From the beginning of the Program, there have been important cultural differences among the USGCRP agencies in terms of how they address their scientific missions related to global change. NSF, for example, exclusively supports the scientific community (primarily in academia) to perform fundamental research according to the community’s priorities, which are identified and vetted through peer-reviewed proposals, with some attention paid to avoiding overlap with other agencies’ main foci. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), on the other hand, primarily supports science related to its mission through an in-house scientific staff. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NASA, DOE, EPA, and USDA support a mix of in-house and extramural mission-oriented research, with the balance between the two set by agency needs. The magnitudes of extramural and intramural research support, as well as the mechanisms by which proposals are sought and evaluated, vary among USGCRP members. The agencies also vary in the degree to which they invest in efforts to inform decisions as a part of the research process.
USGCRP members have a variety of reasons for their participation and thus have varying levels of participation from within their agencies. First, there are agencies whose missions prominently include research on the science of global change, e.g., NOAA, NSF, DOE, and NASA. In addition, many of the agencies with membership in the USGCRP also have regulatory or policy functions related to global change (e.g., EPA, DOE, NOAA, and DOI). The scientific and policy functions may be in different offices within USGCRP agencies, as is the case with EPA and DOE, or they may largely be in separate agencies, as in DOI. Several agencies, e.g., NOAA, have parts that have both regulatory and research functions, such as the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Office for Coastal Management. Many of the agencies that are members of USGCRP have multiple parts (e.g., sub-agencies or offices) that participate in or contribute to the USGCRP to varying degrees. For example, parts of the USDA that contribute include the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), Forest Service (USFS), National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), and Economic Research Service (ERS).
Participation in the USGCRP takes several forms. The principal and most visible role is supporting research responsive to the priorities outlined in the strategic plan. But there are other modes of participation for engaging in the stimulation, facilitation, shaping, and coordination of global change research, as well as for envisioning the research needed to proactively prepare for projected environmental changes. Those other modes include:
- staff support for the USGCRP Office;
- participation in budget cross-cuts as requested by Office of Management and Budget (OMB);
- interaction with the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and OMB in setting national research priorities, as set out in an annual memo from OSTP to the agencies;
- intellectual and staff contributions to strategic planning and preparation of program documents;
- participation in the National Climate Assessment (USGCRP, 2014);
- participation in the governance of the USGCRP through membership on the committee of Principals (i.e., representatives from each of the 13 formal member agencies) that oversees the entire program; and
- participation in various Interagency Working Groups (IWGs) that coordinate a wide variety of activities among the agencies (see Appendix D).
Some of these other modes have been quite effective. In particular, some of the IWGs have had real success in coordinating efforts across multiple agencies, including the Adaptation Working Group and the Climate Change and Human Health Working Group, that were very active in the most recent National Climate Assessment (USGCRP, 2014).
The degree to which the various agencies take on such activities varies widely. At a minimum, all member agencies are represented by a Principal. Further, among agencies that are formally part of the USGCRP, some parts of the agencies may be highly engaged, while other parts of those agencies may not engage at all, even though there may be increasing reason for them to do so as the activities for which they have responsibility are affected by global change. In addition, there are other agencies that are not formal members of USGCRP that participate in one or more of the modes identified in the previous paragraph, in particular through the IWGs.
Benefits to the agencies from participation in these activities include gaining support for their research programs, using the results of USGCRP science to support their missions, and increasing the audience for their research. Because both the science and the problems of global change cross disciplinary lines and agency missions, the USGCRP’s coordination responsibilities include instances in which a participating agency can readily perceive its own interest in participating, as well as cases in which the research capabilities of an agency are needed by others but are not initially a high priority to the agency. The latter is a challenge in many different agency settings that needs to be addressed as the Nation prepares for the risks of global and regional change.
The Committee recognizes, moreover, that participation in the USGCRP is not free: At minimum, staff time is required, and the interactions with the Program may trigger reallocation of the resources of an agency or department. The latter may be both beneficial and, in the short run, inconvenient. The Committee’s conclusions below take these costs of participation into account. The case studies discussed throughout the rest of this report explore examples of how enhanced participation in USGCRP could be of value to USGCRP, the nation, and a number of agencies and federal entities that are not currently engaged heavily in USGCRP activities.