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A Review of the NOAA National Sea Grant College Program 3 Recommendations ISSUE 1 SEA GRANT'S POSITION WITHIN NOAA Recommendation: The Administrator must ensure that the National Sea Grant College Program (NSGCP) has appropriate responsibility and capability for research, education, and outreach across the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NSGCP should be relocated within NOAA to report directly to the Office of the Administrator. The committee recommends that the Under Secretary remove Sea Grant from within the NOAA Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research and either make it equivalent to the Coastal Ocean Program and the Climate and Global Change Program or place it administratively within the Office of the Administrator, so that is can function independently and effectively across Line Office boundaries. Sea Grant needs to be able to reach across Line Office boundaries to provide its expertise to the Line Offices to solve NOAA problems and provide new capabilities that require combinations of Sea Grant strengths with those of the Line Offices. Elevating Sea Grant in the NOAA structure should improve Sea Grant's service to NOAA and NOAA's service to the nation. In addition, activities in other Line Offices could contribute to Sea Grant. For example, satellite activities funded by the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service, the National Ocean Service (NOS), and the Coastal Ocean Program could contribute to Sea Grant studies in the coastal zone. The manage
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A Review of the NOAA National Sea Grant College Program ment of the National Undersea Research Program should be separated from the management of Sea Grant. The committee recommends that NOAA implement the proposed reorganization as part of its FY1996 budget. An alternative solution, to remove Sea Grant from NOAA, or even from the Department of Commerce (DOC), was discussed by the committee. The committee agreed that improving the health of the program and enhancing its capabilities to serve national needs could warrant such a drastic step. It would be preferable, however, to leave Sea Grant within NOAA and DOC, and to make the changes necessary to make NOAA and DOC supportive of Sea Grant and to enhance Sea Grant's contribution to NOAA's national mission and capabilities. As Sea Grant is elevated within the NOAA structure, it is likely that some other reorganization will be desirable, shifting some responsibilities and fiscal resources among Sea Grant and the Line Offices. The Under Secretary should review the NOAA budget to coordinate (and integrate, where appropriate) similar research, education, and outreach activities in different parts of NOAA and to apply Sea Grant strengths in other parts of NOAA, noting that Sea Grant can provide significant information and interface with the industry and university communities, which would be of benefit to NOAA. For example, NOS outreach and education activities should be coordinated with similar Sea Grant activities. NOS has several relevant programs, including the Coastal Zone Management Program, the Marine Sanctuaries Program, and the National Estuarine Research Reserve program, that have outreach and education functions. Like Sea Grant, these programs support substantial interactions between states/localities and NOAA. Sea Grant's research apparatus and experience in education and outreach could contribute to the goals of these programs. Sea Grant also has obvious potential interactions with the new NOAA Office of Sustainable Development and with the NOAA-administered National Coastal Resources Research and Development Institute because of Sea Grant's responsibility within NOAA for natural resource research, development, education, and outreach. Because of its capabilities in the area of environmental education, an elevated Sea Grant could be a major participant in the initiative of the U.S. Vice President, entitled Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE). GLOBE is an interagency activity for which NOAA requested $7 million in the FY1995 President's budget. Its purpose is to increase the degree to which U.S. citizens understand the natural environment, by involving a global network of schools in collecting environmental observations. Sea Grant already has an established state and county outreach structure, and has statutory authorization to conduct an international program. Both factors equip Sea Grant to have a substantial role in GLOBE. Sea Grant's network of state-based researchers, Marine Advisory Service (MAS) agents, and communicators provides a great potential capability for gathering information. In addition to present Sea Grant activities, NOAA should
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A Review of the NOAA National Sea Grant College Program seek ways to use this network to identify impending coastal problems, to gain feedback about the effects of NOAA policies, and to develop a strong state presence for all NOAA programs. As DOC has reasserted its interest in Sea Grant over the past few years by reinstating it in the President's budget, Sea Grant should be integrated not only in terms of personnel, but also in joint financial initiatives within DOC. Sea Grant is the logical focus for NOAA interactions with the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST), the Economic Development Agency, and the Office of Tourism. NOAA and NIST each operate essentially separate Small Business innovation Research (SBIR) programs; they should consider providing joint funding for a number of SBIR projects related to marine technology and other topics of mutual interest. Maintaining collaborations across organizational units results in “transaction costs” that create barriers to interactions. Because of these costs new mechanisms are required to establish the benefits of collaboration, such as the provision of resources earmarked for joint activities. The Climate and Global Change Program and the Coastal Ocean Program have developed successful mechanisms for encouraging NOAA-academic interactions. Similarly, Sea Grant could provide funding to encourage joint activities between state programs and Line Offices. ISSUE 2 SHARED VISION AND STRATEGIC PLANNING Recommendation: State Sea Grant directors and the Director of the National Sea Grant Office (NSGO) must cooperate to develop a single strategic plan articulating a shared vision and strategies which must be fully integrated into, and reflective of, NOAA's strategic plan. Unified Sea Grant strategic planning should begin immediately so that its results can be incorporated in the FY1997 NOAA budget. The committee recommends that the separate strategic planning activities being carried out by NSGO and the Council of Sea Grant Directors cease and that the Under Secretary implement a process to integrate these activities in a single strategic plan for Sea Grant. The present parallel approach is unlikely to produce a plan that can be supported by all major stakeholders in the Sea Grant system. That two parts of the same organization are providing such independent plans is indicative of a serious management problem. The new plan should use the existing efforts and the NOAA strategic plan, when appropriate, as inputs. The committee recommends that the process used to develop the Sea Grant strategic plan acknowledge that Sea Grant activities exist at the intersection between state and national interests and that it respond to each level, as well as
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A Review of the NOAA National Sea Grant College Program utilize opportunities and blending capabilities from both levels. To accomplish this balance, the plan should be developed by a group consisting of state program staff, NSGO staff, university administrators, academic scientists, industry representatives, and representatives of the Office of the Under Secretary. In fact, only through the process of developing and implementing such a strategic plan can the Sea Grant participants become partners in developing a common vision. The committee recommends that the plan contain a strong “bottom-up ” orientation by fully integrating plans and activities from the state programs with the goals and directives described in the NOAA strategic plan. Due to the multistate nature of NSGCP, national needs may, in large measure, be the sum of state needs. Strategies developed should reflect the diverse roles and responsibilities of the Sea Grant partners described in Recommendation 3. Strategic plans typically include information about the organization 's position within a particular niche or a few niches. Sea Grant's unique niche is described on page 9 and elsewhere in this report. It is imperative that Sea Grant work to fill this niche and particularly to expand its interactions with industry. It should avoid overlapping with other federal agencies, such as the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Office of Naval Research (ONR). Strategic planning can provide a new mechanism to promote interdisciplinary research and education activities in states and regions. The plan should include guidance about how to measure the performance and effectiveness of all Sea Grant activities, including research, outreach, and education. The plan should also help Sea Grant define how it will interact with other complementary entities within NOAA and DOC. The plan should provide a long-term (5- to 10-year) vision of Sea Grant's future and should be reexamined and adjusted approximately every 3 years. The Under Secretary should provide NOAA funds to help Sea Grant with its strategic planning, if needed. NOAA should help Sea Grant to focus its activities on the areas where it is best suited and which reflect a cross-NOAA orientation. Although high-quality research must be a goal, research funding should be oriented to solution of environmental, social, and economic problems in a way that is complementary to research funded by other agencies. The committee also recommends that NOAA use the completed Sea Grant strategic plan in construction of future NOAA-wide strategic plans and budgets. ISSUE 3 OVERLAPPING ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES Recommendation: The roles and responsibilities of the state Sea Grant directors, NSGO, and the Sea Grant Review Panel (SGRP) must be clarified. The resultant roles and responsibilities of NSGO and SGRP should be clarified by the NOAA Administrator prior to the 1995 reauthorization.
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A Review of the NOAA National Sea Grant College Program NSGO should concentrate on the facilitation and coordination of regional and national programs and initiatives, national strategic planning, guidelines for state proposal solicitation and peer review, and the comprehensive evaluation of individual state programs. NSGO should also be responsible for convincing other parts of NOAA about the benefits of using Sea Grant's capabilities. Without the leverage of financial resources or directives from upper NOAA management, however, NSGO is left to intellectual persuasion to overcome bureaucratic barriers. NSGO should place more emphasis on management of the overall program and decrease its direct role in scientific review. More detail on the role of NSGO in the review process is given in Recommendation 4. NSGO should coordinate the formation of more formal and extensive Sea Grant regional activities to foster coordination and cooperation in programs of regional interest. The committee agreed that there would be a great benefit to the extension of regional partnerships. NSGO should orient many of its activities toward promoting regional networking of Sea Grant programs, expanding on the present regional network, and reviewing and monitoring progress at regional levels. The Regional Marine Research Program (RMRP) was created in 1990 (P.L. 101-593) to focus research on regional water quality and ecosystem health issues.1 The boards set up for each region are chaired by a state Sea Grant program director. These regional programs could provide a foundation for Sea Grant regional activities, although the future of RMRP is uncertain; only one of the nine regions (the Gulf of Maine region) has received research funds so far. State programs should focus on the scientific and programmatic quality of their individual programs. They should be allowed the maximum flexibility to determine funding priorities and program configuration as long as scientific quality and programmatic efficiency and effectiveness are maintained. Sea Grant should primarily be a bottom-up program, using information and plans from state levels to drive the national core program. But, state programs in conjunction with NSGO should immediately develop the appropriate program-wide measurements of the quality, efficiency, and effectiveness of their research, outreach, and education programs that will be used by NSGO in its performance evaluation. Measures of the costs and benefits of administrative activities should also be developed by the state programs and by NSGO. SGRP should shift its focus toward long-term planning and program-wide issues for Sea Grant as a whole, in particular on the relationship between Sea Grant and the private sector and the quality of the overall NSGO and state programs. SGRP should meet with the Secretary of Commerce and the Under Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere annually, and should produce a compre 1 Bryant, B.C. 1993. The Regional Marine Research Program (RMRP): A new approach to marine research planning. Coastal Management 21:327-332.
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A Review of the NOAA National Sea Grant College Program hensive review of NSGCP regularly. In particular, SGRP should review the Sea Grant strategic plan and the annual guidance document, and should review NSGO once every four years. The well-intentioned guidance provided by SGRP should be refocused on major policy issues. ISSUE 4 PROPOSAL REVIEW AND PROGRAM EVALUATION Recommendation: The review process for research proposals should be decoupled from the NSGO evaluation of state programs prior to the 1995 reauthorization. Standard scientific and peer review procedures should be implemented for all state Sea Grant programs. The review process and all aspects of program implementation, including administration, should be streamlined prior to FY 1996. NSGO should evaluate the success of each state program on a four-year cycle, using, in part, retrospective information on recent achievements, based on measures for each of the three areas of research, education, and outreach. SGRP should evaluate the performance of NSGO on the same timetable. The committee recommends that the processes for proposal review and program evaluation be separated. In addition, review of proposals composing the “core” state programs should be separated from the review of new initiatives. The new process should eliminate redundant review at state and national levels while maintaining proper quality control and guiding program improvement. Proposal Review Many states issue broadly distributed solicitations for preproposals before a full proposal is written. Preproposals provide an efficient means of removing project ideas that do not fit within program guidelines. The use of preproposals or other screening processes should be at the discretion, direction, and responsibility of the state directors, but the process used should be thoroughly examined as part of a four-year program evaluation by NSGO. Decisions made at the preproposal stage should be well documented and available for subsequent review. Priorities expressed in the solicitation phase should reflect strategic planning at both the state and national levels (see Recommendation 2). One criticism of the present system is that state programs do not distribute requests for proposals (RFPs) far enough in advance. The committee recommends that a generic proposal solicitation process be developed for all state programs by NSGO and that the state RFPs be widely distributed at least six
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A Review of the NOAA National Sea Grant College Program months prior to submission deadlines. The solicitations should contain descriptions of key areas of interest and clearly detail the requirements of scientific excellence coupled with technical application to state, regional, or national needs. Prior to its submission to NSGO, each full research proposal should be subjected to a rigorous review process at the state level, including a peer review for scientific quality and a separate evaluation of its potential for application to state, regional, and national needs and technological application. The committee did not investigate the quality of present state-level reviews. It is reasonable to assume, however, that delegating scientific review to state programs will require means for NSGO to measure state program performance in this area and to improve review processes of any state programs that are substandard. It is paramount that the overall processing time be reduced from 17 months to less than 6 months, a duration that would correspond to typical processing times at other agencies. The processing time in the states should be reduced to three months or less. The proposal solicitation and review process carried out by the individual state programs should be standardized, with procedures worked out cooperatively by NSGO and the state programs. Standardization will allow quantitative monitoring of the process by NSGO and comparisons among programs. A national pool of reviewers could be developed to enable state programs to select qualified external reviewers. Use of reviewers from such a pool should not be mandatory, however. The directors must be responsible and held accountable for the selection of peer and relevancy reviewers and for the conduct and conclusions of the review when programs are evaluated every four years, thus removing the need for additional review of project proposals by NSGO. A director's decisions about whether or not to fund a proposal should be based on written peer reviews, programmatic considerations, and the results of local advisory panels, and should include discussions with NSGO. The handling of each preproposal and proposal, and decisions that were made on a project from initial submission of a preproposal to acceptance or rejection of a proposal by a state program, should be documented and communicated to the proposing investigator(s) and to NSGO staff. The director should prepare a decision statement with rationale for his/her decision based on technical merit and relevance. The materials submitted by the director in the omnibus package should provide information that justifies decisions made. There is a perception that Sea Grant is not sufficiently open to new investigators. According to data collected by the committee, the Sea Grant program turns over its pool of principal investigators more quickly than several other agencies that fund marine research. The misperception about Sea Grant's openness can be dispelled only by developing and implementing procedures that allow program openness to be measured, monitored, and reported annually, including comparisons with other marine research programs. Examination of the investigator turnover rate should be included in the program evaluation, and programs with unacceptable turnover rates should be required to improve. Some
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A Review of the NOAA National Sea Grant College Program agencies, such as the ONR, set goals for turnover rates of investigators; ONR specifies that 10 to 15% of grants are to be awarded to new investigators each year. The committee recommends that the Under Secretary investigate ways to reform the NOAA grants management system to reduce the processing time at NOAA to a length at least as short as for other agencies (e.g., ONR and NSF). Reform of grants management should be beneficial for all NOAA extramural funding, not only for Sea Grant funding. This must be done with the assistance of DOC and could be modeled after systems used by other extramural funding programs. Program Evaluation The committee recommends that state programs be evaluated once every 4 years by NSGO, replacing the biennial combined proposal/program review and the 10-year recertification. Instead of evaluating programs on the basis of proposals for new research and other proposed state activities, program evaluation should be based primarily on the research, outreach, and education using retrospective measurements of the achievements over the previous four-year performance period. Each director should assume responsibility for defending the process leading up to the omnibus proposals submitted during the previous four-year period, as well as the relative success or failure of his/her total program. The NSGO evaluation should consist of an on-site, thorough assessment of overall program quality, including excellence of research, applicability and relevance of research findings, and the quality of program management, marine advisory services, education, and communications. In four-year funding decisions, NSGO should emphasize identifying excellence, based primarily on past performance, and rewarding the best state programs with increased funding. The NSGO program evaluation process should include rigorous standards for individual state program performance (research, education, and outreach), based in part on measured impact. NSGO, in concert with state program directors and education specialists, should evaluate education, outreach, and communication efforts in the context of the Sea Grant strategic plan. Although state directors cited many pertinent examples of how they evaluate non-research components, it is not clear that state programs consistently target their efforts at specific audiences and measure the effectiveness of these efforts. They should determine which audiences are priorities and which education and communication methods (e.g., printed, mass media, teaching) are most effective for reaching each audience, and should develop instruments to measure the achievement of objectives quantitatively. Communications, advisory services, and education activities should be evaluated as part of the four-year program evaluation and might not be measured by the same review criteria as are research proposals. Clear measures of quality for these activities
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A Review of the NOAA National Sea Grant College Program need to be developed. University administrations of the Sea Grant Colleges should participate in the review of the efficiency, impact, and effectiveness of their programs and their administration. Such involvement will enhance the commitment of the universities to their successful programs. Core funds received by all programs in FY 1996 and FY 1997 should be set at FY 1995 levels to provide funding stability during the transition. The first of the four-year program evaluations should begin immediately, and the cycle should be completed by FY 1998. Programs should receive their previous funding levels until after each four-year evaluation is completed. Changes in the overall funding level of each program would occur in two ways. First, the outcome of the program evaluation would be a recommendation by NSGO, reviewed by SGRP, that the level of funding be increased (or decreased) for each program during the subsequent four-year period. The second opportunity for a change in funds, in this case an increase, would involve new regional, national, or international initiative monies available during the period on a competitive basis from NSGO, as supplements to core funding. This approach gives NSGO a different review focus, switching from an individual project review to a national evaluation, judging among programs at four-year intervals, which will eventually serve to improve all Sea Grant programs nationwide. This approach also removes the need for redundant scientific review by NSGO subject area specialists. This efficiency would either free up time for these staff members to increase ties for Sea Grant within NOAA or permit the overall administrative costs to be reduced. An important role for NSGO program monitors should be to help lower-rated programs to improve their performance between the four-year reviews. This could be accomplished, in part, by assigning program monitors to state programs for on-site duty until problems are addressed sufficiently. Directors and program monitors should cooperatively develop and implement plans to improve each program between reviews. Dramatic four-year reductions in funding should be avoided, but more competition among the programs should occur. Sea Grant should consider funding only one Sea Grant College per state and at recertification might consider alternative institutional homes for each state Sea Grant program. National Initiatives Initiatives to address nationally important problems should be developed through the strategic planning process (see Recommendation 2). Proposals for national, regional, and international initiatives should be reviewed separately from core state program allocations by independent panels (see Recommendation 6).
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A Review of the NOAA National Sea Grant College Program ISSUE 5 INTERACTIONS WITH INDUSTRY Recommendation: NSGO and the state Sea Grant programs must increase their interactions with marine industry to include program policy guidance, expanded outreach and marine advisory services, joint research projects, and substantial industry financial support of the Sea Grant program. Action to address this recommendation should form part of the examination of the performance of each state program. These actions should be identified in the Sea Grant strategic plan. NSGO should develop mechanisms to involve industry in setting national goals and objectives. The state programs must play a leadership role in improving Sea Grant relations with industry, with assistance from SGRP and NSGO. The state programs should target outreach programs to industry, direct research priorities to real industry problems, and recommend industrial participants to advisory boards and NSGO committees. The committee recommends that the Under Secretary consider requesting that NSGO take a greater role in running the NOAA portion of the SBIR program because of Sea Grant's capabilities in the areas of outreach and technology transfer. If Sea Grant had the opportunity to administer NOAA's SBIR program, it could be a means to improve Sea Grant and NOAA partnerships with industry and would provide an opportunity for Sea Grant to become more involved in “demonstration-level ” projects. At present, it appears that Sea Grant and NOAA view the SBIR program as a drain on their resources and not as a potential vehicle to increase interactions with industry. The extent and continuity of industry support of Sea Grant depends on the real or perceived “value received” from its investment. Although every effort must be exerted by NSGO and SGRP to encourage industry support, the quality of the research or advisory service will ultimately determine industry's level of participation. SGRP should help NSGO create a national industry outreach program. SGRP has a strong industry orientation, but the range of industries represented on the panel should be increased. It should recommend to the Under Secretary ways to develop closer ties with NIST and other relevant parts of DOC. Objectives and actions to address this recommendation should be included in the Sea Grant strategic plan. The actions must begin immediately at the national and state levels and will form part of the examination of each state program. MAS activities must be broadened to include new activities such as oil spill clean up, recreational waterways use, dredging, and other problem areas, rather than its perceived emphasis primarily on fisheries. It is important for MAS to recruit some of its specialists from industry so that the range of perspectives can be broadened within MAS.
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A Review of the NOAA National Sea Grant College Program The goals of improved interactions should be to foster partnerships between Sea Grant and industry in a proactive way that speeds the transfer of technology and couples the intellectual capital of the universities to the marketplace of industry. This is best implemented at the state level. The committee recognizes that government-sponsored technology transfer is not always successful. Given Sea Grant's experience and the potential benefits of technology transfer, however, Sea Grant should increase its technology transfer efforts as another means to improve NOAA-industry interactions. State programs should consider funding joint industry-university research projects aimed at industry-identified constraints to growth and competitiveness. New technology development and testing should be a high priority for these partnerships and Sea Grant can assist by bringing together interdisciplinary and multi-institutional programs. Sea Grant could occupy an important niche by promoting the interaction of industry and academia in joint research projects. When representatives of industry believe they will achieve a satisfactory return on investment results of research and development that address their real needs), they will invest significant monies in Sea Grant. The relationship between Sea Grant and the National Coastal Resources Research and Development Institute should also be evaluated for its potential to enhance Sea Grant-industry relationships. State Sea Grant programs could also help industry by developing education and outreach activities that target vocational-technical schools and community colleges because of the important role of these educational institutions in providing graduates for employment in marine industries. Marine Advisory Service programs could contribute by helping design curricula, serving as information resources, and bringing the educational capabilities of Sea Grant to this problem. Involvement by state Sea Grant staff and investigators could ensure the combination of appropriate disciplines and participants (academic, industry, and government) in a given training program. This type of activity could improve Sea Grant's service to industry and encourage more support from industry. ISSUE 6 FUNDING Recommendation: The committee agreed that NSGCP needs additional funding to fulfill its potential. In the last decade, the purchasing power of the average research grant has declined by about one-half. A steady increase in funding is necessary if the program's potential contributions to the nation's economic and environmental health are to be realized. Any additional funds appropriated to NSGCP should be split between enhancement of meritorious state programs and support of new initiatives.
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A Review of the NOAA National Sea Grant College Program The committee recommends that the Under Secretary review the extramural funding programs within NOAA and develop means to help them function within an agency and department that are not oriented toward extramural funding. It might be necessary to adapt and/or adopt some of the granting processes of other agencies that fund extramural research activities. The committee recommends that funding for NSGCP be reviewed by the Under Secretary in the context of Sea Grant's present condition and the national priorities on research and development, economic development, and education. It further recommends that, in the future, separate line items be proposed in the Sea Grant budget for state programs, regional programs, national research initiatives, SBIR, the cost of SGRP, and other NSGO administrative costs. The committee recommends that Sea Grant receive additional funding only if the complete package of recommendations proposed by the committee is implemented or the problems which the committee identified are eliminated. The committee reiterates the loss of purchasing power that has been experienced by Sea Grant (see Figure 2) and notes that many Sea Grant activities coincide with high priorities of Congress and the administration. Any new funding added to the program should be tied to the Sea Grant strategic planning process. A large portion of any new resources should be dedicated to new initiatives. Increased appropriations will be needed if Sea Grant is to initiate international activities. NSGO, in concert with state directors, should consider a new funding mode for new initiatives, i.e., not dividing new monies among a multitude of small grants to all state programs. Instead, new monies might be devoted to a smaller number of larger grants awarded to the best proposals from among state programs. These grants could emphasize multi-institutional regional projects. State programs should also be encouraged or required to devote a small percentage (5-10%) of their core program funds to integrated regional research, education, and outreach activities. All six of the recommendations above must be implemented in order to improve Sea Grant's performance. Rapid implementation of these recommendations would help Sea Grant more efficiently manage its responsibilities and more wisely use any additional funds provided by Congress. If necessary improvements are not made, the committee suggests that Congress consider changes in the Sea Grant program and authorizing legislation. In this case, Congress might consider an alternate location for the Sea Grant program in order to ensure that the nation's marine science objectives are met.
Representative terms from entire chapter: