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OPP Office Advisory Committee

XXX Meeting of the Advisory Committee for the Office of Polar Programs (OPP)

May 17, 2007 via teleconference • Arlington, VA


Members Present via Teleconference

James Hollibaugh, Chair, School of Marine Programs, University of Georgia
Deanna Paniataaq Kingston, Anthropology, Oregon State University
Marilyn Raphael, Geography, University of California, Los Angeles
Edward Brook, Geosciences, Oregon State University
Sarah Church, Physics, Stanford University
Hajo Eicken, Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska, Fairbanks
Andrea Lloyd, Biology, Middlebury College
Donal Manahan, Marine Environmental Biology, University of Southern California
Terry Wilson, Geological Sciences, The Ohio State University
Marigold Linton, Math and Science Initiatives, The University of Texas System

Members Absent


Guests Present via Teleconference

Margaret N. Rees, University of Nevada, Las Vegas; Chair, Antarctic Sciences Committee of Visitors
Dan White, University of Alaska; Chair, Arctic Sciences Committee of Visitors

OPP Senior Staff Present

Karl Erb, Director
Michael Van Woert, Executive Officer
Simon Stephenson, Director, Division of Arctic Sciences
Scott Borg, Director, Division of Antarctic Sciences
Erick Chiang, Director, Division of Antarctic Infrastructure & Logistics
Mike Montopoli, Director, Office of Polar Environment, Health and Safety
Sue LaFratta, Senior Advisor/Policy, Analysis & Operations
Fae Korsmo, Staff Associate

The spring meeting of the Office of Polar Programs (OPP) Advisory Committee (AC) was held at the National Science Foundation (NSF) in Arlington, Virginia, on May 17, 2007.  Committee members and guests participated via teleconference.

Acronyms used throughout these minutes:

AC       Advisory Committee
ANS     Arctic Natural Sciences
COV    Committee of Visitors
NSF     National Science Foundation
OPP     Office of Polar Programs

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Dr. Erb opened the meeting at 12:00 pm by inviting introductions from those on-site at NSF Headquarters and those participating via teleconference.  Dr. Erb reminded the AC that its meeting is governed by the Federal Advisory Committee Act, and for members to submit the confidential Conflict-of-Interest statements.

Chair’s Welcome

Dr. Hollibaugh noted that this meeting of the AC would be devoted to review of the Arctic and Antarctic Committee of Visitors (COV) reports.  He thanked the chairs of the COVs for their well written reports.  He outlined the AC’s options:  examine the reports, accept them and transmit them to OPP for formal response – or – accept the reports but hold them for further discussion at the fall meeting.  If the AC chose to hold the reports for further discussion, the goal for this meeting would be to determine the areas for which clarification and/or additional information is needed.

OPP Director’s Report

Dr. Erb provided an update on discussions with the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat for joint science and logistics in the Arctic and the Antarctic using the Swedish icebreaker Oden.  OPP and the Secretariat are negotiating an Implementing Arrangement under the US/Sweden Agreement on Science & Technology Cooperation.  He will update the AC when the Arrangement has been signed.  Dr. Erb updated the AC on personnel changes since the fall AC meeting.  Dr. Erb also thanked the COV chairs and committee members for the thorough reports, noting that they were very constructive and useful.

Arctic Sciences Division — Committee of Visitors Report

Dr. Hollibaugh suggested beginning with the Arctic COV report, and invited Dr. White, Chair of the Arctic COV, to make comments.

Dr. White recognized the COV members and the NSF staff that participated in the review.  He noted that the COV found the Arctic Sciences Division to be well managed and that many things were being done well.  Thus, the COV focused attention on areas requiring further attention. 

The committee found that issues discussed by the 2003 COV remained in 2006, and its report proposed ways to deal with these issues.  The committee felt that additional funding was needed for the Arctic Natural Sciences (ANS) program, but cautioned that funding should not be increased at the expense of other Arctic Sciences Division programs.  Regarding process, Dr. White explained that the committee reviewed 80 jackets and thus answering how proposals are reviewed was easy to accomplish.  However, whether programmatic goals were achieved was more difficult to address because the committee did not have information on this subject.  On the question of how the Broader Impacts criterion is handled, the committee found that while there are still differences from program to program, there have been improvements since the last COV.  In summary, the committee concluded the Arctic Sciences Division is making high quality investments, that it is effective and efficient, and that logistics is appropriately led by science.

Dr. Hollibaugh summarized key areas from his review of the report:  Broader Impacts (how interpreted, defined, evaluated), and the Reviewer Checklist recommended by the COV.  He acknowledged that these areas may be beyond OPP’s immediate ability to address (requiring agreement at the agency level).  Dr. Hollibaugh then invited discussion on the COV report by AC members.

Several members reiterated the importance of increasing funding for ANS and commented on proposal pressure in this program.  Mr. Stephenson explained that when the COV met, NSF was operating under a Continuing Resolution.  He had assured the COV that if the budget request was received – which it ultimately was – he would consider a funding increase for ANS in part to address the COVs concern and in part to fund the Bering Sea Ecosystem Study.  Dr.  Kingston expressed a community concern over funding for the Bering Sea Ecosystem Study versus funding for individual discipline awards, and wondered how any increased funding would be split. 

Dr. Erb suggested that once all awards were made, OPP could develop a programmatic outline for discussion at the AC’s fall meeting.  Mr. Stephenson noted that he had not given extensive presentations to the COV on programs in the Arctic Sciences Division, but in retrospect realizes that talks by the program managers regarding balance would be useful for future COVs. 

Reference to an appendix was included in the COV report.  The committee had decided that the appendix did not represent the full committee’s view so it was not included in the official draft report.  Dr. Hollibaugh suggested that if the appendix author’s take on the data provided was different, perhaps he or she should have an opportunity to be heard.  Dr. Erb welcomed this individual’s participation in the fall meeting.

Dr. Hollibaugh asked whether there is community concern over ANS v. ARCSS (Arctic System Science) funding.  Dr. Kingston answered that the issue is not so much competition between programs, but that ANS does not have enough funding and Dr. Brook confirmed, adding that there is a lot of important science that is not being funded.  Dr. Manahan cautioned that the AC should be careful in setting absolute constraints that could hamper OPP’s ability to respond rapidly and effectively to emerging scientific priorities. 

Dr. Erb commented that OPP does not make awards based solely on numerical ratings and that proposal success rates provided only partial insight into questions of balance; proposal pressure is an important indicator, but the quality of proposals ought to be the primary criterion for funding.    He observed that the COV’s opportunity to examine awards and declines in each program give them the best perspective for judging whether the quality threshold varied significantly from program to program. 

Dr. White suggested that the AC review the questions posed to the COV in the NSF template to determine whether they are useful.  Dr. Erb pointed out that the questions are agency-wide but that OPP and the AC could  reach agreement on which questions OPP and the AC are most interested in prior to the next COV and disregard the others in principle. 

Dr. Lloyd wondered how OPP and the AC could deal with the variability in how the broader impacts criterion was evaluated, and requested that this be addressed at the fall meeting.  Dr. Hollibaugh agreed, and asked whether individuals from outside OPP should be involved.  Dr. Erb said that he would invite NSF senior management to give a presentation.  Dr. Wilson noted that an assessment of what broader impacts activities are effective would be more useful than information only on what people are doing to address broader impacts. 

Dr. Kingston asked what kind of leeway OPP has to add additional criteria to the merit review process (referring to IPY proposals that have criteria in addition to Criterion 1 and Criterion 2).  Dr. Erb answered that it is possible, but that NSF clearance is required.  Referring to the reviewer checklist recommended by the committee, Dr. Erb noted that it would be necessary to distinguish between checklist items that improve management of the process and those that change the merit review process in some substantive manner.  Dr. Erb, Mr. Stephenson and Dr. Borg all agreed that the checklist idea was a good one, and committed to discussing it with NSF senior management. 

Items for the fall AC agenda were summarized: 

  • Dr. Kingston to structure an agenda item for the fall AC meeting on the subject of programmatic goals, balance and proposal pressure.  OPP to provide data for discussion by October 1.  Dr. White will prepare talking points on the COV discussions, and Dr. Brook will prepare talking points on the appendix.
  • OPP will prepare information for a Broader Impacts presentation and discussion at fall AC meeting.

Dr. Hollibaugh made a motion to accept the COV report, with further discussion at the fall AC meeting.  Seconded with none opposed. 

Antarctic Sciences Division — Committee of Visitors Report

Dr. Hollibaugh invited Dr. Rees to give an introduction to the Antarctic Sciences Division COV report.  Dr. Rees thanked the COV members, noting that its findings were extraordinarily positive.  She said that many times during the review, she wanted to thank the OPP program officers for a job very well done.  The COV noted several issues:

  • Broader Impacts and Workload (agency-wide issues)
  • A great deal of data was provided but the committee was not always comfortable that they knew what the data meant.
  • Understanding strategic and programmatic goals.

Dr. Rees also noted that the coordination of logistics and science has been an ongoing issue for 20 years and that, although it is difficult, it needs to be addressed.

Regarding reviewer diversity, Dr. Hollibaugh noted that there was only a 35% return from the most recent survey, and he asked where the data comes from.  Dr. Van Woert explained that NSF provided the data, and Dr. Borg added that the low return could be because disclosure is voluntary.  Dr. Erb noted that this is an agency-wide issue that he would bring to NSF senior management’s attention.  Dr. Rees said that the committee was frustrated that it could not respond to questions appropriately because the data were not available. 

Dr. Manahan said a possible criticism is that the ocean science program is the only program that does not use panels.  Dr. Borg answered that NSF policy allows discretion in the review method, but he sees value in using ad hoc followed by panel and will discuss this with candidates for the position.  Dr. Kelly Falkner is managing this program in the interim, and advised the AC that she is planning to do a panel.  Dr. Manahan also asked about the distribution of awards to top institutions within OPP, and whether OPP is in line with the rest of NSF.  Dr. Erb answered that he believed that OPP funds a broad range.  Dr. Lloyd said that if information on success rates by institution type is available, it should be added to the report.  It was decided that the information would be provided to the AC for discussion at its fall meeting. 

The AC discussed logistics availability versus the ability to fund science.  Dr. Hollibaugh reminded the AC that the support section’s COV made recommendations for streamlining the process.  Dr. Erb acknowledged that the review process needs to change and that the COV’s recommendation would be folded into OPP’s thinking on this issue.  He asked whether NSF’s goal of acting on proposals within a certain amount of time causes program officers to decline proposals because logistics are not available.  While OPP has encouraged the community not to be constrained by the current logistics, changing it takes two to three years so maybe a different approach is needed.  The AC discussed constituting a subcommittee to look at process and options or to look at how best to integrate the now separate science and logistics COVs.  Dr. Erb advised the AC that the support section’s COV would meet in September, and suggested that perhaps the COV could explore these issues through the AC liaisons.  Dr. Borg noted that this area frustrates a lot of people, and that it deserves in-depth thought.  Mr. Chiang noted that the increasing complexity of science proposals presents significant engineering and design issues and that large projects such as those in West Antarctica are also an issue, requiring advance planning and lead time.  Dr. Rees suggested that pre-proposals could be used to quickly collect information on what people want to do and where.  Dr. Erb acknowledged that more work needed to be done, and suggested that OPP bring options to each AC meeting for full discussion, starting with pre-proposals.

Dr. Hollibaugh thought that a high number of good proposals were rejected because of logistics mismatches and that in addition to pre-proposals, it might also be possible to commit to fund at some future date.  Dr. Borg explained that some proposals have been funded for an initial phase to determine the scope of support required, but that flexibility is needed in case costs or priorities change, and that in rare instances proposals have been held pending resolution of logistics issues.  Dr. Borg added that NSF’s customer service goals work against this, and Dr. Erb stated that the six-month rule is very important for young investigators, and cautioned that any process changes that are made should still be faithful to the six-month decision timeframe.

The AC discussed use of the word “marginalized” in the COV report.  Dr. Rees will discuss with COV members and the AC will have a fuller discussion at its next meeting.  Improving the effectiveness of responses to prior COV reports will also be discussed at the next meeting.

Dr. Hollibaugh made a motion to accept the COV report, with further discussion at the fall AC meeting.  Seconded with none opposed.

The meeting adjourned at 2:05 pm.