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OPP Office Advisory Committee

XXXVII Meeting of the Advisory Committee for the Office of Polar Programs

November 10, 2010 via teleconference

Members Present: 

Eric Saltzman (Chair), Earth System Science, University of California, Irvine
Cecilia Bitz, Atmospheric Science, University of Washington
Mark Fahnestock, Complex Systems, University of New Hampshire
Ben Fitzhugh, Anthropology, University of Washington
Gretchen Hofmann, Marine Sciences, University of California, Santa Barbara
Bernice Joseph, Education, University of Alaska, Fairbanks
John Kovac, Astronomy, Harvard University
Marigold Linton (CEOSE Representative), University of Kansas
Jeff Severinghaus, Geosciences, University of California, San Diego
Kevin Speer, Oceanography, Florida State University
Eric Post, Biology, Pennsylvania State University
Terry Wilson, Geological Sciences, The Ohio State University

OPP Senior Staff Present: 

Karl Erb, Director
Sue LaFratta, Executive Officer (Acting)
Scott Borg, Director, Division of Antarctic Sciences
Will Colston, Director, Division of Antarctic Infrastructure & Logistics
Polly Penhale, Head (Acting), Office of Polar Environment, Health & Safety
Simon Stephenson, Director, Division of Arctic Sciences


The Fall meeting of the Office of Polar Programs (OPP) Advisory Committee (AC) was held at the National Science Foundation (NSF) via teleconference on November 10, 2010.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Dr. Eric Saltzman opened the meeting by welcoming new members and thanking all members for their participation.  Following introductions, the minutes of the AC’s Spring meeting were approved.

Dr. Cora Marrett met with the committee on behalf of NSF’s new Director, Dr. Subra Suresh.  Noting that the AC meeting was being held by teleconference, she told the AC that the Director is interested in exploring alternative ways of holding meetings and panels.  She went on to say that the Director relies on input from ACs, and relayed items that Suresh would have highlighted:  discussions with the Director of the Office of Science & Technology Policy on the U.S. Antarctic Program Review to ensure that the critical investments needed to support science are made; and planning for the Polar Research Vessel and what is needed to continue the strong leadership that OPP has exhibited in this regard.  Marrett closed by thanking the Committee on behalf of the Director for all they do for the Foundation and inviting them to let NSF know what it is doing well and what it could do better.  Following a comment by an AC member, Marrett engaged briefly with the AC on the issue of contractor versus permanent and rotating federal employees.  She noted that in addition to asking for more staff, the Agency also needs to think about different ways to accomplish its work and she invited the AC to provide input on this topic.

OPP Director’s Report

Dr. Karl Erb provided the AC with updates on personnel changes, the FY 2011 budget request, plans for the ice channel break-in to McMurdo Station, and Secretary Hillary Clinton’s visit to U.S. Antarctic Program facilities in Christchurch, New Zealand.

USAP Review

Erb provided a brief update on planning for Phase I of the USAP Review.  This phase, designed to identify scientific drivers over the next two decades, is being managed by the National Research Council.  Erb introduced NRC staff Chris Elfring and Ed Dunlea.  Elfring noted that review committee members would be announced in the near future, followed by a 20-day public comment period.  The review committee is expected to submit its report to NSF in May 2011.  The report will inform the work of a Blue Ribbon Panel that will examine the logistics and infrastructure needed to implement the science drivers.  

Antarctic and Arctic Support Contract Procurements

Erb provided general information on the status of the procurement for research support and logistics in the Arctic and the Antarctic.  For the Arctic contract, approval to issue the Request for Proposal will be sought from the National Science Board at its February meeting.  Once approved, the RFP will be posted for public comment.  For the Antarctic, Erb introduced Mr. Bart Bridwell, the contracting officer handling the procurement.  Bridwell noted that a significant milestone was met in August when the competitive range determination was set.  The anticipated award date is October 2011.  Erb noted that although a prolonged evaluation period was necessitated by the complexity of the proposals, the delay has had no impact on the support of research in Antarctica.  An AC member asked whether there would be changes in the process for future competitions.  Bridwell answered that although the process has taken longer than expected — a lesson learned that will be addressed in future competitions — the process is sound and represents a legitimate acquisition approach that will bring the maximum amount of innovation to U.S. Antarctic Program operations and result in a contract that will meet OPP’s needs. 

One member noted differences in the level and quality of service between the Arctic and Antarctic.  Erb commented that the outbrief interviews with grantees do not reflect differences, but if OPP is made of aware of specific problem areas it can address them.  One difference is that grantees working in the Arctic may be supported by locally available logistics providers while NSF must arrange for all logistics support in Antarctica.  Regarding outbriefs, AC members noted that the same personnel that are providing the support are also conducting the outbriefs which could result in less than accurate information.  Erb noted that NSF Representatives and NSF Science Representatives also attend the outbriefs, and went on to agree that it is an important issue that should be looked at more closely.  He said that OPP will review its process to make sure we are exercising our responsibility to measure contractor performance.  Erb and Saltzman agreed to continue discussion at the next meeting. 

OPP Response to COV Reports

In transmitting the COV reports to OPP, the AC highlighted certain issues for OPP to address.  The AC liaisons to the COVs provided comments on OPP’s response.  During an ensuing discussion about OPP’s response, the issue of data and data handling was raised by an AC member in terms of getting old, irreplaceable data into archives so it is not lost.  Erb noted that this would be time-consuming and expensive, and it would be necessary to establish this as a priority.  He indicated that OPP would think more about how this would be done and report at the next AC meeting.  Saltzman summarized that OPP had provided thoughtful responses to the COV recommendations and evidence that things are moving forward. 

Planning for Future Deep Field Facilities

The AC engaged in a discussion of building standards for deep field facilities, including consideration of the impact of prolonged construction periods on the time available for science, and a comparison with the standards used by other Antarctic programs.  An AC member described the European model in which the same people perform science and logistics.  In systems where the science and logistics people are not the same, logistics and science are optimized separately, leading to inefficiencies.  Noting that decisions such as construction requirements could have ripple effects that impact the success of a project, Saltzman said that there should be processes in place to assess those impacts on an ongoing basis.  Erb commented that the contractor responds to NSF direction, which includes meeting science goals, being safe, being environmentally conscious and being economical, and it is OPP’s responsibility to ensure those priorities are properly balanced.  If the planning process has not led to that balance we need to review and revise our processes.  He added that OPP will ensure that it communicates requirements to Principal Investigators so that they are aware of and can plan for any necessary impacts.

Planning Toward a Polar Research Vessel

Dr. Alexandra Isern provided the AC with an update on planning for a Polar Research Vessel (PRV).  She noted that the new vessel may be integrated into the UNOLS (University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System) fleet.  UNOLS is managing the science requirements refresh aspect of the project.  Isern introduced Dr. Jon Alberts from UNOLS, who noted that UNOLS is making good progress in identifying a committee for the refresh activity.  The AC was very supportive of the integration of the PRV into UNOLS.

OPP Staffing Issues

As background for this discussion, Erb indicated that he had heard concerns regarding the balance between permanent and temporary employees, and that getting that balance right is an important issue.  Marrett also mentioned an initiative the new NSF Director is working on to make it more attractive for scientists to come to NSF on a temporary basis.  Dr. Scott Borg described the Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA) process, and mentioned how OPP uses Dear Colleague letters to collect expressions of interest for IPA positions.  Erb noted that NSF has vacancies for permanent staff but it does not have the funding to fill them, which tends to lead to increased reliance on IPAs who are paid for through the account that funds research.  The Agency feels it is important to have the continual refreshing that happens when we bring in people from universities on temporary assignments but that it does take time to become acclimated to the position.  Above all, the capabilities of the individual are what counts and not whether that person is a permanent or temporary employee.

National Ocean Policy

Mr. Simon Stephenson provided the AC with information on the new National Ocean Policy, including the Executive Order that implements the final recommendations of the Task Force, the policy coordination framework, and the governance coordinating committee.  He indicated that within NSF, the main areas of overlap were with the Long-Term Ecological Research Program and with the Arctic Observing Network.  Gayle Pugh from NSF’s Geosciences Directorate answered many of the AC’s questions regarding programs at NSF that align with the Policy and how the National Ocean Council will interact with NSF, OMB and the Arctic Research Commission.  Erb added that the Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee, chaired by NSF and now under the National Science and Technology Council umbrella, is another mechanism for bringing polar arctic issues to the attention of OMB and other White House entities. 

Statutory Assessment Requirements:  Alaska Research

Dr. Polly Penhale described an effort that NSF’s Office of General Council is undertaking to conduct an agency-wide review of environmental compliance of funded proposals.  Review of OPP proposals is limited to the Arctic because Antarctic proposals already undergo a rigorous compliance review in accordance with Antarctic Treat requirements.  The goal of the activity is to ensure that NSF is in compliance with the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the National Historical Preservation Act.  A committee has been established and it is currently gathering data on the range and volume of proposals that are subject to these regulations. 

FY 2010 Climate Research Investments (CRI)

Borg provided a status and timetable for the five solicitations in NSF’s Climate Research Investments portfolio:

  • Water, Sustainability, Climate
  • Ocean Acidification
  • Climate Change Education
  • Dimensions of Biodiversity
  • Earth System Modeling

Awards have been recommended for all areas except Earth System Modeling, which are expected to be announced shortly.

FY 2011 Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability (SEES)

Stephenson provided information on the goals for the SEES portfolio, a follow-on activity to the CRI program.  A major component of SEES is the establishment of Research Coordination Networks, designed to support groups of investigators to communicate and coordinate effort across disciplinary, organizational, institutional, and geographical boundaries around a common theme.  These networks are expected to include a diverse range of career states.  Erb added that SEES, as a new program, cannot get started until NSF has an appropriation as new programs cannot begin under a Continuing Resolution.  He mentioned that NSF’s legislative staff has indicated that the FY 2011 budget could be set at 2008 levels, a 19 percent reduction over NSF’s FY 2010 budget, and that OPP is planning for success but beginning to develop contingency plans in case the budget is reduced.  Erb and Saltzman agreed it would be useful to schedule an AC teleconference to discuss cuts if the budget is in fact reduced.


Regarding the Strategic Planning effort, Saltzman indicated he would be providing OPP’s representative with what he has and that the AC would then be available to provide input as required.

In closing, Saltzman thanked outgoing members Drs. Ben Fitzhugh and Bernice Joseph for their service to the AC.  Erb also thanked them for their contributions to OPP’s continuous improvement.

There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned.


Acronyms used throughout this meeting:

Acronym Title
AC Advisory Committee
COV Committee of Visitors
CRI Climate Research Investments
IPA Intergovernmental Personnel Act
NRC National Research Council
NSF National Science Foundation
OPP Office of Polar Programs
PI Principal Investigator
PRB Polar Research Board (National Academy of Science)
PRV Polar Research Vessel
RFP Request for Proposals
SEES Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability
UNOLS University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System
USAP U.S. Antarctic Program