The Joint Subcommittee on Ocean Science and Technology (JSOST) has successfully involved the very diverse ocean community1 and the many federal agencies supporting ocean research in developing an ambitious plan for critically important ocean research in the United States over the next decade. For the final phase (Part II) of this National Research Council (NRC) review of the Ocean Research Priorities Plan and Implementation Strategy (ORPPIS), the committee was asked to assess how the plan has evolved in response to community input. It is clear that the JSOST thoughtfully considered the input provided by the NRC and the public on the draft document, mapping each concern or recommendation to a change in the text or to a decision not to modify the text. Several significant positive changes in the final document can be related directly to comments on the draft document. First, a clear and coherent vision statement is included that provides a compelling rationale for the importance of ocean science and articulates the evolution of thinking in the ocean science community. Second, the document has been restructured to be more readable, with clearer linkages among the six societal themes, more effective integration of cross-cutting issues, and a more substantive written and visual impact. Third, there is a clear, concise, and compelling executive summary.
Although the document has been significantly strengthened, some parts of the plan would benefit from further development or modification. Because the final research plan includes an implementation “strategy” and not an implementation “plan,” it postpones consideration of details that sooner or later will be necessary not only for implementing the
research plan but also for assessing progress and reevaluating priorities in the future. Implementation is a complex effort, and additional specifics on how existing programs or mechanisms will be enhanced, integrated, or modified to implement the research plan would make it easier to assess the likelihood of success for the overall program. The committee was not asked to provide detailed recommendations on the structure or components of the implementation plan, but notes that more emphasis on the integration of federal program assessment, evaluation, and plan updates with community-wide planning and implementation would build support for the program and give the research plan greater longevity through regular reconsideration of the priorities.
The committee also felt that the ORPPIS did not adequately describe how the near-term priorities fit within existing research efforts and the 20 longer-term research priorities. This detracts from the coherence of the overall plan and raises concerns about program efficiency. There was particular concern about the near-term priority on comparative analysis of marine ecosystem organization. In the implementation strategy, the focus of this priority shifts from improving the understanding of ecosystem processes and tools for evaluating ecosystem-based management efforts to a narrower evaluation of the effectiveness of marine protected areas. Also, the term “marine protected area” is not well defined, leading to a lack of consistency in usage. This more limited approach runs the risk of forestalling the development of other innovative scientific approaches. In future iterations of the ORPPIS, closer correspondence between the description of near-term priorities in the planning and implementation sections of documents would provide more opportunity for thorough scientific review.
Reiterating the conclusion reached in the review of the draft research plan, the committee recommends identifying the large-scale scientific challenges that underlie many of the research priorities. Specific, well-formulated scientific challenges would provide inspiration for new research endeavors and would facilitate the identification of more tightly formulated research priorities.
The committee was asked to provide recommendations on how to ensure continued community-wide involvement in ORPPIS implementation and to provide input on assessment of progress on the priorities. For planning, reviewing, and updating the ORPPIS, the committee recommends the formation of external advisory committees that are transparent, balanced, and as free from conflicts of interest as possible. Three types of external committees could be established to engage the broader ocean community and provide expertise that would assist the
JSOST in achieving the research priorities outlined in the ORPPIS. Independent reviews by external committees will increase accountability and proffer guidance that has credibility with the greater ocean research community.
RECOMMENDATION: External committees should be established to provide independent and credible advice to the Joint Subcommittee on Ocean Science and Technology on the implementation of the Ocean Research Priorities Plan and Implementation Strategy. At least three types of external committees would be required:
An advisory committee to provide ongoing advice on implementation, particularly when the JSOST would like to make major changes to the ORPPIS (e.g., termination or initiation of a near-term priority), termed the Advisory Committee;
Near-term committees to provide specialized advice on each near-term priority, referred to in this report as Near-Term Committees; and
A five-year committee that provides the formal five-year review of progress and future plans, hereafter called the Five-Year Committee.
RECOMMENDATION: The selection process for members of external committees should ensure that the membership is balanced, is free of conflicts of interest, and contains the breadth of expertise required to provide the highest quality independent advice to the JSOST. Membership should be drawn from state and local governments, academia, industry, nongovernmental organizations, and other entities. The process should ensure that the committee will be respected by federal agencies, nonfederal research partners, and the science and ocean communities at large.
The implementation strategy proposes to have a formal, comprehensive, five-year review to assess progress in implementation and to update the plan. While this is an appropriate time frame for a major review, there are critical activities that must be coordinated on shorter time scales to achieve the planning and updates, evaluation and assessment, and implementation objectives. Because of the complexity of the effort and the number of partners involved, these need to be sequenced carefully.
On a day-to-day basis, facilitation of the coordination of the various activities that contribute to the implementation of the final ORPPIS will require some entity under the auspices of the JSOST to make program information rapidly and broadly available.
RECOMMENDATION: The JSOST should establish a program office that would ensure coordination, collaboration, and integration of projects for implementing the ORPPIS.
On an annual or budgetary time scale, the implementation strategy includes a description of the process for incorporating the ORPPIS into the federal budget planning process. The described budget memorandum could serve as a valuable tool both for the federal agencies involved in the interagency planning process and for the community as a whole to track progress toward the priorities and to coordinate planning of future activities. Since Office of Management and Budget (OMB) budget reviews are performed largely per agency, presenting an administrative barrier to the assessment of progress on interagency programs envisioned in the ORPPIS, a more coordinated mechanism will be required to ensure that the interagency priorities are included in the budget planning for the individual agencies.
FINDING: The proposed JSOST-OMB budget memorandum is a critical element of the implementation strategy that would serve to both incorporate the ORPPIS into the federal budget planning process and provide accountability across agencies for participation in the interagency implementation of the research plan.
RECOMMENDATION: Upon finalization of the President’s budget, a public version of the JSOST
budget memorandum should be released to inform Congress, states, and stakeholders about the federal government’s plans, including budget projections, for advancing the national ocean research priorities.
RECOMMENDATION: Agency budget information should specify how funds have been and will be used to support the interagency research priorities to provide accountability and encourage participation of all the federal partners in implementing the full set of ocean research priorities. Office of Management and Budget review of agency budget requests should be coordinated, potentially through common examiners, to ensure that interagency priorities are included in the plans of the individual agencies.
RECOMMENDATION: The JSOST should develop cost estimates for the federal components of the research priorities plan to facilitate longer-term planning for implementation and for achieving the plan’s goals.
For the ORPPIS to be successfully adopted as a national plan, the greater ocean research and policy community will have to be regularly engaged both in implementation activities of the current plan and in future updates. Effective outreach will be necessary to ensure community buy-in in the ORPPIS. While the JSOST is to be commended for the level of community input sought in the development of the current ORPPIS, there are additional mechanisms that will allow even greater input in future iterations of the plan.
RECOMMENDATION: The JSOST should continue and expand its efforts to reach out regularly to the ocean community concerning the activities, progress, and planning of the ORPPIS.
All parties to the implementation of the ORPPIS should be involved in the formal five-year review, thereby creating a broad sense of “ownership” in the success of the program. This should include a major review carried out by the external Five-Year Committee described above.
RECOMMENDATION: The updating of the ORPPIS should incorporate opportunities to comment on the selection and implementation of new near-term priorities and include a formal review by the Five-Year Committee.
This would be similar to the process used to develop the current ORPPIS and is comparable to the approach taken with the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) strategic plan (NRC, 2003d, 2004b).2
Exceptional circumstances might arise that would precipitate a call for revising the existing research plan. In such cases, there should be a mechanism for review by an external committee that would provide advice on proposed changes.
RECOMMENDATION: If an exceptional circumstance arises and a new near-term priority becomes necessary prior to the five-year formal update, the JSOST should consult with the broader ocean community and the Advisory Committee before its adoption. Upon adoption of a new near-term priority, the JSOST should establish a new Near-Term Committee with the appropriate expertise to advise on the latest near-term priority.