How Budgets Are Developed In OCE

In the past thirty years there have been two major one-time funding increases in the ocean sciences area at NSF. The first increase was the establishment in 1968, of the Deep Sea Drilling Program, the fore-runner of the International Ocean Drilling Program, which was incorporated into OCE in 1984. The second was the establishment of the International Decade of Ocean Exploration (IDOE) by President Johnson in 1970. IDOE funds did not disappear after the decade, but were incorporated into the ongoing programs of the Division of Ocean Sciences in 1980.

The other significant period of real growth in the OCE budget occurred during a period from 1987 through 1993 as a result of Presidential and Congressional interest in Global Change research. Since 1993, OCE's budget, in constant dollars, has remained stable.

Aside from these major events, the budget evolves incrementally year by year. Historically, and averaged over a long period, OCE budgets have increased at a rate slightly above inflation. Annual increases are not assured. A major driver for budget increases are the powerful scientific arguments advanced by the community for exciting new initiatives, such as global change research. Otherwise, periods of high inflation can erode purchasing power. General arguments based on proposal pressure and low success rates rarely fare well in the competitive environments of NSF, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), or Congress itself. Scientific ideas which broadly capture the imagination attract investment.

THE PLAYERS AND ISSUES. Efforts to increase the budget for OCE and its community occur on many levels, and involve major expenditures of time and energy. These efforts include on the official side: Program Managers, Section Heads, and the Division Director in OCE; consortia of program managers in ocean-related federal agencies; and international organizations. Within the "official" academic community, there is the Ocean Studies Board of the National Academy of Sciences and national organizations such as the Consortium for Oceanographic Research and Education (CORE). There are also entities specifically constituted to interact with and/or advise OCE. These include the University National Oceanographic Laboratories System (UNOLS) for management and policy relating to the academic fleet, and the international Ocean Drilling Program Executive Committee (ODP ExCom) for the Ocean Drilling Program managed by NSF on behalf of 20 international partners. The NSF also mandates advisory committees for general issues and for specific proposal groups. Then there are the scientific societies, particularly AGU, ASLO, and TOS, which facilitate communication, planning and political advocacy. Central to all these planning and advocacy activities are the individual members of the academic science community.

In addition to planning and promoting new scientific directions and discoveries, ocean sciences requires expensive platforms (e.g. general and special purpose surface and submersible vessels), facilities (e.g. the National Ocean Sciences Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Facility) and maintenance programs (e.g. multi-million dollar mid-life refits to extend vessel serviceability for up to 30 years). Programs of all sizes, but particularly large ones, require cooperation between governments and international academic communities.

Many members of the community become involved in developing new scientific concepts or facilities; and devote many hours to organizing, writing, presenting seminars, and chairing meetings. These activities take time away from research and education to serve the common cause, but with absolutely no guarantee of appreciation, success in the endeavor, or advancement of the scientific career of such "heroes."

THE BUDGET CYCLE. Given the complexity of needs and the multiplicity of players, the reader can hopefully excuse any lack of clarity in the following explanation of how the budget is developed.

Ultimately, the President of the United States, through OMB, has responsibility to propose the budget of the NSF and request an appropriation from Congress to provide it. Congress, through its various committees, holds hearings and requests information directly from NSF in determining its position regarding appropriating funds.

The new fiscal year (FY 1997) began on October 1, 1996, and the NSF had an enacted budget for Fiscal Year 1997 (this is not always the case). The Division Director, in consultation with the Section Heads, apportioned the available funds on the basis of priorities and other statements made in the Budget request to Congress almost a year ago. There were no major surprises for the program managers who were well aware of such priorities.

Meanwhile, the proposed budget for FY 1998 was provided to OMB (the President's Office of Management and Budget) in the summer of 1996. Negotiations ensued between the NSF Director and OMB, and by late December the Division had an idea what would be requested within the NSF budget to Congress for FY 1998. This budget, along with budgets for all the other agencies, was submitted as the President's Budget to the Congress in February 1997. Now (Spring through early Summer 1997), the FY 1998 Budget to Congress is under consideration within various committees and sub-committees of the Congress. Hopefully it will be voted upon by both Houses before October 1, the start of the FY 1998 fiscal year.

During this same period, internal discussions take place about the structure and size of the FY 1999 budget, leading to its first submission to OMB in September 1997. The discussions are driven in part top down, with the NSF Office of the Director issuing guidelines based on discussions with the National Science Board and the Director's vision of the NSF strategic plan; and in part bottom up, with program managers in discussion with the Division Director establishing priorities, based on their own and communities ongoing desires and planning. Within several months, realities and desires push and shove and meld into the budget to OMB, which examines it in detail, and issues its own guidelines based upon the Administration's intentions for the agency. The NSF may have the opportunity to negotiate this "passback" before the final form of the budget for FY 1999 is submitted to the Congress early in 1998.

FROM IDEA TO BUDGET INITIATIVE. How do the Program Managers and Division Director determine the content of the budget they submit to the Directorate within the context of external constraints placed on them? Within OCE many factors enter in, including the need to maintain the base or core buying power for individual (unsolicited) proposals, the need to augment existing initiatives to bring them to full development, the need to complete analysis and synthesis of the results of large field programs, the need to promote exciting new research thrusts based on discoveries, the need for new facilities, and major upgrades and ideas and planning activities within the community.

Further aids to internal budget decision-making include (1) annual program-by-program reviews within the Division; (2) regular meetings with GEO senior management where program plans and budgets are discussed; (3) recommendations contained in triennial reports of Committees of Visitors who analyze program performance; and (4) feedback from the external GEO Advisory Committee meeting twice each year.

Not all increases in the OCE budget are driven through lengthy development of consensus through community workshops, steering committees planning documents and public discussions, as was the case for familiar programs like WOCE and JGOFS. Potential opportunities arise from other directions. For instance, the NSF Director maintains an "Opportunity Fund" designed to stimulate new interdisciplinary interactions at emerging cutting edges of science, for which NSF organizational units can compete, usually in a consortium. The almost simultaneous discovery of potential signs of fossil life in a Mars meteorite, and strong indications of water (perhaps an ocean) on Europa, a moon of Jupiter, prompted a rapid response within NSF.

Mike Purdy discussed the possibility of capitalizing on this discovery with senior representatives of the Biological Sciences, Mathematical and Physical Sciences, and Engineering Directorates, and Office of Polar Programs. Within days the idea for Life in Extreme Environments, a new initiative crossing no less than 10 Divisions of NSF, was born. The LExEn concept met the criteria for the Director's Opportunity Fund and was awarded $3 million for FY 1997. The Divisions were challenged to match this number for a total of $6 million from existing budgets, promise to spend a full $6 million in FY 1998, and to continue the program beyond that.

Some budget initiatives are developed at the highest levels of policy-making within NSF, and developed as NSF-wide programs to address themes cutting across all the directorates and divisions. One such example is "Knowledge and Distributed Intelligence" or KDI. The present articulation of this initiative, which is embodied in a $58 million request in the President's FY 1998 budget request to Congress, rapidly crystallized from three separate but interrelated themes under discussion over the past year. The National Science Board approved KDI as a Foundation-wide thrust in which OCE is participating. Another example involves the important themes embodied in the "Integration of Research and Education," which is espoused as one of three major principles to which the NSF is committed in its Strategic Plan.

If the account of the budget process given above seems highly non-linear, complex, and with multiple sources of influence, this is all true. Never forget, however, that no matter how funds are allocated for programs and initiatives, all proposals resulting from announcement of opportunities are treated similarly. The long-standing and highly-regarded process of merit and peer review is used to identify the most worthy amongst that group.