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OPP Office Advisory Committee

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

May 29 - 30, 2008 • Arlington, VA

Members Present

Andrea Lloyd, Chair,Biology, Middlebury College
Sarah Church, Physics, Stanford University
Peter Cornillon, Oceanography, University of Rhode Island
Mark Engebretson, Physics, Augsburg College
Ben Fitzhugh, Anthropology, University of Washington
Anne Henshaw, Environmental Program, Oak Foundation
Marika Holland, Oceanography, National Center for Atmospheric Research
Bernice Joseph, Rural, Community and Native Education, University of Alaska, Fairbanks
Marigold Linton, Math and Science Initiatives, University of Kansas
Don Ratliff, Supply Chain & Logistics Institute, Georgia Tech
Eric Saltzman, Earth System Science, University of California, Irvine
Terry Wilson, Geological Sciences, The Ohio State University

Members Not Present

Edward Brook, Geosciences, Oregon State University
Hajo Eicken, Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska, Fairbanks
Richard Honrath, Atmospheric Sciences, Michigan Technological University
Donal Manahan, Marine Environmental Biology, University of Southern California

OPP Senior Staff Present

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

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 29-30, 2008.

Acronyms used throughout this meeting:

Acronym Title
AC Advisory Committee
AIL Antarctic Infrastructure & Logistics Division
ANS Arctic Natural Sciences
ARCSS Arctic System Sciences
BI  Broader Impacts
COV Committee of Visitors
EAGER Early-concept Grants for Exploratory Research
IPY  International Polar Year
NSF  National Science Foundation
OISE Office of International Science and Engineering
OPP Office of Polar Programs
PIRE Partnership for International Research and Education
RAPID Grants for Rapid Response Research
TR  Transformative Research

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Drs. Karl Erb and Andrea Lloyd opened the meeting at 8:30 a.m. by welcoming the members and thanking them for their continued contributions toward making OPP’s operations more effective.

Dr. Mike Van Woert reminded members that the meeting was subject to Federal Advisory Committee Act rules, and that they were serving as Special Federal Employees.  He asked that they advise him in advance of any agenda topics in which they have a financial interest so that any potential conflicts could be resolved.

A motion was then made and seconded and, with all in favor, passed to accept the minutes from the November AC meeting.

Members and OPP staff present introduced themselves.

OPP Director’s Report

Erb provided the AC with updates on various items of general interest, including impacts of the less than expected appropriation for FY 2008 and the rising cost of fuel, ship and aircraft charters, and aircraft maintenance.   The FY 2009 Budget Request was also discussed.  Erb recapped the Agency’s International Polar Year (IPY) investments for FYs 2006-2008, noting that these investments created new opportunities that will continue beyond IPY.   International partnerships that were solidified or created during IPY were noted, as were other significant international science planning and coordination efforts such as a Joint Committee Meeting between the United States, Denmark and Greenland, and developments stemming from Arctic Council and U.S. Arctic Policy activities.  Erb highlighted the dedication ceremony for the new South Pole Station that had taken place in January 2008.  In closing, Erb updated the AC on progress being made to recompete the Antarctic Support Contract and noted personnel changes in OPP since the Committee’s last meeting. A noteworthy change was Mr. Erick Chiang’s decision to retire as Division Director, Antarctic Infrastructure & Logistics (AIL), following 29 years of service to the U.S. Antarctic Program.  Erb thanked Chiang for his work that had shaped science support and logistics over this period of time.

In response to questions regarding how OPP would deal with the budget decreases, Chiang explained that they were analyzing all options, such as whether to defer a project to increase fuel storage, and Mr. Simon Stephenson commented that the Arctic Sciences Division had decided to defer a program announcement.  Erb advised the AC that these issues would be discussed in more detail in later sessions.

Transformative Research Initiative

Erb introduced Dr. Cliff Gabriel from NSF’s Office of Integrative Activities who would be sharing NSF’s plans for enhancing support of transformative research (TR).  When the AC last met in November 2007, the TR working group had just been established.  Gabriel’s update began with NSF’s working definition for TR, and he explained mechanisms for support of TR that the working group is studying.  For example, Early-concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGER) and Grants for Rapid Response Research (RAPID).  In discussions that followed, led by Dr. Richard Honrath via teleconference, the AC expressed interest, wondering whether this initiative would improve NSF’s ability to identify and support TR.

Antarctic Sciences Planning Issues

In a session moderated by Dr. Sarah Church, Dr. Scott Borg provided the AC with a list of discussion topics for future directions in Antarctic Sciences, including — but not limited to — subglacial lake exploration, an airborne science platform, and an instrumentation program.  Because resources are limited, not everything on the “wish list” can be accomplished immediately and thus priorities must be established.  Factors important in establishing priorities include community input, whether the scale of an effort indicates that a multinational collaboration would be required, and whether there are opportunities for leveraging NSF investments with investments being made by other countries. As an example, Borg explained that the Chinese are planning a station at Dome A that could represent an opportunity for a collaboration.  After exploring several ways to set priorities, including through discussion with the AC, with the community, in workshops, etc., the AC suggested that representatives from each discipline assemble a "report of reports" and that later review by, for example, the National Academies of Science might be useful.  Borg asked the AC whether it saw value in creating an instrumentation program within Antarctic Sciences.  He explained that the program would be established by allocating funds from a budget increase – if there was a budget increase — or from existing program budgets if there were no increase.  The AC was supportive of such a program, but noted that it would be important to ensure that the community was aware of the opportunity and of the available platforms. 

Arctic Sciences Planning Issues

Dr. Ben Fitzhugh moderated Stephenson’s presentation on planning issues in the Arctic, such as major science challenges, program design and balance, balance between science and science support, and building partnerships.  The AC was asked whether it thought a continuing investment in education and perhaps recruiting a program officer for this activity was advisable.  In its discussion, the AC touched on the importance of ensuring that funding for education would not detract from advances made in expanding the involvement of social scientists in polar research, and that OPP would not use its funds for activities that would be more appropriately supported by NSF’s Education and Human Resources Directorate.  Noting the positive impact of IPY investments on education and outreach, the AC was supportive, and asked OPP to provide information on its investment in education relative to investments being made by other NSF programs.

Office of Cyberinfrastructure

Dr. Diana Rhoten showed the AC a production, “Beyond Being There”, which demonstrated the exponential growth in the use and uses of computing in the very recent past.  Her talk, moderated by Dr. Peter Cornillon, demonstrated applications of these advances, and she noted that science has been slow to take advantage of new platform capabilities.  Virtual Organizations include the Earth System Grid, NANO HUB, and Second Life.  A web site called INNOCENTIVE OPEN INNOVATION MARKETPLACE  provides companies with a platform for inviting people to send in solutions to “challenges” and for challenge “solvers” to receive cash rewards.  These virtual organizations make it possible to achieve goals not possible via direct presence, and enable access to large data sets.  Rhoten said that NSF’s objective is to support creation and operation of end-to-end virtual organizations across all fields of science and engineering.  There was strong support among AC members for OPP to continue its efforts to bring the community into this NSF-wide activity.  Rhoten’s presentation and the subsequent discussion provided the committee with a better appreciation of how NSF’s Office of Cyberinfrastructure and Cyber-enabled Discovery and Innovation activities could help researchers in polar sciences.

NSF Director

Dr. Arden Bement, Director of NSF, met with the AC and engaged in a discussion of NSF’s data policy.  Bement articulated the need for a mechanism to save data while being mindful that there is not a corresponding need to save all data nor to keep what is saved forever.  NSF’s guiding principle is for open data sharing, archiving and preservation, but because this is costly Bement charges the research communities with determining how to manage their data so that it serves their purposes.

Erb invited the AC to provide feedback from their TR discussion with Bement.  The AC asked Bement whether transformations in the review process were needed, such as instructions to panelists and training for program officers.  Bement said that NSF had worked to bring the Foundation to the frontier, so all proposals are TR to some extent.  Although many consider NSF reviewers to be too conservative, survey data does not bear that out.  For these reasons, NSF is focusing on changes in proposal instruments, such as EAGER and RAPID.  The AC suggested it might be worthwhile to coordinate with other agencies.  Bement noted that most other agencies are mission agencies that do not fund the types of research that NSF funds.  The AC also discussed whether NSF is funding research that makes the U.S. more competitive.  Bement noted that NSF needs to keep its competitive advantage in terms of research and training, and to maintain a quality fixed plant for doing that research and education.  NSF also maintains its competitive advantage by being able to capitalize on advances that occur in other parts of the world.  One way NSF does this is through unsolicited proposals – letting the ideas come from the community. 

2006 COV Reports: OPP Response and Discussion

In a session led jointly by Erb and Lloyd, the AC considered issues raised in the recently transmitted Antarctic and Arctic Sciences Committee of Visitors (COV) reports and OPP’s responses to those reports.  Erb noted that in the Arctic Sciences Division, support for system versus disciplinary science was an area the AC had urged OPP to revisit.  He advised the AC that some funding changes had been made in response.  In the Antarctic Sciences Division, the AC was interested in the relationship between the science and the logistics review processes.  He added that OPP does not want logistics to drive science, but rather wants to be able to respond with agility at the frontier.  As a result, a position has been added to work at the interface between science and logistics.  The AC was asked whether there was a need for additional discussion on these or other issues raised in the reports and the responses.

The AC discussed the issue of balance in the Arctic, wondering what the appropriate balance was, and whether the community perceived that there was an imbalance.  Erb noted that the tension between system and disciplinary science is likely to increase with the focus on climate change, but that proposals will still be evaluated on merit and to a large extent that is what governs the balance.  Stephenson agreed that the Division will fund meritorious research, and said it will also need to issue targeted solicitations for some key areas.  The AC supports continuation of a system science program, and accepted that programs are balanced and responsive to community drivers, but it did not believe that this is well understood by the community.  The AC concluded that the Arctic Sciences Division needs to have an annual report type presentation of its programs and results that is available to the community on the NSF web site.  An AC subcommittee was formed to brainstorm how NSF and the AC can more effectively communicate with its communities – for example, how do investigators participate in the prioritization process, and what resources are available, planned and desired.  Van Woert is the NSF representative to the subcommittee, with participation by Dr. Dan Lubin of OPP.  AC members include Dr. Eric Saltzman as Chair, and Drs. Bernice Joseph, Peter Cornillon and Marika Holland.  The subcommittee will report back to the full committee at the next meeting. 

Regarding Antarctic science versus logistics, the AC noted that the information now available on the web is useful, and they understand from Borg and Chiang that there is a commitment to making more information available.  The AC believes the new position will be key to understanding from the community’s point of view what is needed and to then help OPP plan for the necessary logistics.  Additional discussion on the science and logistics coordination issue was deferred to a later session on planning for the Antarctic Support COV.

Support for International Collaborations

Erb introduced Dr. John Tsapogas, representing NSF’s Office of International Science and Engineering (OISE).  Tsapogas gave the AC an overview of OISE and a presentation on its Partnership for International Research and Education (PIRE) program.  This program is intended to provide funding for building research and education partnerships, and is used to build networks of diverse geographic combinations.  Tsapogas and Erb both noted that this program would be a good vehicle for post-IPY synthesis activities.  The AC asked how these opportunities are broadcast to the polar community.  OPP program officers explained that they encourage their communities to look at other opportunities within NSF, but that the Principal Investigators do need to explore this on their own as well.  Tsapogas confirmed that there are very few polar proposals to the PIRE program, and so dissemination of information does appear to be an issue. Erb urged the AC to make their communities aware of this opportunity.

Antarctic Infrastructure & Logistics Planning Issues

Chiang provided the AC with an overview of the science support planning process, describing its strengths and weaknesses, and plans for addressing the weaknesses.  For example, providing better planning tools, improving estimates of requirements, and varying the planning and funding cycles in accordance with the degree of complexity and resource requirements.  He went on to describe budget issues caused by cost escalations and several ways to reduce costs that are currently under consideration.  For example, diversifying the use of the overland traverse, minimizing WINFLY operations, reevaluating airlift schedules, consolidating airfield operations from three to one, reducing the number of NSF aircraft in service, and deferring capital improvement projects.  It was noted that the largest cost increases were being seen in the price of fuel and also the effects of fuel cost increases on other requirements such as commercial airline ticketing and aircraft and ship charters.

Dr. Don Ratliff moderated the ensuing discussion.  The AC commented that logistics issues are a budget driver, and as logistics have become technology-driven, OPP continues to use smart and hard-working people but has not fully incorporated the technology.  The AC noted that there is a need for a system level understanding of the logistics enterprise and a stronger embrace of innovation and technology in, for example, transportation and inventory management.  It cautioned, however, that OPP should not expect a cost-plus prime contractor to do this but rather should have a separate group that is dedicated to the task undertake the analysis.  The investment could cost 1-3% of the budget but the program could expect a 10-30% benefit from investments in innovation and technology.  Chiang agreed, noting that the Request for Proposals for the Antarctic Support Contract procurement currently underway was purposefully structured to encourage innovation.   

Matching Logistics and Science Drivers

Following a presentation on the subject, Chiang and Borg acknowledged the Committee’s comments that this is a challenging area and that the availability of information was a key factor in many facets of this issue. Borg indicated that at the project level, a process was implemented following the COV to ensure that OPP and the PI had a common understanding of the support that would be provided. At the long term planning level, information about resources committed for future years was key. Chiang  expressed the Division’s commitment to building the integrated master schedule into a USAP-wide tool that would facilitate planning.

There was also discussion about the need to avoid allocating all the logistics and support funds in future years so that the funds might be available to buy other or additional resources.  Both Chiang and Borg expect the new support integration manager position in the Antarctic Sciences Division will be instrumental in developing and disseminating the type and kind of information that is needed for effective planning.

Polar Demographics and Broadening Participation

Dr. Julie Palais of OPP and Dr. Fae Korsmo of the Director’s Office, with Lloyd leading the discussion, presented data on awards to women and minorities.  Data was presented showing that women hold approximately a third of doctorate degrees, but submit only 20% of the proposals received by NSF.  Success rates for women proposing to OPP are lower, at 25%, than NSF’s 31% success rate.  While 17% of PhD degrees were earned by self-identified minorities, NSF-wide they submit only 6% of proposals and receive only 5% of awards.  In OPP the numbers are half the NSF-wide numbers.  Korsmo advised the AC that an NSF working group report on Broadening Participation is due out soon. 

OPP Polar Post-Doc Program Update

OPP advised the Committee that the recent Post-Doc competition was successful, resulting in selection of a good group of candidates.  Because the merit review process was not complete, specific details were not discussed.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Planning for the Antarctic Support Committee of Visitors

Erb gave background on the U.S. Antarctic Program and NSF’s management of that Program.  He described the Department of State’s responsibility for interactions with the Antarctic Treaty on behalf of the U.S.  Erb also explained that science support is a joint activity between AIL and the Antarctic Sciences Division, and that the COV would be examining performance of AIL as well as that of OPP’s Office of Polar Environment, Health, and Safety.  Planning for the upcoming Antarctic Support Committee of Visitors began with the reading of a draft charge to the COV by Dr. Mark Engebretson.  Erb began the discussion by suggesting several areas the AC could focus on:

  1. Is it appropriate for AIL to interact with the science community in the proposal preparation stage?
  2. How well have AIL/PEHS performed their responsibilities over the review period?
  3. Does the AC want to form a group to review how OPP overall operates?
  4. Is there a need for a discussion regarding AIL responsibilities versus Antarctic Sciences Division responsibilities?

The AC made suggestions for improving the charge and a revised charge was distributed. 

The members determined that Engebretson and Wilson would serve as AC Liaisons to the COV.  The AC then considered the types of expertise that should be represented on the Committee.  AC members were asked to forward additional suggestions to Engebretson.

A plan was made for a number of AC members (Lloyd, Engebretson, Wilson) to identify a COV chair and recommend a membership roster to OPP.  The COV chair would then work with Chiang to develop an agenda and presentation materials.  A tentative time-frame for the meeting was set at late September/early October.

The AC agreed that the AIL COV should be completed and then a larger review of support and science would be done by the AC that would look at planning (for implementation, not science planning), implementation, and assessment.  The AC delegated to the Chair the authority to form a subcommittee for this purpose.   

Balancing Support for Disciplinary and System Science: Program Structures

Holland showed the Arctic Sciences Division budget, explained the history of the Arctic Sciences Division’s Arctic Natural Sciences (ANS) and Arctic System Sciences programs (ARCSS), and provided a recap of the COV discussions on the balance between these two programs.  Holland explained that there was a continuing perception in the community that the ANS program is under funded and that at least one reason for that perception is that success rates for the ANS program are lower than those of the ARCSS program. 

Arctic Sciences Division personnel explained that ARCSS uses targeted solicitations, resulting in fewer proposals and, therefore, higher success rates.  Also, that within the Arctic Sciences Division an effort is made to fund the best science regardless of where it is proposed and thus there is flexibility to fund meritorious proposals from the ANS or the ARCSS programs.  Erb clarified that the COV did not question the integrity of the process but did question the transparency of the process. The AC offered that the perception may persist in the community even though the issues have been “fixed.”  There was strong support for continuing the system science program, and the committee appreciated gaining an understanding of how the ANS and ARCSS programs work together to share resources and develop a thematic activity such as BEST (Bering Sea Ecosystem Study).  The AC’s discussion emphasized the benefits of good communication and letting the community know how to participate in these larger scale efforts.  The AC cautioned the newly-formed Antarctic system science program to be mindful of lessons learned from the Arctic system science program such as transparency and communication with its community.

Post-IPY Planning/Legacy

Erb began this session by asking the AC for ideas on what OPP should do post-IPY in order to ensure the legacy.  The AC suggested that it pursue OPP’s idea of working with the ICSU Secretariat to catalog current research efforts, and that the education program discussed earlier in the meeting would be an important contribution to the legacy.  Regarding the ICSU Secretariat idea, Erb noted that it is funded through 2009 and is then scheduled to sunset, but that it has a good database of projects world-wide and knowledge of discipline-specific databases.  As such, he wondered whether the AC thought OPP should issue a solicitation to host the activity for some number of years in order to sustain these efforts.  Another way to accomplish the goal would be for OPP and the AC to identify what needs to be synthesized, or to rely on the community to let OPP know through proposals or perhaps through a workshop.  The PIRE mechanism which the AC heard about earlier in the meeting might also be a powerful tool for the synthesis effort which, to be effective, would need to include international efforts.  Following the AC’s discussion of needs and possibilities, Erb summarized that OPP would follow-up on data access, data synthesis, and the possibility of issuing an announcement of opportunity or asking OISE to issue one.  The AC expressed that it would be important for OPP to be clear regarding the products it wanted, such as education, linkages with minorities, etc.

Broader Impacts Review Criterion

Van Woert, with Joseph, led a discussion of NSF’s Broader Impacts (BI) review criterion.  Van Woert began with background on the criterion and on the AC’s prior work to develop a list of BI examples that was adopted by NSF.  The topic is on the agenda for this meeting because BI continues to be an issue for Principal Investigators, program officers, and reviewers.  Erb asked what OPP should do to assist.  The AC noted that BI  represented a culture change and that NSF needs to allow time for that shift to occur.  At the same time, as Principal Investigators who have come into the system since BI was introduced become leaders, the quality and quantity of BI will increase and get better.  OPP program officers can help by encouraging and helping make the connection between, for example, a climate modeling project which can be done on a computer with the people in the area being studied.  In response to an AC concern, OPP advised that BI did not have to be an unfunded mandate, that funding could be requested in the proposal.  It was also pointed out that NSF has not done a good job of ensuring that review panels include the expertise necessary to properly review BI.  It was agreed that the list of examples of BI needed to be reviewed and updated.  The AC also agreed that it would be helpful if reviewers were reminded that they are supposed to include a relative rating as part of their proposal review.

Other Business

The AC used this time to continue discussion of some of the topics that had been addressed over the two-day meeting; notes are included above.

Meeting Adjourned.