Chapter IV

Costs, Future Savings, and Additional Options

A. USAP Science Support/Operations Costs

The USAP budget in FY 95 was $195.8M. Of this amount, grants to university-based researchers totaled $29.1M, research support performed by contractors and the military totaled $42.1M, and operations and logistics provided by contractors and the military totaled $124.7M.

Research Grants (15%): awards to university-based scientists for salaries and university overhead, specialized research equipment unique to the needs of the grant, research in Antarctica, completion of analysis at home institutions, and publication of results.

Research Support (21%): research ship and aircraft operations, laboratories, instrumentation, technicians, equipment, field camps, field safety equipment and personnel, transportation of scientists and their cargo. These costs in other federally funded programs typically are identified as science costs.

Operations and Logistics (64%): operation and maintenance of 7 LC-130's, 6 UH-1N twin engine helicopters, 2 supply vessels (a freighter and a tanker), an icebreaker, chartered C-141 and C-5B airplanes, management and operation of the three Antarctic stations, planning, support personnel, support functions (food, power, water, shuttle buses, etc.), vehicle and construction equipment operation and maintenance, maintenance of structures in Antarctica and at staging areas in Christchurch, New Zealand, and Punta Arenas, Chile, architecture and engineering, construction, and renovation of facilities.

Historically, NSF budgets have labeled USAP contractor and military activities as "operations" and research awards to institutions as "science." But the contractor and the military perform some functions that an NSF grantee would pay for out of the grant if the research were performed away from campus elsewhere than in the Antarctic. This USAP managerial initiative is employed to save costs and increase mission effectiveness.

For example, the contractor buys and ships equipment and consumables for the Antarctic laboratories, saving money because of volume purchases and bulk shipping, and it negotiates discounts for airline tickets and air freight. Buying commonly utilized equipment and materials in bulk in advance and sending them to McMurdo on the once-per-year cargo ship, instead of granting funds to investigators to buy them separately and fly them in, reduces costs dramatically. In transport alone, to fly cargo from Christchurch to McMurdo in an LC-130 (making a ski landing) costs $3.63 per pound. Using a fully loaded C-5 (the most efficient air carrier between Christchurch and McMurdo) the cost is $1.05 per pound. The annual ship takes cargo from Port Hueneme, California, to McMurdo, and returns back, for $0.17 per pound. The heavy icebreaking capability of the DOT/U.S. Coast Guard is invaluable because it allows cargo ships to access McMurdo Station. As ship transport is more than ten times less expensive (per unit weight) than air transport, this national icebreaking capability supplied by the DOT/U.S. Coast Guard on a partial reimbursement basis enables the USAP to function far more cost-effectively.

Cost accounting associated with NSF's effort to control and forecast costs, and to improve research planning on a project-by-project basis, enables the USAP to identify research-support activities performed by the contractor and the military that other Federal research programs would describe as research costs. In FY 95 these research-support costs were 25% of USAP operations and logistics.

Table IV-1 shows USAP costs for each major facility. Table IV-2 shows the Antarctic research expenditures of NSF and other Federal agencies. Antarctic field research performed by these agencies further reduces the USAP operations-to-science ratio.

Operational improvements in the USAP have increased the capability for doing science, aiding in reducing of the operations-to-science ratio, and they have contributed to the achievement of science-related goals, in particular the reduction of environmental impact. In the 25 years since NSF was given the responsibility as the single point manager of the USAP, there has been continual improvement in efficiency of operations and cost savings. The following are examples of recent operational improvements.

Summary of the Major USAP Cost Centers

McMurdo Station accounts for more than half the USAP budget - 56% - because it is America's operational hub for Antarctica - the gateway to the interior of the continent and the lifeline for South Pole Station. McMurdo is the central facility for aircraft, field party outfitting, surface vehicles, waste management, fuel storage, shops, warehouses, communications, and onsite program administration. It also has major science laboratories. The station's location on Winter Quarters Bay at the end of Hut Point Peninsula on Ross Island exploits natural features unmatched elsewhere: a sheltered deep-water harbor hundreds of miles farther south than any other, level glacier ice and seasonally stable sea ice enabling construction of a skiway and low-cost runways, and ice-free land (unoccupied by wildlife) on which to build facilities and store supplies. Because of this combined air-sea port facility, flights coming from outside of Antarctica can be limited to carrying personnel and priority cargo. Ships deliver 95% of USAP's fuel and cargo, at a per-pound cost that is 92% to 98% less than the cost of air cargo.

The two other stations, Palmer and Amundsen-Scott, are more dedicated to the direct performance of science. The combined cost of these two stations is approximately 15% of the total cost of the Program.

The work at the stations is complemented by the two research vessels, R/V Nathaniel B. Palmer and R/V Polar Duke. The Palmer is dedicated to the support of marine geology, geophysics, physical oceanography, and marine biology in the southern ocean and has no logistics role. The Duke supports marine biology and oceanography and provides logistics for Palmer Station. The cost of operating both vessels is 11% of the Program.

Off-continent costs are for the headquarters functions of the civilian contractor, Antarctic Support Associates (Englewood, Colorado) - a joint venture of EG&G Inc. (Wellesley, Massachusetts) and Holmes & Narver Inc. (Orange, California) - and DoD's part in the program (Construction Battalion Center Port Hueneme, and Naval Air Weapons Station Point Mugu, California; Stratton Air National Guard Base, Schenectady, New York; and Christchurch, New Zealand). Off-continent costs are 18% of the Program cost.

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B. Projected Savings in Program Operations

B1. Transition of Functions: Navy Base Support to Civilian Contract

Present management objectives have focused on streamlining the Program's operational and logistics costs to realize efficiencies and enable more effective support of science. The management policy is to privatize, to the extent possible, the functions performed by the DoD, such as station maintenance, food services, and vehicle operations and repair. This objective received added impetus with the Navy's plan, stated in 1993, to withdraw from the U.S. Antarctic Program.

Table IV-3 summarizes the functions that have been or will be transferred to civilian contract support and the expected annual cost savings.

B2. Single Point Management of the Fleet of LC-130's

In addition to the savings to be had in transferring tasks from the military to the private sector, specific transfers of responsibility within the military can also provide appreciable cost savings. The ski-equipped C-130 (LC-130) is the only aircraft of its type in the world. There are only two operators of the LC-130, a Navy squadron based in Pt. Mugu, CA (VXE-6), and an Air National Guard squadron based at Stratton Air Force Base in Schenectady, NY (109th AW). VXE-6 operates and maintains NSF's fleet of LC-130s. Single Point Management by the Guard will consolidate the operation and maintenance of these two squadrons under a single DoD manager to meet Arctic and Antarctic logistics and science support requirements.

Single point management of these airplanes will reduce costs by eliminating duplicate organizations at all levels, reducing personnel and training costs, standardizing equipment and maintenance and operating procedures, and streamlining the planning and scheduling of polar airlift. The USAP will reimburse the Air Force only for its support to the Antarctic program. OPP and other NSF units reimburse the Air Force (Air National Guard) for its support work in the Arctic.

Anticipated cost savings are illustrated in Figure IV-1.

Figure IV-1. Anticipated cost savings resulting from single point management of USAP airplanes

B3. Additional Efficiencies

Advanced technology, and remote operation especially, can maximize the scientific return of the investment in Antarctica. This framework has two major components. They are:

Advanced Communications and Computers: Some USAP funding will be invested in communications capabilities. This will provide electronic access to the Antarctic sites and instruments from any university. For example, instruments can be monitored and adjusted by scientists at their home institutions or laboratories. Investigators in Antarctica, summer or winter, will be able to confer with colleagues anywhere in the world. Researchers will be able to carry out some kinds of observations in Antarctica without ever leaving their U.S. laboratory.

Automated Data Gathering: Automated instrumentation will complement the data gathering and experiments carried out at the manned Antarctic stations. Instruments have been and continue to be developed that operate without human intervention to gather data in regions not readily occupied.

B4. Summary of Cost Saving in Operations

Since 1992, the transition of functions from the Navy to civilian contract has resulted in annual savings of $3.2M.

Transition of the remaining functions of the Naval Support Force Antarctica and the helicopter functions of Antarctic Development Squadron 6 (VXE-6) may potentially save an additional $4.4M per year. Placing the ski-equipped C-130s with a single manager is estimated to have a further potential annual savings of $9.7M by 2000.

Therefore, estimated annual savings in operations from further transition of functions from the Navy to contract support and the Air National Guard sum to $14.3M annually by 2000. Additional savings are anticipated from application of the previously mentioned technologies, but the payback from such investments are difficult to assess at this time.

Examining those options and their consequences in detail both goes beyond the expertise of the NSTC working group and requires more time than was available for the present study. Therefore, the NSTC recommends that the Foundation convene an external panel of experts, some of whom have direct management experience in operations in hostile environments, to examine options that accomplish program goals at the lowest cost. This panel should explore how an optimal set of scientific and geopolitical objectives can be achieved with likely out-year budgets (constant manpower, dollar flat, or 10% reduction). The composition of such a panel requires knowledgeable scientists and international policy makers as well as experienced managers. This panel should be free to examine all options to provide the U.S. with the best program in the Antarctic at a given budget level. This study obviously requires considerable time and should be initiated as soon as possible. Timely input to the budget process, starting with the FY98 budget, is highly desirable.

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C. Options for Large-Scale Cost Savings

In addition to cost savings from increased efficiencies, further cost reduction can be achieved by reducing the scope of the activity or, possibly, by sharing costs with other countries. Congress asked that options such as less than year-round human presence, closing one or more stations, and increased internationalization be examined. These are discussed below.

C1. Operations

In Chapter III, Table IV-1 shows costs.

South Pole. Closing South Pole Station and removing the USAP logistics that support it would save $16.5M per year. The one-time cost to remove the station would be at least $40M. Recovery of funds by selling assets is not expected since the items are approaching the ends of their service lives.

Most of USAP's astronomy, astrophysics, and aeronomy are performed at this station and would end. NOAA's South Pole Climate Monitoring & Diagnostic Laboratory (one of just four worldwide) would be closed, as would the onsite USGS seismic observatory. NASA would not install its prototype closed-cycle processing system for food, water, and waste intended for later use in space.

Also, South Pole is a hub for research on the high Antarctic plateau. Sites that are accessed via the station would be closed because removal of the South Pole skiway eliminates the station as a landing place and fuel depot for air operations. These sites include some Antarctic Geophysical Observatories (AGOs), Antarctic Weather Stations (AWSs), and glaciology and geology projects requiring access to the continental interior farther from McMurdo than South Pole.

The loss of AWSs would reduce acquisition of climate and weather data from this extremely data-sparse region and would break the continuity of the data sets, further increasing the uncertainty of global models that attempt to quantify and understand Antarctica's dominant force in global climate and climate variability. Anthropogenic climate impact will be seen first and strongest in polar regions; testing of climate models for predictability require long-term continental data. At South Pole itself, precipitation has increased 20% in the last decade, and other atmospheric changes indicate the climate is changing there; this line of research would be terminated. The loss of the AGOs would inhibit U.S. mapping of the cusp region of the ionosphere, which complements the space physics observations of NASA, NOAA, and DoD. The special location of South Pole relative to the geomagnetic field that funnels particles and fields into the ionosphere permits research on the sun's impact on the near-earth environment, so "space weather" research would be impacted. NOAA's long-term record of ozone and other greenhouse gas measurements would end. Loss of UV monitoring would be significant because the South Pole is at the center of the ozone hole. Loss of the seismic station would create a void in the global coverage (the South Pole sensor is recognized for probing remotely the Earth's interior and for monitoring earthquakes and nuclear weapons testing). Finally, the investment in AMANDA, the prototype of a new astronomy using the ice sheet to detect neutrinos, would be lost. Closure of South Pole would leave Russia as the only country with a station, Vostok, in the Antarctic interior.

On 9 March 1996 the Department of State provided to the National Security Council a memorandum (Appendix II), cleared by the Department of Defense, stating that it is "essential that the United States continue to maintain an active and influential presence in Antarctica, including year-round operation of South Pole Station." The NSTC concurs and strongly advises against the option of closing South Pole Station at the current level of investment.

As evidenced by researchers' large and growing interest, South Pole Station's contribution to U.S. science is significant. The NSTC feels that its closure would be a practical and symbolic loss to the global reach of U.S. science.

Other USAP options consistent with the DoS statement of foreign policy and national security interests are (1) reduce McMurdo but keep it open year-round;* (2) close Palmer; (3) eliminate one or both research vessels; or combine parts of these options. Science terminated by implementing the options would be in the amounts shown in Table III-1.


* South Pole Station requires McMurdo Station for logistics. NSF's safety assessment for South Pole does not identify a way to deliver personnel or equipment to South Pole in an emergency other than by LC-130 from McMurdo. (USAP has never landed a plane at the South Pole in winter; the extreme cold probably would make the airplane incapable of leaving until the following summer.)

McMurdo. Eliminating all the research camps supported from McMurdo would save approximately $60M per year. This means eliminating virtually all of the science associated with McMurdo in Table III-1 and reducing McMurdo to a service port for the South Pole station. The helicopter and Twin Otter contracts that support some of the camps could be terminated. The LC-130 capability that supports the rest of the camps could be reduced roughly to that required to supply South Pole (because of fixed costs and safety needs, reducing flight-hours may not reduce costs proportionally). McMurdo's field outfitting facility and much of its laboratory space would become unnecessary. The station's population would drop considerably. USAP grants to universities would be eliminated to match the reduced capability to support research.

The cost of terminating these functions was not calculated. However, the cost to remove all of McMurdo in compliance with the Antarctic Treaty and U.S. law regarding abandonment of facilities would exceed $200M. Shutdown costs might be offset by selling capital items; some of the vehicles and other usable equipment are standard or modified factory issue and probably marketable. Some of the LC-130s might be sold, although the United States has never licensed these uniquely capable airplanes to foreign governments.

McMurdo is the facility that enables research to be carried out almost anywhere in Antarctica. The infrastructure is based on air support. Scientists are placed in regions such as the Dry Valleys, the west Antarctic ice sheet, and the Transantarctic Mountains - where the research must be carried out - rather than being restricted to the stations. The air support also enables shorter field deployments, limited to the time actually required at a research site. These two features make it possible for highly regarded scientists to perform research in Antarctica without committing to unduly long absences from their research institutions.

USAP aeronomy & astrophysics would be reduced significantly, biology would be reduced significantly, terrestrial earth sciences would be virtually eliminated from the USAP, glaciology would be nearly eliminated, and oceans & climate would be reduced significantly (see Table III-1). Research lost near McMurdo would include UV impacts on biota, biomolecular aspects of genetic evolution, nearshore oceanography, and marine biology including physiology of deep diving birds and mammals. The loss from the Dry Valleys would include the Long Term Ecological Research site, the analogs-to-Mars research, and geophysical and glacial-geology studies related to Antarctic climate and its global impact. The remote field camps include Vostok ice coring with the oldest ice core climate record, the future of the west Antarctic ice sheet and its impact on sea level, the aerogeophysics, and most geology and glaciology.

Abandoning research camps supported from McMurdo would have a grave impact on our ability to gain understanding of Antarctica's role in global processes. Since the Antarctic is the only place in the world where this research can be conducted, the research camps must be continued. This option would eliminate a major part of all of our research program. We strongly advise against this option, unless the USAP budget is severely reduced.

Palmer. Abandoning Palmer Station would save about $12M per year. R/V Polar Duke, which both supplies Palmer and supports science integrally with it, would be diverted to other research, laid up for portions of the year, or terminated. Research grants would be terminated or adjusted accordingly.

Palmer is the smallest and farthest north of the three U.S. Antarctic stations. It supports only a few research camps, does not use aircraft, is much closer to South America than McMurdo is to New Zealand, and by Antarctic standards has a moderate climate. It is accessible by ice-strengthened ship almost any time of year and is provisioned by R/V Polar Duke out of Chile. The station is within the narrow wedge of the Antarctic to which three countries - Argentina, Chile, and Great Britain - assert overlapping territorial claims, so it has a significant role in stabilizing international Antarctic relations. Palmer's maritime climate places it close to large concentrations of birds, mammals, other sea life, and terrestrial plants; research at Palmer focuses on this important part of the world's ecosystem.

The station is crucial to USAP science; it supports about one-third of the program's biology and ocean and climate research (Table III-1). Research loss would be the ongoing 30-year Palmer-area ecological and environmental database and knowledge base. Subjects include adaptations of organisms, physiological ecology and population dynamics, environmental studies of Bahia Paraiso fuel spill effects, UV and LTER site measurements of the effect of interannual variations in sea ice on marine ecosystems, climate-atmosphere comparisons, and El Niño relationships to marine air temperature, sea surface temperature, and sea ice extent.

A one-time decommissioning cost, estimated at $15M, would be incurred to meet the requirements of U.S. law (45 CFR 671, Antarctic Conservation Act) and the Antarctic Treaty; decommissioning would take several years. Closing Palmer would gut a large, valuable part of the research program while saving a small fraction of the USAP budget; the NSTC strongly advises against it.

Research Ships. Retiring both research vessels would save $15M and would reduce the research effectiveness of Palmer Station, which would be supplied by chartered ship instead of working in conjunction with R/V Polar Duke. The research ships are under long-term charter; they would be disengaged through termination-of-lease agreements costing the Government approximately $11M per year for the life of the lease.

Loss of the research ships would remove from a largely unexplored ocean all studies in marine geology and geophysics, air-ocean-ice interchange of energy as it relates to climate and impact of greenhouse gases, ocean circulation and global climate, and biological studies of a productive ocean area that feeds nutrients to oceans around the globe. The Nathaniel B. Palmer is the only research icebreaker of any nation that works year-round in the Antarctic. This research campaign, begun only four years ago when the ship was commissioned, is providing physical, chemical, and biological winter data from the Antarctic that are invaluable to understanding ocean ecosystem function and global ocean circulation. As discussed above, Palmer Station now depends on Polar Duke and would need to be supported in some other way.

Again, we cannot support this option. Indeed, none of the major program reductions inherent in eliminating one of the major USAP assets is recommended as long as the budget is not drastically reduced.

C2. International Cooperation

International cooperation in the USAP is extensive in both research and operations. It usually involves in-kind contribution of national strengths to the realization of research goals beyond the capability of a single nation. These goals generally are achieved by (1) performing similar work in different places (collecting weather data, for example) and sharing the results as required by the Antarctic Treaty or (2) performing an intensive project in one place (an example is the 1996-1998 Cape Roberts project, which will drill an ocean-bottom sedimentary core from a platform on coastal sea ice) in which each participating nation delivers a negotiated component of the project. In a very few instances, the United States has been reimbursed for services to another nation's Antarctic program, such as refueling a research station from a U.S. ship, or by providing unscheduled but nonemergency airlift.

Opportunities for international cooperation are explored and implemented regularly. Formal mechanisms include the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) of the International Council of Scientific Unions (nongovernmental), the annual Antarctic Treaty consultative meetings (government-to-government policy decisions), the Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs (COMNAP, a U.S. initiative, administered by the American Geophysical Union), the Council's Standing Committee on Antarctic Logistics and Operations (SCALOP) and its Antarctic Managers' Electronic Network (AMEN: electronic mail and data exchange and a home page on the World Wide Web), and the New-Zealand based International Center for Antarctic Information and Research (ICAIR), which is developing a master Antarctic Data Directory and other international Antarctic information services in close collaboration with the USAP and other Antarctic Treaty nations.

International funding of a jointly owned facility in Antarctica appears never to have occurred. Even the satellite nations of the Soviet Union, such as Poland, established independent stations supported by Soviet logistics. The European Community currently is planning a joint station, named Concordia, for East Antarctica in which the major research goal is ice core drilling. The USAP is not a participant in this planning, but has been asked to provide logistics through McMurdo on a cost-reimbursable basis.

Of the USAP facilities, McMurdo appears to have the most potential for cost-reimbursable international collaboration. Following is a discussion of international prospects for Palmer and McMurdo. South Pole Station's options and recommendation for international cost sharing are discussed in Chapter V.

Palmer. Palmer Station is in the Antarctic Peninsula region, which has Antarctica's greatest concentration of Antarctic programs and stations of other nations. This region would seem ripe for international cost sharing. A commercial operator has tried to convince governments of the possible savings if they were to supply their stations using a single freighter rather than each deploying its own ship. The firm, however, has been unable to establish business. Governments operating in the region tend to maintain self-sufficient Antarctic operations to support missions unique to their research requirements, to meet the "substantial scientific activities" threshold for Antarctic Treaty consultative status, and to support their territorial claims.

NSF on occasion purchases passage from tour ships operating between southern South America and the Palmer Station area, saving crossings of the Drake Passage by its own vessel. Because Polar Duke's primary role is research support in conjunction with Palmer, and because its size was determined by these research and logistics needs, diversion of the ship to the support of other nations' needs would reduce its performance as a research tool for U.S. goals; both the ship and the station are operating at capacity in support of U.S. research.

NSF now has 12 years of operating experience with the Polar Duke/Palmer Station pair and has found them correctly sized for most research needs; NSF's procurement of the Duke's replacement ice-strengthened research ship Laurence M. Gould , to begin long-term charter to the USAP in 1997, specified "a Duke-like ship at a Duke-like price." In fact, the outcome will be a new, purpose-built ship from a Louisiana yard delivering a more capable vessel at a lower price.

McMurdo. McMurdo, occupying Antarctica's most desirable real estate for a high-latitude research and operations base, is USAP's most intensive center of international in-kind cost sharing. The long-standing partnership between the United States and New Zealand, whose Scott Base is 2 miles from McMurdo, is unmatched among all the Antarctic Treaty nations. This cooperation provides significant cost savings and operating advantages through extensive sharing of flights, weather forecasting, helicopter operations, ship cargo movements, cargo handling, research planning, communications, fuel storage, hazardous waste removal, and emergency plans including search and rescue.

Italy in recent years has become another steady partner, with shared helicopter operations, C-130 loads between New Zealand and Antarctica, station refueling on a cost-reimbursement basis, and research planning; Italy's modern research station Terra Nova Bay is on the coast of the Ross Sea 175 miles north of McMurdo.

Russia and the United States intensified cooperative science and operations through McMurdo during the breakup of the former Soviet Union; the major new achievement has been shared support of Russia's year-round station Vostok, in the Antarctic interior 800 miles west of McMurdo. The Russians are drilling the world's deepest ice core at Vostok, and the cooperative agreement provides U.S. access to this scientifically valuable core in return for six LC-130 flights annually between McMurdo and Vostok for personnel exchange. The trade is financially advantageous to the United States in that the cost of an ice coring project is measured in the millions of dollars where the cost of the LC-130 flights is in tens of thousands.

Germany, France, Japan, and Australia have worked cooperatively with the USAP in pursuit of specific research projects over the years. Nearly every Antarctic Treaty nation has exchanged scientists with the USAP at one time or another.

Additional international sharing of the cost of the McMurdo logistics and research support capability appears feasible, consistent with further growth in non-U.S. research in the Antarctic interior and the Ross Sea region of Antarctica.

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