In accordance with its charge to advise the USGCRP (See Appendix B for the Committee’s overall charge), the Committee has consulted regularly with the Program and its principals. Reflecting on those discussions, the Committee undertook this report, under the guidance of The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, to consider current Program membership and capabilities in light of the Strategic Plan. The USGCRP is an interagency entity created as a partnership between the Executive Office of the President and the mission agencies that are the Program’s members. The Program seeks to coordinate the partners’ activities so as to advance the Nation’s interest in global change research. The goal of this report is to evaluate the current set of USGCRP capabilities, given emerging opportunities and demands, and from this analysis develop a rationale for determining potential partners; to identify gaps and areas of potential leverage; and to recommend adjustments if necessary. The Committee did not set out to undertake a comprehensive survey of the capabilities in federal agencies and other partners that should either use or contribute global change research in the pursuit of their missions. Rather, the Committee explores the current set of USGCRP capabilities in comparison to goals and objectives in the Strategic Plan and identifies examples of how adjustments in participation could enable the program to better meet its stated goals (see Appendix A for the Committee’s Statement of Task).
There are three parts to the Committee’s explanation for why enhanced participation in USGCRP activities is needed and suggestions for encouraging that participation. First, there is a mismatch between the current levels of participation compared to the GCRA and the Program’s Strategic Plan, as these documents describe the Program’s original mandate and current plans for fulfilling that mandate. In view of the challenges that USGRP agencies face—in particular from constrained budgets—the most effective way of addressing the Strategic Plan is to encourage multiple modes of participation with various partners, including federal agencies and parts of agencies that currently do not participate in USGCRP activities, as well as entities outside the federal government. IWGs present a particularly effective approach for coordinating activities at the federal level. Lastly, the Committee suggests that USGCRP has the responsibility to argue which new partnerships should be pursued. This is discussed in detail below.
Determining potential partners for achieving the objectives of the Strategic Plan will be an evolving process. The Committee’s goal in this report is to bring to light the role that is or could be played by agencies that do not now participate in the budget cross-cut, by parts of agencies not well represented even when their cabinet department takes part in the cross-cut, and by entities beyond the federal government. The case studies presented in this report are not meant to be comprehensive, but neither are they random. Rather, the Committee intends the cases selected to be representative of the spectrum of issues that need to be discussed. Inevitably, the cases selected reflect the perspectives of the
committee members and the history of the USGCRP. If the task were a comprehensive review of agency capabilities, as compared to the goals in the Strategic Plan, the case study approach would not be sufficient. Instead of such a comprehensive analysis, the conclusions presented below contribute advice to the Program in an ongoing discussion of ways to achieve the ambitious goals of the USGCRP Strategic Plan.
As has been described above, there is significant and growing pressure from decision makers in numerous sectors for better information to support decisions about adaptation and mitigation, to inform ongoing assessments, and for further efforts to communicate global change information and educate interested and affected parties. This has expanded the Program’s focus from Goal 1 to include Goals 2, 3, and 4, but at the same time introduced a tension between the role of Goal 1—to “advance science” including discovery, system approaches, and innovation—with a role that provides “use oriented” science that is needed in support of “services” for Goals 2, 3, and 4. It is critical that a balanced portfolio of science be established that satisfies both of these aspects, but the current USGCRP membership is insufficient for tackling these challenges.
As emphasized throughout this report, integration of more agencies, parts of agencies, or other entities that are outside the USGCRP “membership” or that do not currently participate actively in USGCRP is critical to advancing each of the strategic plan’s four goals and for serving the needs of the Nation. USGCRP has a mandate to envision what risks are likely to arise with global change over coming decades, what science is needed to inform decisions on how to prepare for, mitigate, and manage these risks, and what methods and tools decision makers will need. Addressing the mismatches between the current capabilities of the USGCRP member agencies and this mandate will require partnerships with various agencies, parts of agencies, and non-federal entities.
The discussion in the previous chapters highlights (1) important differences across agencies and other relevant entities in their missions, operations, and policy and regulatory functions, (2) how broadening participation can help address the four key goals of the USGCRP Strategic Plan, and (3) a variety of modes that participation in the USGCRP might take. In considering an expansion of participation, the USGCRP leadership would benefit by recognizing links among these three factors and use those links to help identify participation opportunities with different scopes and goals.
For example, for Goal 1 (Advancing Science), participation by agencies and entities with strong research or data generation missions and capacity is likely to be most important. Where a key goal of the participation is advancing knowledge, potential partners increasingly include entities collecting social data, such as demographic and economic data sets (see Box 4).
Meeting Goal 2 (Informing Decisions) requires participation by agencies and entities whose primary mission involves policy or regulatory decision-making and program evaluation and design. For these Goal 2 opportunities, the primary objective of
expanded participation would be guiding scientific efforts coordinated by USGCRP toward providing knowledge useful for informing decisions and translating knowledge into action. In particular, there are critical issues that require improved use of global change science information, such as the provision of health information (Box 8), the challenge of urban environments (Box 9), and the need for mitigation of GHG emissions (Box 5) where broader partnerships are needed.
To achieve Goal 3 (Conduct Sustained Assessment), USGCRP will need to continue and expand engagement with agencies and entities that have been key contributors to the National Climate Assessment, for example, because they represent key sectors or regions included in the NCA or represent key stakeholders or user groups that should be involved in future NCAs. An important goal of this participation would be to ensure that the NCA accurately reflects the current state of knowledge and also presents that knowledge in a way that is most useful to potential users (based on input from those users).
Finally, Goal 4 (Communicate and Educate) could be advanced by increased participation by agencies and entities whose missions include a strong science education or workforce development component and that have additional capacity to disseminate information and products generated by the USGCRP. Some of this work is already underway in regional centers (NOAA RISAs, USDA Climate Hubs, DOI Climate Science Centers, and DOI LCCs), but it could also be expanded to include partnerships with other regional entities who are already engaged with local communities, such as the Association of Bay Area Governments (Box 10).
Conclusion 1: USGCRP needs broader partnerships and participation from within existing member agencies and from new entities to implement the goals and objectives developed in the Strategic Plan.
As USGCRP looks to expand the number and types of partners with which it engages, it will also need to broaden the sorts of partnerships it employs. The mode of collaboration will need to be tailored to address the specific tasks or objectives at hand. Furthermore, the types of partnerships will continue to evolve as the challenges of global change, particularly climate change, increase. The USGCRP will need to continue to explore new partnerships to help address these evolving challenges.
An important consequence of engaging other agencies or parts of agencies is that the networks of actors with which those agencies already work can become engaged as well. For example, activities related to informing decisions will involve scientific products developed by the agencies, but, depending on the decisions in question, they may also involve regional-, state-, and local-level governmental agencies, tribal and territorial governments, sector-based owners and managers (e.g., banking and finance, energy and infrastructure), and boundary organizations. An earlier NRC report, Informing Decisions in a Changing Climate (NRC, 2009a), noted that providing decision support will require the USGCRP to “facilitate distributed responses to climate change” at multiple scales and
among diverse actors. Similarly, communication and education activities will require the participation of entities both within and outside the USGCRP agency structure.
Achieving the broader societal impacts envisioned in these program goals can be thought of as requiring the engagement of networks of partners (Bidwell et al., 2013), as opposed to agencies. Some networks will be enduring, while others will be ad hoc or relatively short-lived. Evolving in ways that support diverse network activities will present a challenge to the USGCRP, but such evolution is consistent with the program’s strategic plan.
The way in which the USGCRP engages will differ across various potential partners and across the four goals of the Strategic Plan. For example, in pursuit of Goal 1 (Advancing Science), collaboration might take the form of coordinated or even joint intra- and extra-mural research programs, and perhaps partnering agencies might eventually become full USGCRP members. Improved data collection and curation serves all 4 goals, and here engagement might involve regular communication. Goal 2 (Informing Decisions) requires processes that link analysis to deliberation to ensure that there is mutual understanding between scientists and decision makers of what is known and what needs to be known.
As has been mentioned in several examples throughout this report, focusing on specific tasks could help focus collaborations; see discussions in Goal 3 and Boxes 7, 8, and 9 as examples. This could be done through the identification of specific tasks and challenges within the program, around which multi-agency participation is clearly needed. These collaborations can be thought of as bridges to connect networks of communities; these bridges need to be built consciously in places where they will help the flow of information become self-sustaining. These collaborations might take the form of interagency working groups—such as for data sharing (Box 4)—or other working groups—for example on permitting for oil and gas (Box 7). It is important to note that the federal government is already having some success in these types of collaborations through the various regional centers, e.g., RISAs, Climate Hubs, Climate Science Centers, and LCCs (e.g., Box 8).
Goal 3 (Sustained Assessments) has already been demonstrated to require linkages both across government agencies and with outside stakeholders in order to make assessments relevant to a wide variety of decision processes. Linkages in service of Goal 4 (Communications and Education) are likely to be as diverse as the many kinds of formal and informal educational efforts undertaken across the breadth of the federal, state, and local governments and could also involve business communities and non-profits. Opportunities to work with a broader network of partners on these issues could take the form of programs spearheaded by regional centers on specific topics in which USGCRP helps facilitate agency participation—such as climate adaptation and resilience planning in specific regions (Box 10)—or collaborations with public-private partnerships—for example for work on urban environments (Box 9).
Conclusion 2: USGCRP could most effectively achieve its goals by embracing a variety of approaches to partnership.
Beyond core participation in USGCRP, there is a need for mechanisms to promote enhanced participation at the federal level. The Interagency Working Groups (IWGs) present one such option; see Appendix D for a list of the IWGs. In particular, some of these 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, which were very active in the most recent National Climate Assessment. Non-member agencies have made some important contributions to these assessment and IWG activities already, and these examples point to the potential value of these types of activities.
Agencies that are not formally members of USGCRP already participate in the IWGs. The USGCRP can create and disband IWGs as they are needed or as they fulfill their appointed tasks, and they thus provide a potentially very useful mechanism for different agencies to interact at a working level with a minimum of administrative oversight. Areas like the linking of data sets (Box 4) or the support of mitigation decisions (Box 5) could be explored as opportunities for new IWGs. Determination of which tasks will be addressed by new (or existing) IWGs would be best served by incorporating input from decision makers and agencies facing challenges with specific problems. As discussed in Conclusion 4 below, USGCRP could serve an important function in connecting these tasks with the goals and objectives in the Strategic Plan and taking the lead in arguing for the development of new IWGs.
The establishment of IWGs with clear goals and roles in overseeing such specific tasks can be a very effective mechanism for broadening participation in the USGCRP, especially for ensuring there is a sustained relationship between knowledge generation and activities and their potential use. The degree to which such specific challenges and tasks can be identified will be an important determinant of whether an IWG that oversees them has clear goals and objectives, and therefore whether success can be evaluated.
Conclusion 3: The Interagency Working Groups are one particularly useful approach that could be more fully exploited as a means to promote ongoing collaboration around specific areas of interest and to create networks of partners.
Participation in the activities of USGCRP takes many forms, but whatever the form, that participation does have real costs associated with it. Core participants devote staff time to supporting USGCRP central activities, including coordination meetings among the participants, and they participate in extensive budget crosscuts and analyses of how their programs are addressing administration priorities for global change research. At the federal level, these costs are almost exclusively borne by the agencies themselves.
But there is no reason that all agencies with an interest in global change research must participate at such an intensive level. For example, employing a range of approaches for interaction of science user constituencies with science producer constituencies could broaden the Program’s focus and better engage new partners, but these approaches need not require the addition of new formal participants. For transitory research challenges, for example, only a temporary collaboration makes sense. For longer-term strategic challenges, a more permanent institutional form of collaboration would need to be employed.
Agencies that have standing commitments of resources to long-term research in global change are likely candidates to consider for core participation in the USGCRP. Many of the agencies that fall in that category are already included in USGCRP’s budget cross-cut, but in some cases broader participation within an agency could help it better meet its own mission. For instance, for some agencies (e.g., NOAA), it is important for multiple bureaus (Climate Program Office, National Marine Fisheries Service, Coastal Services; see Box 6) to be involved in the Program (also see section on Goal 2 for discussion of DOE as an example). Formal membership affords regular access to budget deliberations and priority setting within the interagency strategic planning process. Broader participation in these processes by more bureaus within an agency would allow more parts of the agency to influence the use of scientific knowledge.
However, any form of collaboration will incur some administrative costs—through staff time and effort at a minimum—and agencies will need to examine the trade-offs of benefits and costs. The Committee is not recommending participation for its own sake, or simply for the sake of an interdisciplinary approach. Indeed, the problem-driven perspective of informing decisions implies a frank appraisal of the costs of collaboration, including the burdens of ongoing management of the knowledge gained. These costs will have to be weighed against the benefits of enhanced collaboration to the agencies, such as the ability to influence directly an administration’s priorities for global change research, and more diffuse benefits to the nation as a whole.
As has been mentioned in the examples throughout the report, there are benefits to the agencies from enhanced participation in USGCRP activities, and those benefits must be perceived to be important if there is to be buy-in from the agencies. It is unlikely that agencies will contribute voluntarily to things that might bring large benefits to the federal community at large but not necessarily to their agency. This speaks to the need for careful consideration and articulation of costs and benefits to agencies’ missions from increased participation in USGCRP processes. Articulating the benefits to the nation of enhanced collaboration on cross-cutting topics like urban environments (Box 9) or data sharing (Box 4) is more naturally an activity for an interagency group; thus USGCRP would be best positioned to have the responsibility for arguing when and where increased participation—including formal membership—is warranted and clarifying the costs and benefits of that participation.
There is a simple guideline to consider about which entities should be formal members of the USGCRP and which should participate in other ways: Entities that support
significant amounts of global change research should be formal members and entities that serve primarily as users of research should be engaged in other ways, such as through IWGs, but need not be formal members. The Committee recognizes that these are not always clear distinctions. Large, sprawling Departments and agencies may have both roles encompassed within their mandates, and it will be important to ensure that those agencies that reap substantial benefits from USGCRP research also bear some of the administrative burdens and costs of operating the program. Decisions about formal membership are likely to be guided by multiple considerations in addition to roles in funding research. And while the Committee believes that the USGCRP itself should have the responsibility for making the case for including new agencies or parts of agencies, the final decision will more appropriately be made above the Program’s level, presumably within the OSTP.
One possible step that USGCRP could undertake would be a comprehensive review of potential partners to identify key partners and their roles, provide an overview of research they are undertaking, and define opportunities for further needed research. Such a review may provide a basis to engage partners beyond the existing USGCRP membership. Doing so could provide tangible benefits to USGCRP and the nation—including users of global change science and everyone who is or will be affected by global change. It may be appropriate for some new partners to become full participants in the USGCRP while others engage with the Program through other coordination modes.
Just as the Strategic Plan was collaboratively produced by the agencies (Box 3), it will also need to be collaboratively implemented by the agencies, as well as coordinating with entities outside the federal government. The USGCRP already has substantial input into the annual research priorities memo that goes from OSTP and OMB to the science agencies. Implementing the Strategic Plan collaboratively will best be accomplished if the agencies use their input to argue for resource allocations that make implementation easier. Success in this process will be important to ensure a continued collaborative approach to both planning and implementation of successive Strategic Plans within the USGCRP family of agencies.
Conclusion 4: USGCRP would more fully meet its mandate by taking the lead in arguing for increased participation by other agencies—including formal membership—when the benefits to the nation outweigh the costs of collaboration to the agencies.