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NSF Response to Congressional Language on the
Creation of a
National Institute for the Environment

April, 1998

Table of Contents

Executive Summary

  1. Purpose

  2. The Federal R&D Investment in Environmental Science, Engineering and Education

  3. Functional Objectives of a National Institute for the Environment

  4. Administration and Management of a National Institute for the Environment

  5. Recommendations

  6. Potential Costs

  7. Conclusions


Appendix 1: Overview of NSF Activities in Science, Engineering, and Education Related to the Environment

Appendix 2: FY 1999 Description of the Life and Earth's Environment (LEE) Theme

Executive Summary

In the reports accompanying the National Science Foundation's (NSF's) Appropriations Act for FY1998 [H.Rept. 105-297 and H.Rept. 105-175], the Appropriations Committees asked the Foundation to examine issues associated with the creation of a national institute for the environment. The developers of the institute concept propose a stand-alone entity, established to "improve the scientific basis for making decisions on environmental issues" through a program of extramural research, knowledge assessments, information dissemination, and education. A summary of the major conclusions in NSF’s response appears below.

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I.  Purpose

In the reports accompanying the National Science Foundation’s (NSF’s) Appropriations Act for FY 1998 (H.Rept. 105-297 and H.Rept. 105-175) [1], the Appropriations Committees asked the Foundation to examine issues associated with the creation of a national institute for the environment. This document responds to these requests.

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II.  The Federal R&D Investment in Environmental Science, Engineering, and Education

There are few, if any, more compelling issues facing humankind today than the proper stewardship of our planet. Indeed, it is becoming increasingly clear that the "environment", as broadly defined [2], includes the full spectrum of human concerns ranging from health, to economic prosperity, to social justice, to national security. Many observers believe that environmental problems will worsen in the next several decades, and that solving them will require cooperation to an unparalleled degree on a world-wide scale.

The Federal government, along with its partners at state, local, and private levels, has long been involved in R&D on matters of environmental science engineering, and education. Many Federal agencies, including the NSF, participate in these activities. Overall, the Federal Government currently supports an environmental R&D portfolio that is estimated to be in excess of $5 billion per year [3]. In addition, a number of Federal agencies (but not the NSF) are involved in the establishment of policy and regulation associated with the environment.

Over the last few years, Federal agencies have made significant gains in carrying out concerted interagency actions regarding environmental science and technology. In addition to the partnerships developed between individual agencies focusing on environmental research, many efforts have been coordinated through the White House. The President’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) provides advice on the roles of science and technology in achieving national goals. Coordination of environmental R&D activities is provided by the Committee on the Environment and Natural Resources (CENR) of the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), operating through the President’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) [3, 4].

Established in 1993 and chaired by the President, the NSTC serves as an initiator and coordinator of interagency science and technology research and development. The CENR is one of five committees under the NSTC, and is charged with [3]:

"improving coordination among Federal agencies involved in environmental and natural resources research and development, establishing a strong link between science and policy, and developing a Federal environment and natural resources research and development strategy that responds to national and international issues."

The five subcommittees of the CENR are Air Quality Research, Ecological Systems, Global Change, Natural Disaster Reduction, and Toxic Risk.

Since its formation, the CENR has engendered substantial advances in interagency cooperation and coordination. Examples of such activity include the National Assessment of the Consequences of Climate Change, the Environmental Monitoring and Research Initiative, the Endocrine Disruptor Research Initiative, and the North American Research Strategy for Tropospheric Ozone – among several others. However, as is suggested in a recent Carnegie Commission report [5], there is room for more progress.

The National Science Board (NSB) has stated on several occasions [6] that research related to the environment is an area of profound concern to NSF and the nation. Indeed, the Foundation has long supported research and education activities associated with environmental concerns, consistent with its mission and strategic goals [7], and it is one of the largest Federal supporters of this work.

Three key factors determine the NSF strategic approach: (1) the importance of these problems to the nation; (2) the essential role played by all aspects of science and engineering in addressing these complex, multidisciplinary issues; and (3) the large number of interested parties. NSF’s basic strategy in addressing such factors is one of cooperation and partnership to allow all entities – be they internal Foundation units or agencies outside it – the opportunity to assume and to address their appropriate responsibilities. The ultimate goal is to provide sound science, engineering and education for environmental decision-making by all segments of society.

Thus, NSF has adopted a strongly proactive approach to dealing with fundamental science, engineering and education related to the environment. These activities (see Appendix 1), which include world-class disciplinary and multidisciplinary research and education, account for almost 20% of NSF’s total portfolio ($3.4 billion in FY 1998). The recent development of the Foundation's Life and Earth's Environment (LEE) theme (see Appendix 2) represents the latest effort by NSF to contribute to an intellectually broad-based, multidisciplinary Federal effort in environmental science, engineering, and education. Every directorate and program office in the Foundation is involved.

While NSF is an essential player in supporting the research necessary to respond to critical scientific questions about the environment, it does not act in isolation from the wide range of research activities that occur across the Federal government. NSF is committed to continuing in an appropriate leadership role, particularly in the support of fundamental research and education related to the environment, and in the coordination of its overall effort with other agencies and the NSTC. The NSF plays a key role in the CENR – its representatives serve as co-chairs of two of the subcommittees – and it is an active participant in each of the ongoing CENR research initiatives.

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III.  Functional Objectives of a National Institute for the Environment

In both the Congressional language [1] requesting this report, and in materials supplied by the Committee for a National Institute for the Environment (CNIE) [8, 9] for the NSF to consider in preparing its response, the following four key functional objectives for a proposed national institute for the environment are identified: (1) research, (2) assessment, (3) information dissemination, and (4) education and training. In considering how to achieve these objectives, it is useful first to analyze the status of existing activities at NSF, and, in a broad way, elsewhere in the Federal government. Each function is examined in turn below.

III. A.   Research

Two key issues must be considered in discussing research related to the environment: the methods by which priorities are set and the conduct of research itself.

III. A. 1.  Priority-Setting and Stakeholder Input

A variety of mechanisms are in place in the Executive Branch to encourage stakeholder input in determining environmental research needs. The President’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), which includes representatives from industry, education and research institutions, non-governmental organizations, and state and local governments, is charged with advising the President on issues involving science and technology and their roles in achieving national goals, and assisting the NSTC in securing private sector participation in its activities. Recent PCAST activities include preparation of the reports, "Teaming with Life: Investing in Science to Understand and Use America’s Living Capital" [10] and "Federal Energy Research and Development for the Challenges of the 21st Century" [11]. Inputs such as these both reflect and inform input from organizations such as the National Research Council, the Council on Competitiveness, and relevant professional societies. These considerations help to frame the issues.

Input from the Federal agencies on environmental science and technology issues is obtained within the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), as each subcommittee of the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources (CENR) defines the critical policy questions relevant to its focus area. A good example of the role the NSTC can play in priority setting was in the development of the Environmental Monitoring and Research Initiative, which currently involves 7 Federal agencies whose coordinated research programs exceed $650 million [12].

Within this overall Federal context, NSF identifies and supports a cutting-edge research program that contributes to and informs the broader Federal process. At the agency level, input about intellectual directions comes from the National Science Board, the Director of NSF, advisory committees, internal working groups, assessments of research opportunities, workshops, and conferences. Ultimately, the primary method of determining which projects are funded is by investigators submitting proposals that are evaluated through competitive, merit review. The importance of the role of investigator-initiated inquiries, including those that may appear risky, cannot be overemphasized – that approach has been proven successful again and again by its early identification of important emerging environmental issues (ozone depletion, CO2 accumulation, etc.). In addition, the mechanisms that NSF has developed for collaborative activities enabled the discovery of hantavirus links to rodent populations and El Niño events. These mechanisms allow the science and engineering community and the Foundation great flexibility and agility in shifting toward new scientific directions.

III. A. 2.  Conduct of Research Related to the Environment

As noted earlier, the NSF contributes significantly to a Federal environmental and natural resources R&D effort that totals more than $5 billion per year [3, 4]. This broad effort involves many Federal agencies and their associated missions, and is an important link to many stakeholder constituencies. This breadth of involvement and diversity is important to preserve and to nurture.

Merit-based peer review plays a critically important role for many Federal agencies in determining the best research to support, and NSF uses merit-based peer review extensively. The NSTC has worked with individual agencies to increase the amount of this funding that is competitively reviewed; in FY 1997, approximately 50% of the total Federal funding for environmental R&D was awarded via competitive processes [3].

Almost 20% of the NSF portfolio is directed towards broad-based, high-quality research related to the environment. It is important to stress the diversity of this portfolio, as it covers an enormous intellectual span ranging from the fundamental chemistry and physics of the upper atmosphere, to the state of the world’s oceans and polar regions, to biodiversity and ecology, to the design of recyclable manufactured products, to the social aspects of intentional and unintentional environmental decisions. This fundamental research is supported in all NSF disciplinary programs and through a variety of multidisciplinary programs in science and engineering. The breadth of disciplines, and their ability to interact on problems of a multidisciplinary nature, is a fundamental strength of the NSF portfolio in environmental studies.

The Life and Earth’s Environment (LEE) theme is outlined in Appendix 2. It encompasses research activities focusing on the complex interdependencies among humans and other living organisms and the environments that affect, sustain, and are modified by them. Such research requires cooperation among the physical, biological, and social sciences, and with engineering. The decision to emphasize multidisciplinary research associated with the environment is an explicit recognition of its growing intellectual and societal importance. The President’s FY 1999 Budget requests $88 million for NSF to increase LEE-related activities. Such activities, often conducted collaboratively with other Federal agencies, include efforts to:

As is characteristic of all forefront research in the areas of science and engineering, NSF’s efforts in environmental research are in a constant state of evolution. NSF’s ability to monitor this evolution, and modify its response to research opportunities accordingly, leads to continual change in the NSF portfolio. NSF is committed to this area of research and is expanding its role in areas where NSF’s merit review practices indicate that the Agency can have particular impact.

III. B.  Assessment

The term "assessment" refers to two fundamentally different activities: resource assessment and knowledge assessment. "Resource assessment" generally refers to an evaluation of the quality and/or quantity of a particular natural resource or habitat. The research conducted in this area generally requires extensive observations and monitoring rather than hypothesis-driven investigation. These activities, often mandated by law, are best done by the relevant Federal management or regulatory agencies in cooperation with the cities, states, or regional entities that are naturally involved. For an agency like NSF, a more appropriate primary emphasis is on merit-reviewed basic research and education.

"Knowledge assessment" generally refers to the evaluation of the state of existing knowledge, and often serves to identify new research opportunities. NSF supports knowledge assessments through its various centers (see Appendix 1), through workshops and conferences, through the National Academies of Science and Engineering, and the National Research Council. In evaluating existing knowledge associated with specific policy issues, NSF contributes, when appropriate, to interagency efforts coordinated by the NSTC.

Since much of the research associated with policy issues is most appropriately conducted by an array of mission agencies, an interagency coordinating mechanism is critical to developing assessments. The NSTC has been effective in bringing agencies and non-governmental scientists together to conduct assessments of the state of knowledge or of the state of particular environmental resources. For example, it has organized a series of national assessments related to the environment, including the North American Research Strategy for Tropospheric Ozone, an assessment of knowledge on Endocrine Disruptors, and an Interagency Oxygenated Fuels Assessment. Assessments currently underway include the Environmental Monitoring Research Initiative (including production of a "report card" on the health of the Nation's ecosystems), and an assessment of the causes and effects of hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico. In addition, the NSTC has coordinated US participation in several international assessments, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the World Meteorological Organization Assessments of Stratospheric Ozone Depletion, and the first Global Biodiversity Assessment. Typically these assessment activities involve a wide range of stakeholders; NSTC sponsorship enables the assessments to embrace the combined goals of individual agencies or stakeholder groups.

A National Assessment of the Consequences of Climate Change for the United States was begun during 1997. The Assessment will define regional and sectoral vulnerabilities to climate change, and is expected to contain recommendations for future research activities. Production of such an assessment is mandated in the authorizing legislation of the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) (the Global Change Research Act of 1990). A critical aspect of the Assessment Plan is to involve non-Federal partners in the activity, including non-governmental organizations, universities, and industrial representatives. It will seek to include the perspectives of participants beyond the traditional research community.

As part of the Assessment activity, eight workshops on regional consequences of climate change were completed during 1997. In addition, the US Climate Forum, which was held in Washington DC, brought together over 400 participants to discuss likely climate change impacts on US regions and ecological and economic sectors, and to begin consideration of national-scale vulnerabilities. The regional workshop series will be concluded in Fall 1998.

A National Assessment Synthesis team that includes governmental and private sector members has been chartered to undertake the assessment in cooperation with the USGCRP agencies. An assessment plan has been drafted that includes selection of a small number of US climate scenarios to assist with the assessment process. The plan outlines a series of regional analyses drawing on the workshops, a series of sectoral analyses, and a synthesis that integrates the findings at a national scale. The plan is currently undergoing NSTC review, and is expected to be approved by mid-April. Analytical activities will be conducted over the next year, culminating in publication of an Assessment Report at the end of 1999. The report, and the research activities that support it, are expected to be a major US contribution to the Third Assessment of the IPCC, which will be fully underway in the 1999–2000 time frame.

III. C.  Information Dissemination

Profound advances in the mechanisms available for communicating information have occurred over the past several years with the growth in the use of the Internet and the World-Wide Web. These advances have transformed the conduct of research in many fields of science and engineering.

The development and expansion of NSF's multidisciplinary Knowledge and Distributed Intelligence [13] activity demonstrates NSF's commitment to enhancing efforts in this area. As part of this effort, multidisciplinary activities are underway in support of experimental and theoretical environmental research, where the needs for sophisticated modeling and simulation, and for development of intelligent instrumentation, have become quite clear.

Particularly relevant to dissemination of information on the environment is the NSF Digital Libraries Initiative, conducted jointly with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. It is now in its second phase. The goal of the initiative is to provide leadership in research fundamental to the development of the next generation of digital libraries, to advance the use and usability of networked information resources, and to encourage existing and new communities to focus on innovative applications areas. Through partnering arrangements, it looks to create next-generation operational systems in such areas as education, engineering and design, earth and space sciences, biosciences, geography, economics, and the environment. As an example, the Digital Libraries Program made an award for the development of a 3.5 terabyte database to provide multimedia information on the California environment. Due to the multidisciplinary nature of environmental sciences, developments in all areas of science and engineering, as well as more focused environmental efforts, are necessary building blocks for a virtual, distributed library for the environment.

In addition to efforts at NSF and other Federal agencies, the NSTC, through the CENR, has sponsored a series of activities designed to set standards for environmental information and make that information available to researchers, industry and the general public. For example, the US Global Change Research Information Office (GCRIO) provides access to data and information on global change research, adaptation/mitigation strategies and technologies, and global change related educational resources on behalf of the USGCRP and its participating Federal agencies and organizations.

The Federal Geographic Data Committee has developed national standards for geographic data and developed a National Digital Geospatial Data Framework. The recent PCAST report [10] recommends further development of the National Biological Information Infrastructure, to mobilize and provide access to biodiversity information in databases held by various Federal agencies and other institutions around the country.

Interoperability of databases and transformation of huge amounts of data into usable and accessible knowledge is vital to the research enterprise, as well as to those making decisions and policy based on that knowledge. Other Federal agency contributions to a national environmental network include large data archives, many of which are national data centers. NSF will continue to advance efforts, in cooperation with other agencies, in this area.

III. D.  Education And Training

NSF is uniquely positioned to integrate research and education in and across all areas of science and engineering, across all levels of education, and in cooperation with state and local governments, academic institutions, and the private sector. A very important component is a proactive approach to public education on environmental issues.

Preparing the next generation for careers in science and engineering-related fields is one of NSF’s primary goals and, indeed, its mandate. A variety of methods are used to develop the basis for achieving this goal, including curriculum development, professional development for teachers, and increasingly, the development of learning technologies.

NSF is in a strong position to integrate environmental education more fully into the range of educational disciplines it addresses. In fact, NSF sees education related to the environment as an excellent way to engage students in the process of discovery and supports a variety of education activities related to the environment. Some examples of special programs related to environmental education include:

Other Federal agencies engage in their own sets of education activities, and NSF makes a concerted effort to stay informed about these activities.

Exciting opportunities abound in this area, not only for environmental education itself, but in the possibility of infusing concepts developed through the study of environmental science into other key areas of the science and engineering curricula. In addition, the education process can stimulate new ideas for scientific inquiry related to the environment. NSF will continue to develop activities in this area.

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IV. Administration and Management of a National Institute for the Environment

One model for a national institute for the environment, as expressed in the recently introduced legislation H.R. 2914, the "Sound Science for the Environment Act", envisions an institute within NSF that is composed of a board of governors, a director and staff, several offices, a center for environmental assessment, and a national library for the environment. The board of governors would be appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate, and would establish goals, priorities, and policies for the institute. Additionally, the CENR would be directed to serve as an interagency advisory committee to the institute. The National Science Board would be responsible for approving the selection of the director of the Institute, and would have one of its members serve as a member of the board of governors.

Unfortunately, this board of governors would in many ways duplicate, overlap, and even compete with the duties and responsibilities of the National Science Board – particularly in the area of policy making. Additionally, the institute would be empowered to establish additional advisory committees at a time when attempts are being made to limit the proliferation of such bodies throughout the Federal government.

In carrying out its responsibilities, the institute would be empowered to enter into financial arrangements, including competitively awarded grants, loans, cooperative agreements, and contracts to institutions, teams, and centers, after rigorous peer or merit review. Among its programmatic activities, the institute would be charged to support assessment, research, education and information dissemination activities – all based on a competitive, merit review process.

Thus, by design, the proposed administration and management plan would establish a quasi-independent structure that would be duplicative and therefore unnecessarily costly and wasteful. Moreover, such a structure would tend to isolate environmental science, engineering, and education activities from the core science and engineering disciplines on which they depend. In addition, the proposed structure could distance agency decisionmakers, including those involved in regulation, from research results.

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V. Recommendations

This report has reviewed briefly the landscape of NSF and Federal investment in environmental R&D in the context of the functions proposed for a national institute for the environment. It has concluded that the range and complexity of environmental research, as well as the diverse needs of those who depend on the results of such research, require a heightened response involving many Federal agencies. Similar conclusions were expressed in a recent report of the Carnegie Commission [5] and in recent PCAST reports [10, 11]. What is needed is an updated national strategy for environmental science and technology.

Thus, NSF recommends (a) revision of the existing interagency strategy into a new National Science and Technology Strategy for the Environment, (b) associated enhancement of interagency coordination and cooperation and (c) augmentation of NSF’s role in the interagency effort.

  1. The National Science and Technology Strategy for the Environment would build on the environmental R&D strategy developed previously by the NSTC/CENR and articulated in its 1995 document "Preparing for the Future Through Science and Technology: An Agenda for Environmental and Natural Resource Research" [4] and the recent PCAST reports [10, 11]. This effort should involve all the relevant agencies; be based on competitive, merit-reviewed activities; and should seek to define and to link the information needs of policy-makers as closely as possible with relevant environmental research opportunities.

  2. The National Science and Technology Strategy for the Environment should influence agency planning and budgeting for FY 2000 and beyond. The NSTC, working through the Executive Branch budget process, should set priorities and consider the appropriate level of funds to support the strategy. This could result in a strengthened effort to address the challenges suggested by the proposers of the institute concept and by other interested entities. The NSTC and CENR should continue to serve as a forum for assessments related to environmental policy objectives. Such assessment activities and any necessary "stakeholder" coordination activities could be conducted by the NSTC itself, supported by the CENR, along with the appropriate external entities.

  3. The NSF, as part of its long-range planning process for FY 2000 and beyond, should build on the areas identified within the LEE theme, particularly in those areas where NSF can play a catalytic role. In this way, NSF could develop an expanded environmental research and education effort consistent with the agency's mission, goals, priorities and core strategies that would be a key component of the enhanced NSTC activity. This effort would make full use of the various funding modes and programmatic management options regularly employed by the Foundation.

As part of this effort, the NSF would ensure that appropriate management structures exist to:

To summarize NSF’s recommendations, the National Institute for the Environment’s proposed core activities of assessment, research, information dissemination, and education can and should be addressed through a National Science and Technology Strategy for the Environment. Increased activity in all of these areas appears to be warranted and strongly justified and should be evaluated in the context of the overall strategy. The above approach will link the assessment, research, education, and information dissemination needs better to the missions of the various agencies and to the needs and interests of the public and its policy makers.

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VI. Potential Costs

As demonstrated in our FY 1999 budget, expanded funding for environmental R&D is desirable. Indeed, the NSF has already identified several emerging areas of fundamental science and engineering that are worthy of additional support, such as biodiversity and environmentally benign manufacturing. In addition, proposals to develop new database and internet capabilities, and to fill gaps in environmental information and education could compete for additional support. However, factors such as disciplinary contributions to the underpinnings of environmental research, the complexity of the Federal environmental R&D portfolio, the need to articulate the NSF role within an interagency strategy, and competing resource priorities within NSF, make it difficult to determine a precise level for enhanced NSF efforts at this time.

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VII. Conclusions

The proposers of the National Institute for the Environment have provided an important service in bringing increased attention to environmental issues. NSF appreciates having the opportunity to respond to Congress. There are excellent reasons for enhancing Federal investment in environmental research, education, dissemination, and assessment activities.

For the intellectual and practical reasons discussed above, the establishment of a stand-alone institute is not an effective way to proceed. However, the strengthened research, assessment, education and information dissemination efforts suggested as functions for such an institute can be achieved effectively, within existing Federal structures, through a new "National Science and Technology Strategy for the Environment" designed to make aggressive use of the attributes of each of the relevant Federal agencies. The NSF can play a leading role by further augmentation of its already significant role as a sponsor of fundamental, broad-based research and education activity related to the environment. The Strategy would also take into account the needs of the broadest share of the research and education constituencies, and the needs of Federal agencies, as they seek to discharge their responsibilities.

Environmental concerns are only likely to grow in the coming decades. It is the responsibility of the research establishment of this nation to respond to problems that face society today, and to anticipate those that it will face in the future. NSF will continue to strengthen its efforts in this area and it will respond to changing needs as it contributes to a forceful and growing Federal response to environmental concerns.

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[1]   House VA/HUD H. Rept. 105-175; VA/HUD Conf. Rept. H. Rept. 105-297. See also the "Sound Science for the Environment Act" (H.R. 2914), now before the House in the 105th Congress.

[2]   Jane Lubchenco, Entering the Century of the Environment: A New Social Contract for Science, Science 279 (1998) 491. See also references cited therein.

[3]   Program Guide to Federally Funded Environment and Natural Resources R&D, Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, National Science and Technology Council, February 1998. See pages 77-87 for a description of NSF activities.

[4]   Preparing for the Future Through Science and Technology: An Agenda for Environmental and Natural Resource Research, Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, National Science and Technology Council, March 1995.

[5]   Federal Environmental Research and Development: Status Report with Recommendations, Carnegie Commission on Science, Technology, and Government, March 1997.

[6]   Report of the NSB/CPP Task Force on the Environment, NSB/ENV-93-9 (Revised) 1993; see also the report entitled Loss of Biological Diversity: A Global Crisis Requiring International Solutions, NSB 89-171.

[7]   NSF in a Changing World: The National Science Foundation’s Strategic Plan, published by the National Science Foundation, 1995.

[8]  A Proposal for a National Institute for the Environment - Need, Rationale, Structure, prepared by the Committee for the National Institute for the Environment, September 1993. See also their website at

[9]   Blockstein, David E., "What's new with the proposal for a National Institute for the Environment?", NAEP News, pp 8-9, May/June 1997.

[10]   Teaming with Life: Investing in Science to Understand and Use America's Living Capital, report of the President’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), March 1998.

[11]   Federal Energy Research and Development for the Challenges of the 21st Century, report of the President’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), November 1997.

[12]   CENR Environmental Monitoring Team, Integrating the Nation’s Environmental Monitoring and Research Networks and Programs: A Proposed Framework, March 1997.

[13]   A World-Wide Web site. Please see

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Appendix 1.  Overview of NSF Activities in Science, Engineering, and Education Related to the Environment

The National Science Foundation is organized into the following Directorates and Offices:

Programs within all of these units directly support research and education activities associated with the environment.

A.  Disciplinary Activities

NSF programs provide support for fundamental research that extends knowledge related to the environment in a wide range of disciplines. Such research often serves as a foundation for multidisciplinary activities.

B.  Multidisciplinary Activities

The NSF has long supported a broadly defined portfolio of cross-disciplinary science and engineering research and education involving all of the disciplinary focused units listed above. To enhance multidisciplinary participation in environmental research, these various research elements have now been organized via a new thematic activity, Life and Earth’s Environment (Appendix 2), to focus on critical scientific, engineering, and educational issues associated with the environment. These include:

C.  Centers for Environmental Research and Education

In addition to the comprehensive program based on individual investigator initiated research, the Foundation also supports a number of research centers that focus on different aspects of environmental research and education. Centers include:

D.  Infrastructure for Environmental Research

The NSF supports the underlying infrastructural needs for conducting environmental research. Examples include the following:

E.  Interagency and International External Coordination

In addition to its role in CENR programs, NSF has also developed more specific environmental research programs with several other agencies. Some of these are also supported by other countries. Examples include:

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Appendix 2.  FY1999 Description of the Life and Earth's Environment (LEE) Theme

Life and Earth's Environment (LEE) is a broad theme describing research activities that focus on the complex interdependencies among humans and other living organisms, and the environments that affect, sustain, and are modified by them.

Although every NSF directorate is involved in research on this topic, LEE activities can be categorized into the following seven areas. The priorities for FY 1999, for which NSF has requested an increase of $88 million, are described below.

Integrated Research Challenges. The complexity of many environmental issues requires research integrated over disciplines, spatial scales and time periods to an extent not customary in traditional research. NSF will provide an increase of more than $38 million to support research teams to (a) identify major environmental questions requiring comprehensive, long-term research; (b) design effective, integrated approaches to addressing these questions, and (c) carry out this design.

Environmental Observatories. NSF will provide an increment of more than $7 million to support environmental observatories and enhance existing sites that will serve as research platforms for a wide array of environmental observations. NSF plans to enhance the network of Long-Term Ecological Research sites including enhanced international collaboratories. Collection of physical, chemical, and biological data will enable analysis of biodiversity, assessment of pollution, and understanding of planetary development and environmental processes.

Global Change. Investment in the US. Global Change Research Program addresses interactions among physical, biological, ecological and human systems at varying scales. A $20 million increment will allow NSF to continue to support activities ranging from major international collaborative field programs for collection of critical data to the development, testing, and application of improved models encompassing varying geographic and temporal scales and to emphasize research on human contributions and responses to global change. Within the Global Change framework, NSF will add research activities on how changes in climate at a global level influence change at the local and regional level. In addition, NSF will expand its activities to address other aspects of Earth system interactions, including solar influences.

Urban Communities. NSF plans to provide an increase of over $7 million for research to examine the functional interrelations among physical, biological, social, and engineered systems and processes important in urban environments. In addition to gathering data essential to understanding these interrelations, research will attempt to identify the set of complex factors that enable vigorous, healthy urban communities.

Life in Extreme Environments. Recent discoveries have identified a wide range of unexpected environments in which life flourishes on Earth, including high-salt deserts, volcanoes, polar ice, mineral surfaces, and inside engineered systems. NSF will provide an increase of approximately $8 million to examine processes through which lifeforms interact with their environments. Such activities will expand knowledge about the origins of life on Earth, explore the effects of extreme environments on microbial metabolism, examine the characteristics that permit lifeforms to adapt to extreme environments, search for life-supporting environments beyond our own planet and examine how organisms from extreme environments can be used productively.

Engineered Systems in the Natural Environment. NSF will provide an increment of more than $5 million to support research that furthers the understanding of engineered systems and their interaction with the natural environment. Research thrusts include closed-cycle manufacturing, characterization of the deterioration of engineered systems (including that caused by microorganisms, ozone, sunlight and other environmental factors), and the development of techniques for accelerated life-cycle assessment. Other lines of research include advances in sensors, controls, and other interactive tools, and of environmentally friendly materials, performance of bioreactors, and integration of biotechnology and advanced manufacturing.

Other Activities. Various types of research not covered in the descriptions above include biodiversity, ecosystems research, development of tools for studying demanding environments, and natural hazards mitigation. In the last category, for instance, examples include research to improve prediction of the incidence and severity of natural events (volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, extreme weather), and research to discover safer alternatives to hazardous practices (e.g., replace public transport of toxic chemicals with on-site generation, or use processes that do not require toxic chemicals). NSF also will support modeling and socioeconomic and engineering strategies for minimizing adverse impacts.

In addition to those activities described in the LEE thematic area, NSF carries out considerable research that contributes to understanding the environment and finding solutions to environmental problems. The deeply-embedded nature of environmental research, as well as its multidisciplinary character, guarantees that outstanding researchers and program managers in all disciplines will be involved in the enterprise.

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