The assessment committee was asked to consider how well the ICCGS report1 took into account actions already taken by GS in response to the priorities of the 2013 solar and space physics decadal survey.2 However, other than the creation of a Space Weather Research program (SWR) to span and integrate already existing core research areas, GS has not been able to respond effectively to survey priorities, which nearly all require an increased budget to implement. The portfolio review itself is the most responsive action taken so far by the GS to the survey priorities. The PRC recognized that important constraints limited its ability to respond fully to its charge and to judge the alignment of the program against the priorities recommended in the survey. The boundary conditions imposed on the ICCGS response to survey guidance, in terms of scope and budget guidance, are discussed here.
The GS portfolio is comprised of facilities, core and strategic science grants programs, and professional development programs. In Chapter 7 of the ICCGS,3 GS facilities were defined as being one of two types: Class 1 and Class 2. A Class 1 facility is defined as a major, complex facility at a single site. Class 1 facilities include ISRs and ancillary capabilities at Arecibo Observatory, Sondrestrom, Jicamarca, Millstone Hill, the Poker Flat ISR (PFISR), and the Resolute Bay ISR (RISR-N). Class 2 facilities are defined as more modest, diverse investments, and these include SuperDARN, AMPERE, SuperMAG,4 and the Community Coordinated Modeling Center (CCMC). The CRRL is also funded as a facility. The core grants programs are those in aeronomy (AER), magnetospheric physics (MAG), and solar-terrestrial science (STR). The strategic grants programs are Coupling, Energetics, and Dynamics of Atmospheric Regions (CEDAR), Geospace Environment Modeling (GEM), and the Solar, Heliospheric, and Interplanetary Environment (SHINE). Additional strategic investments are in SWM, CubeSats, and FDSS awards.
1 National Science Foundation (NSF), 2016, Investments in Critical Capabilities for Geospace Science 2016 to 2025, Geospace Section of the Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Science, February 5, https://www.nsf.gov/geo/adgeo/geospace-review/geospace-portfolio-reviewfinal-rpt-2016.pdf.
2 National Research Council (NRC), 2013, Solar and Space Physics: A Science for a Technological Society, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.
3 NSF, 2016, Investments in Critical Capabilities for Geospace Science 2016 to 2025, Chapter 7.
4 SuperDARN stands for Super Dual Auroral Radar Network. AMPERE stands for Active Magnetosphere and Planetary Electrodynamics Response Experiment. SuperMAG is not an acronym but describes a collaboration of ground-based magnetometers.
These components of the GS portfolio are summarized in Figure 3.1 from the ICCGS report, reproduced here as Figure 2.1a.
The scope of the portfolio review was confined to GS and did not occur within the context of a broader review of an NSF-AGS division portfolio. As summarized by ICCGS Section 8.1.1, the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and its geospace laboratory—the High Altitude Observatory (HAO)—are responsible for scientific capabilities and programs that are of direct relevance to the GS portfolio. The NCAR Computational and Information Systems Laboratory (CISL) is also relevant. NCAR falls administratively within a different NSF-AGS facilities section, and it was not included in the GS portfolio review. The PRC was aware of AGS facilities and programs relevant to the GS portfolio, and the PRC interviewed the HAO director. Additional NSF and AGS programs relevant to GS also fell outside the purview of the ICCGS. These included the following:
- NSF-DOE partnership in Basic Plasma Science and Engineering,
- Prediction of and Resilience against Extreme Events (PREEVENTS), and
- Improving Undergraduate STEM Education: Pathways into Geosciences (IUSE: GEOPATHS).
The NSF Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) and the AGS Postdoctoral Research Fellowship Program were both discussed in ICCGS Chapter 4, as were GS FDSS awards. Only the latter fell within the ICCGS purview, however.
Finding: The PRC was charged to consider the NSF GS portfolio largely in isolation, without review of relevant facilities, programs, and activities within the wider AGS portfolio.
The total FY2015 GS budget was $43.6 million. Facilities investments accounted for 38 percent of the total; the core grants program for 33 percent (AER, MAG, STR); and strategic grants investments (CEDAR, GEM, SHINE, CubeSats, and SWM) for 28 percent. GS budget trends are summarized in Figure 3.2 of the ICCGS report, reproduced here as Figure 2.1b.
NSF budget guidance for ICCGS was confined to one scenario: a flat budget from 2016-2025, with the only growth being that due to inflation. Hence, any new activities and programs would come at the cost of redirecting, curtailing, or terminating investments in existing facilities, programs, and activities. This was different than the assumption made by the decadal survey.
The ICCGS found analysis of the GS budget to be a challenge, stating that “teasing out objective GS budget trends from 1999 forward” was complicated by a number of factors, including the following:
- The addition of new programs and facilities during this time;
- Organizational changes within GS—the implementation of SWR, for example;
- Evolution in the administration of specific programs and facilities; and
- A lack of clarity between research funding and facility operations and management costs.
As the ICCGS commented, these factors conspired to provide “less than optimum transparency”5 into the GS budget, and knowledge of important background and context for certain budgetary decisions by GS were lost to a significant extent when key GS personnel recently retired. The ICCGS noted three interrelated budgetary trends,6 summarized here as follows:
5 NSF, 2016, Investments in Critical Capabilities for Geospace Science 2016 to 2025, p. 16.
6 Ibid., Section 3.3.
- The GS budget has been flat for a decade (FY2015 dollars), discounting the 1-year augmentation of funds due to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) in 2009. GS added new programs and facilities during this time without terminating existing facilities or programs.
- Core and targeted grants funding have, as a consequence, been eroding. In past years, funding for grants and for facilities was relatively distinct. With the emergence of Class 2 facilities, which were not in the GS facilities budget, this distinction has been blurred.
- While there has been a modest increase in the GS facilities budget, it has not kept up with the increase in the number of Class 1 and 2 facilities at a rate sufficient to maintain state-of-the-art technical and scientific capabilities.
The ICCGS notes that these trends are “problematic for achieving leading-edge science in the next decade.”7 This is not a new development, however. The GS is expected to be responsive to the needs and aspirations of the scientific community as well as societal demands with a budget that, if the guidance holds until 2025, will have been flat for more than two decades.
Although the decadal survey identified priorities for NSF and geospace science, it did not specify funding levels needed to address those priorities. ICCGS estimates that being fully responsive to survey priorities would require additional expenditures of $11 million annually (ICCGS Section 3.2). The most significant component of the new expenditures would be implementation of the survey priority for a midscale projects budget line, estimated by the ICCGS to be at least $5 million to $6 million annually (see Section 5.2.1 below). In the absence of any such augmentation, survey priorities must be addressed within the flat budget envelope.
Finding: The ICCGS report estimates that an augmentation of $11 million, or 25 percent, is needed to fully address decadal survey priorities. However, the PRC was asked to respond to its charge under one budget scenario: a flat budget from 2016-2025 with adjustments for inflation.
7 Ibid., p. 17.