTIVE ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT SCIENCE PROGRAM:: INITIAL ASSESSMENT in its entirety after completion of the FY 1996 competition and to suggest improvements if appropriate. The committee recommends that, once award decisions are made, successful proposals be funded fully “up front.” The committee recognizes that full funding may, indeed, decrease the absolute number of proposals that can be supported in this round but nevertheless believes that full funding is necessary for the following four reasons: To establish a solid foundation on which a stable, long-term program can be built. To ensure that projects funded in the first round will be completed on schedule and that research results will be available to potential users in the near term. To free-up funding for new starts in FY 1997, which, as noted previously, will be essential to convince the nation's best scientists to redirect their current research efforts in order to become familiar with EM's research needs and to submit research proposals. To provide opportunities to support high-quality proposals in the FY 1997 program. The committee expects that the proposals submitted to the program in FY 1997 will be of higher quality, on average, than proposals in this year's competition, because researchers will have more time to learn about EM's needs and prepare proposals. In short, full funding will accelerate the establishment of what the committee has referred to as a “committed cadre” of the nation's top researchers—scientists knowledgeable of EM 's problems and needs who produce research results that have long-term value to the cleanup mission. The committee understands that there may be special administrative issues with regard to providing full funding for proposals where the principal performer is a national laboratory. The committee believes, however, that mechanisms can and must be found to enable full funding for all performers. The committee also believes that it will be important for DOE to review the progress of the projects it funds on a periodic basis to ensure that they remain focused and that appropriate progress is being made. The committee notes that some ER programs have established processes for such reviews and a process for discontinuing support of unproductive projects. The committee will examine the usefulness of these and other review mechanisms in future reports.
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