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Response to the Committee of Visitors Report

Review Period

1998, 1999, and 2000


Major Recommendation 1

"Streamline the logistics planning process"
PRSS should develop procedures that will reduce the number of proposals that undergo unnecessary logistic reviews.

OPP agrees that the proposal review process, which must integrate the assessment of the science merits and the logistics requirements, could benefit from a review and possible revision. We will organize a working group consisting of PRSS staff, science section program officers, and USAP support contractor staff to conduct this study and make recommendations.  Input will be solicited from users committees and other groups, and the recommendations will be posted on the OPP web site for comment. We anticipate a continuing dialog with the Office Advisory Committee on this issue. We  will endeavor to complete this work prior to the Fall 2002 OAC meeting.

Major Recommendation 2

"Take a leadership role in implementing the Antarctic environmental protocol"
PRSS should play a proactive and international leadership role in the implementation of the Antarctic environmental protocol, in particular within the CEP. To accomplish this growing mission, OPP and PRSS should develop the funding and human resources needed.

OPP appreciates and agree with the Committee’s assessment of PRSS stewardship of the Antarctic environment as exemplary, and we intend to continue to play a proactive and leadership role in implementing the Environment Protocol under the treaty.  The Committee correctly said that this effort is demanding of both human and financial resources.

OPP and NSF meet our obligation in this area through a coordinated team effort involving members of NSF’s Office of the General Counsel, the State Department and other federal agencies, and OPP staff.  OPP’s work consists partly of coordinating this team effort and partly of addressing environmental requirements associated with USAP activity.  In addition to the leadership efforts of OPP’s environmental officer Joyce Jatko, who also serves as the U.S. representative to the Treaty’s Committee on the Environmental Protocol (CEP).  This effort has benefited recently from the full time attention of Sea Grant Fellow Ms. Antonia Fairbanks, from the expert advice and review activities of Dr. Polly Penhale and other program officers in the OPP Antarctic Science Section, members of the research community who advise on environmental issues, and Ms. Nadene Kennedy, who manages the USAP environmental permitting process. The OPP Director takes a personal interest in all these activities while meeting these responsibilities.

This is clearly a labor-intensive effort we expect to continue to meet in an exemplary fashion in the future. However, unless overall restrictions on NSF staff size are relaxed, this will require careful attention to streamlining procedures and building enhanced cooperative efforts with other nations, itself a worthy goal.

Major Recommendation 3

"Upgrade deep field science infrastructure"
PRSS should develop a long-range plan, funding strategy and implementation schedule to upgrade and support deep field science capabilities.

PRSS and OPP agree that our capability to support deep field science needs to be increased. We have taken several recent steps in this direction that set the stage for significant future progress in this area. These include:

  • Construction of a new integrated Science Support Center (SSC) at McMurdo Station that will combine the Mechanical Equipment Center, Berg Field Center, Field Safety Training, and Science Cargo functions into a single building located directly across from the Crary Science and Engineering Center. These developments will greatly facilitate the preparation for deep field deployments.
  • Testing and evaluation of the Basler Turbo 67 (BT-67) aircraft for possible integration into the USAP aircraft fleet during the most recent Antarctic field season. These tests were successful and we believe commercial medium-lift aircraft offer the possibility of greatly enhancing our ability to support deep field science in the future.  OPP intends to make use of such capabilities in the future, subject to demand from the community and the availability and cost of the aircraft.
  • Purchase of two specially-modified Challenger 55 tractors for support of deep field overland science traverses. Both will be in service this season.  Future experience with traverse operations is expected to develop into capability for delivery of fuel to South Pole Station or other inland research sites, a capability that would free a large number of LC-130 missions for support of deep field science. Funds will be sought for additional appropriate traverse vehicles if this development proceeds as expected.
  • Replacement of the light tracked vehicle fleet at McMurdo Station.  This $2.4 million dollar procurement will replace the aging Spryte fleet with Kassbohrer Pisten-Bully tracked vehicles which have been specially modified to meet the needs of the USAP science community.  This initiative also included the procurement of seven trucks to be fitted with Mattrack™ rubber track conversions for 4 x 4 vehicles.  These vehicles, already procured and ready for use in the 02/03 field season, will be deployed to meet Programmatic needs, as determined by our annual allocation processes.

While these initiatives are significant, OPP recognizes that additional replacement and modernization efforts are needed to support field science.  Significant efforts for the future include: replacement of the McMurdo Station snowmobile fleet, modernization of deep field camp infrastructure to include development of high-efficiency hybrid power systems, and more energy-efficient field structures. OPP does have replacement plans for many of these activities, but the ability to complete will be driven by future funding constraints.

Major Recommendation 4

"Create a recurring repair & replacement account"
OPP should place a high priority on securing an overall NSF budget enhancement to establish a recurring PRSS infrastructure repair and replacement account.

The COV references both the Augustine Panel recommendations and the previous COV report recommendations on capital asset replenishment. It is worth noting that the Augustine Panel did not specifically recommend a capital asset replenishment account. In fact, the Augustine Panel acknowledged that gave serious consideration to this issue and concluded that "... the character of the federal budgeting process… unlike commercial practice, does not ordinarily include a depreciation account to provide for the renewal of fixed assets ... ."

OPP fully agrees that facilities maintenance deserves high priority and that a structured way to address various USAP requirements would be helpful .  However, we have concluded that we can be more successful within the current NSF budget process by coupling  maintenance and relatively small facility upgrade requirements closely to the future needs—both specific and general—of the science program. This has been our strategy in recent budget requests. Major infrastructure upgrades—ones costing in excess of $20 million—can be addressed through the Agency’s Major Research Equipment account, as was done for the South Pole environment and safety upgrade, as well as South Pole Station Modernization on and LC-130 conversion s. There is growing recognition within NSF of the need for an account that could meet midsize funding requirements but no decision to create such an account has been taken yet.

PRSS has been able to sustain an ongoing effort to maintain and upgrade facilities at McMurdo and Palmer Stations, albeit at a slower pace than is ideal.   Some examples are noted in our response to COV recommendation # 3 .  Another is PRSS action to construct a sewage treatment plant at McMurdo Station We will continue to work with the NSF budget office, OMB and NSF management to acquire the funding to meet the needs of the Program in a more effective manner.

Major Recommendation 5

"Consolidate aviation contractor management functions"
PRSS should consolidate the management of the private aviation contractors (PHI and Ken Borek Air) under a single Memorandum of Understanding with the Federal Office of Aviation Services to provide aircraft management services including safety inspections.

OPP agrees that this is a an important and serious issue and will be analyzing available options for management of private aviation contractors.  Any analysis will take into account the goal of safe and efficient operations and budget impact.

Major Recommendation 6

"Improve the committee of visitors process"
OPP and PRSS should explicitly review the previous COV report and provide a summary of the actions they have taken to implement the recommendations. Specific metrics of performance and detailed science support data should be provided to the incoming committee for the time period under review.

We will provide to future COV’s a summary of actions taken in response to the previous COV report and will make every effort to continue to improve the COV process. We note that the Charge to the Committee was considerably more comprehensive this year than in the past, and we realize this made the review considerably more complex to carry out. Additional discussion and study will be required to determine the extent to which quantitative measures can capture the performance of NSF activities.

The COV was provided with the following materials as input to its deliberations:

  • Representative sample of program jackets representing different types of support: deep field/large; deep field/small; Dry Valleys/Crary Lab; South Pole; ship support; Palmer Station/ship support; and Palmer Station
  • SIP reports for all these projects
  • Grantee outbrief notes (direct comments of scientists) for the period under review
  • Reports from the three Antarctic Users' Groups
  • Reports on workshops
  • Detailed information on the planning process
  • Documents detailing NSF/OPP’s agreements with other federal agencies
  • Documents on performance measures used to evaluate the USAP support contractor
  • Documents relating to South Pole Station Modernization
  • Documents on environmental stewardship, including:
    • Regulatory framework for activities in Antarctica
    • Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty (overview)
    • Implementing the Protocol – brief history
    • The Antarctic Conservation Act – summary of regulatory requirements
    • Antarctic Conservation Act briefing materials
    • Executive summary of 1999/2000 remediation activities
    • List of Initial Environmental Evaluations prepared
    • List of Records of Environmental Review prepared to date
    • Typical annual production of USAP waste, by category

As noted above we will examine the question of quantitative metrics further and will seek to provide future COV’s with an appropriate mix of material, quantitative and qualitative, to facilitate making the complex judgments inherent in these evaluations.


Last Updated

December, 2001