Evolution of the Plan in Response to Community Input
The development of the Ocean Research Priorities Plan and Implementation Strategy (ORPPIS), Charting the Course for Ocean Science in the United States: Research Priorities for the Next Decade (JSOST, 2007), represents the first coordinated national research planning effort involving many of the federal agencies that support ocean science. The U.S. Ocean Action Plan directed the National Science and Technology Council’s Joint Subcommittee on Ocean Science and Technology (JSOST) to prepare the research plan. The JSOST asked the National Research Council (NRC) to review both the draft Ocean Research Priorities Plan (ORPP) and the final ORPPIS. There are three phases to the NRC review: (1) a summary of relevant NRC report recommendations to aid the JSOST in the development of the ORPP, (2) review of the draft ORPP (Part I), and (3) review of the final ORPPIS (Part II).
Part II (Summary and Chapters 1 and 2) reviews the final ORPPIS according to the guidelines provided by the statement of task for Part II of this project (Box 1-1). Chapter 1 addresses how the plan has evolved in response to the NRC review of the draft plan and other community input. Chapter 2 addresses how the implementation strategy provided in the final ORPPIS could be expanded or modified to ensure continuity of community-wide planning and implementation. Chapter 2 also suggests processes that could be employed to assess progress in addressing the priorities and how priorities might be reevaluated in light of new information or emerging ocean issues.
Part II Statement of Task
In this phase, the committee will provide an overall assessment of the revised (final) plan with an emphasis on the following:
RESPONSE TO NRC REVIEW AND PUBLIC COMMENTS
In addition to the recommendations submitted by the NRC for the draft plan, there were 210 pages of public comments from a variety of individuals and organizations representing diverse perspectives on the ocean environment. While it is difficult to generalize about public comments, they had many similarities to the NRC recommendations. The JSOST is to be commended for considering and responding to such a large number of comments on the draft plan. Four major revisions substantially improved the final version of the research plan. First, the JSOST incorporated a clear and coherent vision statement into the final document. This vision shows the evolution of thinking within the ocean science community with respect to the societal themes and provides a compelling rationale for the importance of ocean science, framing the vision in the context of the opportunities and challenges. The report also effectively ties this vision to the critical role and importance of predictive models in the ocean sciences. Second, the JSOST restructured the document to make it more readable and coherent. Clearer linkages are made among the six societal themes and the new text effectively integrates cross-cutting issues such as education, observing systems, and basic research throughout the document. In addition, the section titled “Expanding the Scientific Frontier: The Need for Fundamental Science” has been redone. It is particularly well written and successfully highlights in more detail the critical importance of basic research in ocean sciences. Third, the executive summary provides a succinct and compelling overview of the final ORPPIS. It highlights the three central
elements of the science and technology identified in the report: capability to forecast key ocean and ocean-influenced processes and phenomena, scientific support for ecosystem-based management, and deploying an ocean observing system. The executive summary also outlines the six societal themes and the research priorities under each. Fourth, the written and visual impact of the document as a whole has been substantially improved from the draft. The use of illustrations, maps, photos, and other figures significantly enhances the overall presentation.
Although the document has been strengthened significantly in a number of ways, some pieces of the plan would benefit from further development or modification as elucidated below. First, the implementation strategy is lacking in detail. While recognizing that it is not possible to make specific budgetary and other commitments, the committee is disappointed that the JSOST did not paint a clearer picture of how this important and ambitious program will be implemented. Often, the text simply lists existing programs or mechanisms without indicating how they will be enhanced, integrated, or modified to implement the research plan. For example, the description provided under the heading “Assessment and Evaluation” states that the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) performance assessment structure “is a useful reference” for developing an assessment mechanism for the multiagency efforts to address the research priorities. Similarly, the text states that the Government Performance and Results Act will form the basis for establishing milestones and metrics. Although both represent reasonable starting points, a great gulf remains to convert these elements of the “strategy” into more concrete implementation plans, and it is not clear from the current document how this will be accomplished for those items and many others in the implementation strategy. The lack of such specifics makes it difficult to assess the likelihood of success of the overall program.
Second, the implementation strategy is weak in explaining how federal program assessment, evaluation, and plan updates will be integrated with community-wide planning and implementation. Chapter 2 of Part II offers some recommendations in this area.
Third, while the committee acknowledges that more detailed plans are needed to move toward implementation of the near-term priorities, there is particular concern about the framing of the comparative analysis of marine ecosystem organization (CAMEO) priority. This priority is focused on a specific approach to studying marine ecosystems rather than addressing a specific question about marine ecosystems. Because of the range of use regulations in marine protected areas (MPAs) and marine
managed areas (MMAs), these areas can serve as effective tools for studying specific human impacts such as the effect of a fishery in reducing the abundance of a dominant species; therefore, MPAs and MMAs can be valuable for exploring “the complex dynamics that control and regulate ecosystem processes” (JSOST, 2007, p. 54). However, in the implementation strategy, the emphasis of this near-term priority is shifted from improving the “understanding of ecosystem processes and practical tools for evaluating the effectiveness of local and regional adaptive ecosystem-based management efforts” to the narrower goal of “evaluating the effectiveness of MPAs in achieving management objectives” (JSOST, 2007, pp. 54 and 77). This raises the concern that the analysis will be limited to MPA applications, potentially reducing the value of this near-term priority for increasing our understanding of ecosystem dynamics. There is also a concern that the social and economic impacts of MPAs are not explicitly included in the implementation strategy for this near-term priority. MPAs could be a powerful tool for identifying additional or alternative focus areas for CAMEO, with prioritization achieved through the science advisory process described in Chapter 2 of Part II. In future iterations of the near-term priorities, a closer correspondence between the planning and implementation sections of the documents would increase the opportunity for thorough scientific review. An additional concern is that the term marine protected area can be interpreted to apply to a range of management measures, from strict closures to modest limitations on access; therefore, MPA should be defined and used consistently in the description of CAMEO.
RECOMMENDATION: In future iterations of the near-term priorities, there should be a closer correspondence between the planning and implementation sections of the documents to increase the opportunity for thorough scientific review. For example, more discussion is warranted with regard to the rationale for changing the emphasis in the comparative analysis of marine ecosystem organization near-term priority from a more general comparative analysis of ecosystem-based management approaches to an evaluation of the effectiveness of MPAs.
Fourth, the relationship between the near-term priorities, existing efforts, and the long-term priorities is not clearly laid out. It is still unclear how the near-term priorities will augment existing research efforts
and then ultimately contribute to addressing the 20 longer-term priorities. This detracts from the coherence of the overall plan and raises concerns about program efficiency.
RECOMMENDATION: In the development of implementation plans for the near-term priorities (and in the next iteration of the ORPPIS), the JSOST should explain how each near-term priority will interface with existing research programs to address issues such as coordination, consolidation, launching of new initiatives, and resource or funding changes required by such program adjustments. In addition, there should be a greater effort to link the near-term priorities to objectives in the 20 longer-term priorities to increase the coherence of the overall plan.
Fifth, the committee reiterates its recommendation to link the research program outlined in the document to specific large-scale scientific challenges as an organizational strategy. The rationales provided for each theme in the final plan do not sufficiently capture the nature of the main scientific challenges.
In the review of the draft ORPP, the committee noted that two issues mentioned in the draft plan were not included in the priorities. The committee feels that these issues still lack adequate coverage in the final ORPPIS. Historical cultural issues, such as shipwrecks and historic living waterfronts, were identified in the rationale for Theme 1, but the priorities in this section do not directly address research needs for these cultural entities. In Theme 3, “Ensuring National and Homeland Security” was highlighted in a special box, but no mention of this was made in the priorities for the theme. Additionally, the plan would benefit from additional discussion of the linkages among the strategic elements.
The committee is impressed at the breadth of ocean interests represented by the 25 federal agencies in the JSOST and encourages sustained dialogue among the agencies, particularly in research and budget planning, to allow continued leveraging of limited resources to maximize progress in achieving the priorities. The committee was concerned that in its current manifestation, the implementation strategy indicates uneven participation of the agencies in implementing the near-term priorities, with most of the effort being assigned to the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Ad-
ministration (NOAA), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
RECOMMENDATION: The role(s) of all of the JSOST agencies should be reflected in the more detailed implementation plans and in future planning activities.
Finally, the committee offers a few suggestions for the next planning exercise, anticipated to take place five years from now. The committee again supports the concept of presenting research challenges to facilitate the identification of more tightly formulated research priorities under each theme and to galvanize the ocean research and policy communities in support of the plan. In its response to the committee’s earlier recommendation, the JSOST indicated that it had included such challenges in the “Rationale” section of each theme, but the presentation is not as compelling as it could be. The committee’s first report provided some examples of challenges that could be met within certain time frames. It is understandable that there is considerable reluctance to be tied down to a specific time period to meet such challenges, but the committee believes these challenges can be presented more effectively to capture the fundamental value and interest of the priority even without a specified time frame.