The panel found that the Coastal Ocean Program (COP) has successfully fostered innovative science in important applied areas. This success has resulted from a mixture of new programs and incremental additions to existing programs. In most cases, COP-funded research has succeeded because of its partnership approach of combining the human, fiscal, and facilities resources of NOAA with resources from outside the agency. Research funded by COP would have been, in many cases, impossible without the partnership approach. In view of the NOAA strategic plan, COP has much to offer in providing the scientific foundation for a large part of NOAA's mission in the coastal ocean area. COP has improved the coordination and interaction among NOAA line offices by providing financial resources and a planning structure for joint programs.
The panel endorses the three COP themes and recommends that the program should maintain a multi-theme approach. The panel also endorses the decisions to consolidate the former seven themes into the three present themes; it is likely that increased coordination of programs within the new themes will promote new approaches and insight into coastal hazards, coastal fisheries ecosystems, and coastal environmental quality. Achievement of COP goals (see Introduction and Background) could be enhanced by substantial coordination of COP with other parts of NOAA and with other agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the National
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A Review of the Accomplishments and Plans of the NOAA Coastal Ocean Program (1994) CHAPTER 5 SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS Summary The panel found that the Coastal Ocean Program (COP) has successfully fostered innovative science in important applied areas. This success has resulted from a mixture of new programs and incremental additions to existing programs. In most cases, COP-funded research has succeeded because of its partnership approach of combining the human, fiscal, and facilities resources of NOAA with resources from outside the agency. Research funded by COP would have been, in many cases, impossible without the partnership approach. In view of the NOAA strategic plan, COP has much to offer in providing the scientific foundation for a large part of NOAA's mission in the coastal ocean area. COP has improved the coordination and interaction among NOAA line offices by providing financial resources and a planning structure for joint programs. The panel endorses the three COP themes and recommends that the program should maintain a multi-theme approach. The panel also endorses the decisions to consolidate the former seven themes into the three present themes; it is likely that increased coordination of programs within the new themes will promote new approaches and insight into coastal hazards, coastal fisheries ecosystems, and coastal environmental quality. Achievement of COP goals (see Introduction and Background) could be enhanced by substantial coordination of COP with other parts of NOAA and with other agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the National
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A Review of the Accomplishments and Plans of the NOAA Coastal Ocean Program (1994) Science Foundation, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of Energy, and the U.S. Geological Survey. The panel identified several COP deficiencies that should be addressed to help the program reach its full potential and recommended actions (discussed below) to help COP overcome these deficiencies. Many of COP's problems relate to its unfulfilled expectation of steadily increasing funding. In fact, the program has received level-funding for several years. COP invested its resources in initiating programs that were planned to provide a comprehensive coastal research program when full funding was finally achieved. As funding plateaued at a lower than anticipated level, the result has been a program that is spread too thin at the theme and program levels, with resulting disappointment in the marine science communities within and outside NOAA. In response to the reality of level funding and previous advice from the panel, COP has begun the process of consolidating and integrating related themes. The panel supports this direction and provides advice in this report to help COP accomplish this goal. Another challenge facing COP is to develop mechanisms for the transfer of research and development activities into operational status when the time is appropriate. At present, there is a lack of long-range planning and detailed technical review at the theme level. This is a primary function of the Program Management Committees (PMCs) and Technical Advisory Committees (TACs) set up at theme levels. Some of these advisory groups have ceased to function, rarely meet or have never met, and need to be revived. The panel recommends that COP also should improve long-range planning at the COP-level, especially its strategies for funding and sequencing major field programs. One factor that has complicated long-range planning of COP is the encumbrance of COP with congressional earmarks and add-ons. Recommendations Effective Technical Advisory Committees should be formed for each of the three themes. For COP to be successful, it is essential that its various programs remain focused on the larger goals of the themes. It is also important that the planning process for individual programs be evaluated and integrated at the theme level. This will identify critical gaps in knowledge and research activity where new efforts are needed and highlight approaches that are successful. A new focus on theme-wide goals is increasingly important as some programs within the themes are ending and new ones are being initiated. The present structure of the TACs has been effective in providing guidance and technical review at the program level. However, these
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A Review of the Accomplishments and Plans of the NOAA Coastal Ocean Program (1994) TACs alone cannot assure that the theme as a whole will continue to meet its goals or provide the perspective necessary to help design new programs. In the past NOAA has relied upon “theme teams” to assist in long-range planning. The “theme teams” were largely composed of NOAA scientists and scientific managers from the individual programs. These individuals have an important role to play in COP operation and management, but we believe that COP would benefit from the insights of independent committees composed of individuals not directly involved in the programs. We recommend that each theme form its own TAC. The purpose of the theme-level TAC should be to assist COP management in integration of programs, development of new programs within a theme, elimination of programs, and long range planning for the evolution of the themes. A parallel review structure should be set up for each theme so that review mechanisms operate more consistently across themes. COP should streamline its advisory structures at the program and project levels. A comprehensive advisory structure was developed by COP in anticipation of large budget increases, and in part because of panel advice in 1991. The panel recommends that COP, while strengthening its TAC advisory structure, examine the program and project advisory structures to streamline them and to decrease overhead. It should be possible to set up theme TACs of reasonable size that can advise all programs within a theme, thus allowing the elimination of some PMCs. TACs may not be necessary for each program; only large programs should have separate TACs. To provide theme TACs an opportunity to guide the mix and content of programs, TAC members should be involved in program-level reviews. Given uncertainties in funding, themes should develop flexible plans with prioritized goals and alternatives. The initial plans and expectations of the COP themes were optimistic about budgets, which resulted in solicitation and implementation of programs at levels that proved to be unrealistic. In the future, prioritization in program planning should be requested in solicited proposals, with alternative plans presented to propose research that could be carried out at lower than anticipated funding levels. Alternative or contingency plans should be reviewed and considered at the outset to insure that scientifically defensible programs are funded under good or bad budget situations. This is particularly true for multiyear field programs, and for programs that depend on the results of activities funded outside COP.
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A Review of the Accomplishments and Plans of the NOAA Coastal Ocean Program (1994) Planning for the next 5 years, of COP and its themes, should be initiated now. It is not too early to begin planning for COP's second 5 years now. A strategic plan for overall directions is needed to guide COP and to inform the scientific community about future prospects, both with respect to theme areas to be supported and realistic estimates of dollar amounts that will be available. To form the best NOAA-academic partnerships, it is critical to begin planning well ahead of anticipated program implementations. If COP or its themes will change substantially during the next 5 years, it is even more important to develop the plan, have it reviewed, and inform the research community about it as soon as possible. Procedures for solicitation and review should be standardized among themes and programs. Review of present programs within COP themes has revealed a nonuniform solicitation and review process for research proposals. The panel strongly recommends that the process be standardized to the extent possible among themes, and especially that it be standardized for programs within each of the themes. All proposals (both NOAA and academic) should be treated identically in a process that is objective and which has effective, rigorous peer review. Standardization of the review process will insure that high-quality science is supported and it will build a reputation of excellence for COP. Developing and documenting a standardized procedure also would help combat the perception (sometimes warranted) that external proposals are subjected to more rigorous review than are proposals submitted by NOAA scientists. Other Issues Transition Several activities supported by the Coastal Ocean Program (COP) have accomplished their initial stated objectives, and others will do so over the next few years. Some of these programs, such as CoastWatch, have developed prototype operational products and have established operational demonstration systems. Other programs, such as the Nutrient Enhanced Coastal Ocean Productivity project, have made comprehensive progress on the basic scientific issues that they set out to study. Support from COP for routine operations drains funds that should be applied to unique COP research and development activities. Likewise, in a period of level budgets, indefinite continuation of work on some topics, while scientifically valid, may preclude initiation of other more timely studies. As noted in the COP response to the
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A Review of the Accomplishments and Plans of the NOAA Coastal Ocean Program (1994) 1991 review by the Panel on the NOAA Coastal Ocean Program, “…COP [is] a science program which develops new information and techniques for decision-makers, [and it] should not invest in long-term, operational efforts to collect and/or distribute …data [or products].” COP management has begun negotiations to transfer operational responsibility for several CoastWatch products from COP to line offices of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Successful transition would be a significant accomplishment for COP because COP's objective is to conduct research and development needed to provide users with accurate scientific products for coastal science, management, and policymaking. Transition would make these products and systems available to their ultimate users to operate, and would free COP to pursue further scientific studies. The panel recommends that COP: continue to negotiate with NOAA line offices to assure that operations associated with presently mature COP-developed products and systems are transferred rapidly and efficiently; communicate regularly with the line offices on the status of other, ongoing COP activities that are nearing completion or significant achievement; ensure that future COP programs have clear statements of measurable goals and objectives, to allow both internal evaluation and early coordination with the line offices to which operational responsibility will eventually be transferred; and encourage involvement of appropriate users of COP-derived products and information throughout planning and research phases of COP activities to ensure the utility of COP results. The panel also recommends that NOAA (specifically the Office of the Chief Scientist) document the fate of programs that have been transferred to determine if the transfer has been successful and to evaluate COP's performance in initiating useful programs. The panel recommends that the first analysis be completed by NOAA by FY 1996, to help COP plan more effectively for subsequent fiscal years.
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A Review of the Accomplishments and Plans of the NOAA Coastal Ocean Program (1994) Earmarks and Add-ons Congress has frequently required COP to spend a portion of its appropriation on congressionally-mandated projects. COP now includes three programs added by Congress, in South Carolina ($700,000), Hawaii ($400,000), and Pennsylvania ($800,000). Two of these programs did not include additional congressional appropriations. Consequently, COP has had to reallocate funding from existing programs elsewhere within its budget. One program (the Maui project in Hawaii) does include the necessary appropriations to avoid sacrificing other parts of COP. Recognized strengths of COP lie in its reliance upon careful planning, its development and implementation of priority research, and its insistence upon peerreview processes to select the best research proposals submitted by the scientific community. The panel notes that congressional add-ons and earmarks now total at least $ 1.9 million, representing over 16% of the COP budget. This trend is alarming. Although the panel is aware of the political reasons for add-ons and earmarks, it is very concerned about their impacts on COP funds. Earmarks and add-ons seriously diminish the ability to implement COP priority programs fully, and can diminish the scientific quality of its research because decisions are removed from the peer-review process. Program funds are being diverted from planned and peer-reviewed scientific programs to those that have little accountability and tenuous connections to COP goals and objectives. The panel commends COP for attempting to bring some program integration to the add-ons and earmarks, and for achieving some level of accountability in these programs. COP should continue to articulate the negative consequences of earmarking, and at the same time make a greater effort to communicate COP successes. Communication of COP Contributions COP provides unusual opportunities for collaborative research between NOAA and academic scientists and it funds a broad range of research activities, yet there is little recognition of “COP Science” as a distinct entity in the same way that research funded through Sea Grant, NSF, ONR, and other extramural sources have clear ties to the funding source. This occurs because COP uses the NOAA line offices to channel its funds. Although this may seem to be a superficial problem, it results in the virtual invisibility of COP and the failure to develop a constituency to argue for its support. The panel recommends that COP develop more effective mechanisms to promote its unique philosophy and research program to the public, NOAA, the Department of Commerce, and Congress.