Strategic Planning Document -
Environment and Natural Resources

Chapter 2. Strategic Planning and Coordination of
Environmental Research and Development

An important objective of the federal government is the establishment of clear national goals for science and technology investments across the government. Today's problems demand contributions from different fields of study and a team approach from the federal research and development (R&D) agencies as a means to provide an interagency strategic management system to coordinate and enhance the ability to achieve interdisciplinary solutions. President Clinton established the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) by executive order in November 1993.

The National Science and Technology Council

The NSTC is a standing, cabinet-level body chaired by the President and composed of the Vice President, the Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, the cabinet secretaries and agency heads with responsibilities for significant science and technology programs, and other White House officials. The principal purposes of the NSTC are to (1) define clear national goals for federal science and technology investments and (2) ensure that science, space, and technology policies and programs contribute effectively to the national goals.

In 1994, NSTC committees identified R&D priorities, and the NSTC, through the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Office of Management and Budget, provided federal agencies with coordinated budget guidance for R&D. This guidance articulated FY 1996 R&D priorities that were identified by the NSTC committees and was intended to facilitate planning, coordination, and communication among federal agencies and to direct agency programs toward these priorities. This guidance was used by the Office of Management and Budget to evaluate individual agency budget submissions.

The Committee on Environment and Natural Resources

In recent years, there have been a number of thoughtful criticisms of the way the federal government has historically conducted environmental R&D. The piecemeal, single issue by single issue, agency by agency research programs once thought to be adequate to deal with the environment have been widely recognized as inadequate to deal with the complex air, land, sea, economic, and social issues associated with regional, national, and global concerns such as ocean transport of pollutants, atmospheric deposition, climate change and ozone-layer depletion, biodiversity, and sustainable development. Ensuring economic development in concert with environmental protection makes the need for stronger integration of social, economic, and environmental sciences critical as all stakeholders are drawn into the process of environmental decision making. The NSTC Committee on Environment and Natural Resources (CENR) was created as a new way to conduct coordinated, cost- effective, interdisciplinary research to address the important environmental issues of our time.

Major criticisms raised by independent evaluations of the
federal government's environmental research structure 1

The CENR provides clear leadership, through its subcommittee structure, for strategic planning, coordination, and prioritization of research and assessment objectives across all federal agencies. By establishing a committee structure with science and policy cochairs, mechanisms have been put in place to integrate the state of knowledge regarding environmental and natural resource issues with policy planning, and conversely, to ensure that research strategies are policy relevant. Through this document, and the supporting subcommittee strategic and implementation plans, the CENR has developed a comprehensive, national plan for environmental and natural resource research that focuses on a long-term research strategy, as well as the near-term development of understanding to support policy decisions. Through the planning activities of the issue and crosscutting subcommittees, enhanced emphasis has been placed on ecological research to (1) understand the potential consequences of long-term environmental change and (2) to promote the efficient use of natural resources while sustaining ecosystems for future generations. Similarly, increased emphasis has been placed on the integration of social sciences and assessment end points into research planning in all of the CENR issue areas. Efforts are being made throughout the CENR, with coordination by the Task Group on Observations and Data Management, to increase the efficiency with which the vast array of monitoring and other forms of data generated within the federal system are available. This process will help to better define where true gaps in long-term monitoring exist that need to be filled. The CENR has begun a process to evaluate the balance between intramural and extramural R&D in the overall mix of federal R&D. Important roles exist for federal laboratories, national laboratories (government owned, contractor operated), universities, and private industry research activities. The process of strategic planning recognizes that each of these sectors has capabilities and resources that are integral to a balanced federal research program and will strive over the long term to take advantage of the diversity of strengths afforded by each.

The mission of the CENR is to develop and implement a comprehensive strategy for environmental R&D activities across the federal government to ensure that federal R&D efforts provide the scientific and technical information needed by policy and decision makers. The organizational structure of the CENR includes full-committee and subcommittee policy vice chairs who bring high-level policy perspectives to the CENR.

The CENR consists of seven issue subcommittees created because they represent areas of important policy that transcend the interest of a single agency: Global Change; Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics; Resource Use and Management; Water Resources and Coastal and Marine Environments; Air Quality; Toxic Substances and Hazardous and Solid Waste; and Natural Disaster Reduction.

The CENR has three crosscutting subcommittees: Risk Assessment, Social and Economic Sciences, and Environmental Technology (a joint subcommittee of CENR and the NSTC Committee on Civilian and Industrial Technology). The crosscutting subcommittees focus on themes common to the areas covered by the seven issue subcommittees and provide an additional mechanism for interagency coordination. Risk assessment, for example, plays an important role in issues such as the effects of toxic substances, biodiversity, loss of ecosystem integrity, natural disaster reduction, and effects of global change on human health and ecosystem function. Social and economic sciences are critical to evaluating the impacts of human activities on local, regional, and global environments and human responses to natural disasters and environmental change. Environmental technologies can help achieve the goals of several of the issue subcommittees. For example, new technologies that can provide cost- effective remediation of hazardous waste sites are of critical interest to the subcommittees on toxic substances, water resources, and resource use and management. The Task Force on Observations and Data Management coordinates requirements and capabilities in these areas across the CENR research issues. The Ecosystem Working Group provides a focus for ecosystem research coordination across the CENR issue areas.

Each CENR subcommittee is charged with defining critical policy questions or issues relevant to their issue or methodological area (e.g., risk assessment, social and economic sciences). The scientific knowledge and corresponding research necessary to meet those policy challenges are then identified, and an interagency implementation plan is developed. In order to review and guide the priority-setting process, more than 200 individuals reviewed subcommittee strategy documents at a national conference and many hundreds of additional reviewers in subsequent review workshops and mail reviews. Reviewers consisted of nonfederal scientists from academia, industry, environmental organizations, congressional staff, and the representatives of state and local governments.

Priority Crosscutting Areas for Environmental R&D

The CENR subcommittees include representatives from all federal agencies and accomplish government reinvention by providing opportunities for researchers and managers in different agencies to share information and coordinate research. This process, most importantly, helps identify gaps in current research and provides strategies for prioritizing new initiatives. In a period of stable to declining budgets, prioritizing research is essential to eliminate duplication and to refocus low-priority efforts. Through systematic review of R&D in each of the policy issue areas, a balanced, comprehensive program providing the scientific and technical basis for policy is being achieved. The CENR has identified five underfunded priority areas that cross all environmental R&D: (1) Ecosystem Research, (2) Observations and Data Management, (3) Socioeconomic Dimensions of Environmental Change, (4) Environmental Technology, and (5) Science Policy Tools: Integrated Assessments and Characterization of Risks. (Each of these areas are discussed in greater detail in Chapter 4.)

Coordinating Federal Resources

Federal investments must be used wisely for the nation. The CENR represents a new way of doing business and is an integral part of this Administration's efforts to reinvent government. The CENR has conducted an inventory and budget crosscut of environmental R&D programs within the federal agencies as a means of ensuring that the research programs maintain a balanced, fiscally responsible, and policy-relevant focus. In FY 1995, CENR programs totaled $5.3 billion; the information gained from the first year of operation as a virtual agency was used by all CENR subcommittees to develop research program budgets for the President's FY 1996 budget. The outcome of this process has been the prioritization and redirection of resources to allow modest but targeted increases in effort in the priority issue and crosscutting areas identified by the CENR:

In the 1996 budget process, the agencies have taken steps in focusing their research on areas of high priority, and in coordinating their efforts. In the CENR priority areas, agencies have either redirected resources or augmented their budgets. Augmentations totalling approximately $100M and redirections of approximately $100M were distributed within the five priority areas. Further, NASA accounting changes have resulted in additions in the generic crosscut line of $88M in FY 1996 (MTPE launch costs).

Because of the inextricable link between energy and the environment, the resource estimate for the Department of Energy reflects a conscious decision to include a major portion of the Department's energy research and development within the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources. This large and diverse portfolio of energy R&D programs is essential to meeting our national environmental goals as well as addressing global environmental concerns. Similarly, the large NASA resource estimate is dominated by the major investment in the Earth Observing System which is a critical element for future observation of the Earth's changing environment.

This Administration established the CENR to develop a strategic agenda and priorities for environmental R&D across the federal agencies. The CENR will continue to establish environmental R&D priorities across the federal government and to facilitate the coordination of this research across the agencies and departments. Setting these priorities will ensure that the United States remains on the leading edge of environmental R&D and that such R&D provides a strong scientific basis for decision makers responsible for the protection, management, and stewardship of environmental systems and resources.

Chapter 2 (continued)