The mission of the Directorate for Geosciences (GEO) of the National
Science Foundation (NSF) is to advance scientific knowledge about
the solid Earth, freshwater, ocean, atmosphere, and geospace components
of the integrated Earth system through support of high-quality research;
through sustenance and enhancement of scientific capabilities; and
through improved geoscience education (GEO Science Plan, 1998).
To fulfill its mission, GEO strives to attain three goals:
- advance fundamental knowledge about the Earth system;
- enhance the infrastructure used to conduct geoscience research;
- improve the quality of geoscience education and training.
his document describes GEO's plan to achieve the second of these
three goals over the next five years, and complements the GEO Science
Plan, FY 1998-2002 (NSF 97-118).
1.2 Facilities in the Geosciences
Basic research in the geosciences uses a vast range of capabilities
and instrumentation, including large observation platforms (e.g.,
research vessels, planes), ground-based observatories, supercomputing
capabilities, real-time data systems, and laboratory experimental
and analysis instruments.
Facilities in the Geosciences are systems that serve the experimental,
analytical, observational, or computational needs of extended user
In this context, "systems" includes not only hard ware and instrumentation,
but also, in some cases, necessary technical and operational support.
"Extended user communities" refers to users outside of the facilities'
immediate location or campus, and generally refers to regional centers
at a minimum, but frequently to operations that serve national or
international communities. It is the role and function of a particular
system in the community that determines whether or not we call it
a facility, not the mode of financial support or the management structure.
Modes of support and management are highly variable across the different
programs within GEO, because modes of operation of the different facilities
vary substantially. Support and management approaches are tailored
optimally to the characteristics and needs of each facility. In all
cases, management practices require responsible maintenance programs,
and encourage the continuous development of plans for system upgrades
to insure capabilities are `state-of-the-art.'
The importance of instrumentation systems and facilities maintained
by individual investigators for their own use is recognized, but is
not the subject of this document. Individual investigator experimental
and data acquisition capabilities are essential to a healthy and innovative
basic research activity, but as previously stated, this plan is concerned
only with those systems that serve the needs of extended user communities.
Decisions concerning the development and continued operation of facilities
are made by GEO management only after considerable consultation with
the scientific community. Throughout this document, the superscripts
reference key workshop and planning documents that have played important
roles in GEO deliberations. While it is impossible to provide a completely
exhaustive list of these references, the examples used are intended
to illustrate the extent of the community-based discussion and deliberation
process that precedes any significant decision by GEO management concerning
the support of facilities.
1.3 Characteristics of Facilities
All facilities supported by GEO should have the following seven characteristics:
- Their characteristics and capabilities should be driven by the
basic research supported by NSF programs.
- They should perform at the cutting edge of their respective research
topics and demonstrate the capacity to evolve and continuously improve
their services and capabilities.
- They should be managed in the most efficient and cost-effective
manner possible, and where appropriate, foster and encourage competition
between various centers.
- Their characteristics and capabilities should be well publicized
in appropriate ways, and guidelines for gaining access to the facility
must be readily and widely available. In general, access to the
capabilities of the facility should be as open as is reasonable
and practical to appropriate members of the U.S. academic community.
- The data produced by GEO facilities should be made openly available
to the national and international scientific communities in a timely
way, protecting the interests of the principal investigator, but
strongly supporting the concept of free and open access to scientific
- They should form, where possible, partnerships with operating
institutions, private foundations, states, industry, other federal
agencies, and also with other nations.
- They should, when possible, play important roles in education
at many different levels - opportunities should be recognized and
programs established to reap the maximum benefit.
In making choices about the distribution of resources, GEO managers
must maintain an appropriate balance between development of innovative
capabilities and the support and maintenance of important, but routine
measurement systems. Decisions concerning both the development of
new facilities and whether or not to continue support of existing
capabilities should be driven by the needs of the research programs.
These requirements are outlined in the GEO Science Plan FY 1998-2002
(NSF 97-118), updated every two years, reviewed by the Advisory Committee
for Geosciences, and based upon broad input from community-based workshops
and planning documents.
The structure of funding mechanisms is designed to ensure support
is provided only to those facilities for which appropriate demand
exists from NSF-supported investigators. When usage falls below critical
levels so that operation is no longer cost-effective, the facility
is restructured or phased-out, in consultation with the community.
1.4 Competition and Recompetition
Recommendations in the recent National Science Board (NSB) resolution
(NSB-97-224) on "Competition, Recompetition, and Renewal of NSF Awards"
will be followed. The NSB supports the principle that expiring awards
are to be recompeted unless it is judged to be in the best interest
of U.S. science and engineering not to do so. This position is based
on the conviction that peer-reviewed competition and recompetition
is the process most likely to assure the best use of NSF funds for
supporting research and education. It is essential that NSF determine
periodically whether a particular facility still represents the best
use of NSF funds, however, because of the complexity of major facility
awards there is no single procedure for their review.
GEO Facilities and the Government Performance and Results Act
GEO recognizes the special importance of achieving the four primary
performance goals on Facilities Oversight included in NSF's Performance
- Keep construction and upgrades within annual expenditure plan,
not to exceed 110 percent of estimates.
- Keep construction and upgrades within annual schedule, total
time required for major components of the project not to exceed
110 percent of estimates.
- Keep total cost within 110 percent of estimates made at the initiation
- Keep operating time lost due to unscheduled downtime to less
than 10 percent of the total scheduled possible operating time.
These performance goals will not stifle risk-taking and innovation
in the development of new facilities, but will impose planning strategies
designed to recognize important uncertainties in development costs
and duration, and will require management approaches capable of responding
effectively to these uncertainties.