The development of the draft Ocean Research Priorities Plan (ORPP), Charting the Course for Ocean Science in the United States: Research Priorities for the Next Decade, represents the first coordinated national research planning effort involving all federal agencies that support ocean science. The Bush administration’s U.S. Ocean Action Plan directed the National Science and Technology Council’s Joint Subcommittee on Ocean Science and Technology (JSOST) to prepare the ORPP and an implementation strategy. The JSOST asked the National Research Council (NRC) to review both the draft and the final ORPP.1 This activity has importance and value for opening lines of communication among and across government agencies, academia, nongovernmental organizations, and industry that cannot be overstated. The draft plan succeeds in a number of important ways: (1) the central link between the ocean and society is clear and well articulated; (2) the six broad themes around which the report is organized succeed in capturing the main ocean-related issues facing society in a comprehensive and coherent way; (3) three important overarching opportunities are identified; (4) the role of research in improving technology, monitoring, management, and fundamental understanding of the ocean, coasts, and Great Lakes is recognized; and (5) the plan includes research priorities in the social sciences, a necessary component for improving ocean stewardship.
In this review, the committee identifies ways in which the draft ORPP may be improved. These are highlighted in the Summary and described in detail in the remaining chapters of Part I. The major recommendations of the committee are summarized below.
Although the implementation strategy was released with the final ORPP, it was not released in draft form and was not included in Part I of the NRC review. The draft ORPP included a brief description of the topics to be addressed in the implementation strategy in the section titled “The Next Steps.”
VISION AND CHALLENGES
The draft ORPP lacks a bold and compelling vision for ocean research in the next decade. The specific challenges for ocean science should clearly follow from the problems and opportunities facing society, but these connections are not clearly articulated in the current plan. The rationale and process for the selection of individual priorities does not emerge from the supporting text. Additionally, the plan gives minimal reference to other major efforts to identify national priorities for ocean science and technology such as the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, the Pew Oceans Commission, and the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative. The draft plan thus misses an opportunity to build on previous efforts and recognize the evolution of a consensus on the future direction of ocean science and technology to meet societal needs.
RECOMMENDATION: The Ocean Research Priorities Plan should provide a bold and compelling vision for the future of ocean science research. This vision should be placed near the front of the plan and referenced throughout to help integrate discrete sections of the plan. To provide a clearer connection between the research priorities and the underlying societal needs, the plan should identify a series of challenges for science and society under each theme.
LINKAGES AMONG THEMES
Major ocean research and management challenges facing our nation require multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches that cut across the defined missions of individual government agencies as well as nongovernmental organizations, academia, and industry. Because of the complexity of these challenges, sophisticated approaches that draw on strong expertise from a range of disciplines will be needed to acquire and apply knowledge for scientifically sound management strategies. The value of strong interdisciplinary and multiagency approaches to ocean research has been highlighted in the U.S. Ocean Action Plan and other recent documents. While the importance of interdisciplinary science as well as approaches that cut across agency missions is acknowledged, the draft plan lacks a consistent approach across themes that (1) identifies the linkages among themes and the intersections of research priorities;
(2) elucidates mechanisms to foster collaborative research in these areas; and (3) emphasizes the need for strong interagency cooperation and collaboration.
RECOMMENDATION: The ORPP should provide a more comprehensive description of the needs and opportunities for multidisciplinary research, as well as research partnerships (multiagency and agency-academia-industry-international) for each societal theme. The implementation strategy for the ORPP should evaluate the adequacy of existing mechanisms for interagency and agency-academia collaborative research to identify opportunities to improve collaboration among sectors.
IMPLEMENTATION AND METRICS
Issues central to assessing the feasibility of the plan and its responsiveness to the nation’s needs are the level of funding and the strategy for implementation. Because the implementation strategy was not included in the draft research plan, it is difficult to assess either feasibility or responsiveness.
The ORPP does not provide a straightforward explanation of the scope of the plan. Is the ORPP designed to include all ongoing research activities, in addition to new programs initiated in the next 10 years? The document would be easier to interpret if it stated whether the plan incorporates existing research programs and, if so, identified the new initiatives associated with each of the themes.
In addition, the plan lacks metrics by which it will be judged. There is a huge range in the costs of conducting the various types of ocean research addressed in the priorities that logically will have an impact on the implementation of the research plan and progress toward achieving societal goals. Similarly, new capabilities in forecasting ocean processes (both physical and biological) will not benefit society unless there is a strategy for converting research programs into operational activities. Presumably, the JSOST’s implementation strategy will specify the general funding assumptions under which the plan was developed. The ORPP lists items to be addressed in the implementation strategy including the roles and responsibilities of different agencies in implementing the plan, mechanisms for cooperation and coordination of
agency activities, and performance measures. Since this information was not provided in the draft ORPP, it is difficult to evaluate whether the research priorities can be achieved.
RECOMMENDATION: The ORPP should clearly state the goals, challenges, and research priorities of the plan and how these relate to existing programs and new initiatives. The implementation strategy should include a schedule by which these priorities could reasonably be addressed, a set of benchmarks by which progress can be assessed, and a strategy for maintaining new capabilities (made possible by advances in knowledge of processes, modeling, and technology) through the transfer from research to operational programs.
ORGANIZATION OF THE PLAN
The sections “Expanding the Scientific Frontier: The Need for Fundamental Science,” “Overarching Opportunities,” “Making a Difference,” and “Opportunities for Progress” are key pieces of the draft ORPP that define critical areas for science and technology efforts as well as for infrastructure and education needs. In a sense, the issues identified in these sections underlie or cut across all of the themes and research priorities. Their placement in the current draft plan, with three sections at the end of the document, misses the opportunity to effectively integrate each of these cross-cutting areas into the ORPP.
RECOMMENDATION: The plan should be reorganized to include a discrete section devoted to cross-cutting elements that are central to the vision for ocean research. The concept of cross-cutting themes used in the planning document should be reintroduced and moved toward the beginning of the plan as a way to reinforce the importance of these elements in creating the foundation for progress on the societal themes.