NASA should not establish a “National Institute for Space Science” that would pull together the three present science program offices.
NASA should augment the responsibilities and authorities of the NASA Chief Scientist.
NASA should establish a set of fair, open, and understandable processes to be used in the prioritization of space science research. These processes will ensure that major project proposals considered at progressively higher levels within the agency have the heritage of scientific merit that comes from a successful confrontation with competing proposals at lower levels.
NASA should create a comprehensive strategy and plan for the technologies that support the space sciences, with the responsibility for near-term technology development residing in the science programs to be served and the responsibility for longer-term technology strategy and development residing in the Office of Space Access and Technology.
NASA should change the funding of its field centers to full-cost accounting (“industrial funding”). Cost accounting should be based on full program costs, including civil service salaries. The committee endorses NASA's intentions to move in this direction.
NASA should exercise caution in downsizing its Headquarters staff and transferring functions to the centers; this process could be carried too far and have unintended consequences. The committee identified a number of areas where it believes control should be retained at Headquarters.
NASA science budgets should include a limited amount of dedicated funding for innovative ideas in high-risk, high-return areas lying outside the current framework of inquiry or design.
NASA should take a cautious approach to the recently proposed establishment of focused science institutes. There should be a well-defined process for their selection and creation, and a clear plan for the phased transfer of base funds to programmatic funding.
The following expands key recommendations of the report:
Institute for Space Science—In response to direction in the FY 1994 Senate appropriations report, the committee considered a space sciences umbrella organization within NASA to coordinate and oversee all space science activities, functioning like the National Institutes of Health (NIH) within the Department of Health and Human Services. The committee reviewed the advantages and disadvantages of such a model and concluded that the NIH model, while effective in the arena of health research, is not appropriate for the space sciences. NASA space science benefits from close coordination with other elements of NASA, such as hardware development, launch services, and tracking and data operations, which have no counterparts in the NIH model. The committee believes the required coordination would be hampered by the creation of a quasi-autonomous space science institute. The committee therefore does not recommend establishment of such an umbrella institute.
The Role of the Chief Scientist—The role of the Chief Scientist was found to be a critical one from many perspectives, leading the committee to recommend expanding the authorities and responsibilities of this position. Despite the central role of the science associate administrators in the management of their respective science areas, the committee finds a need for greater integration and coordination of these programs. To achieve this, the position of Chief Scientist should be strengthened, particularly by the addition of concurrence authority in key matters affecting space science. The Chief Scientist should be a person of eminent standing in the scientific community with a significant record of accomplishment. A proposed “functional statement” for the Chief Scientist is given in Chapter 4. A major component of this official's integration responsibility is coordination and oversight of the recommended science prioritization process. Another component is coordination of the technology development programs that support space science.
The Prioritization Process—The committee believes that peer review is the most effective form of merit review for the selection of scientific research. A clear set of criteria, known and understood by all parties, is crucial to the prioritization of scientific goals. The relative ranking of science and mission