CENR Resource Distribution by Subcommittee

CENR Resources by Issue Subcommittee

Improving the Process of Federal R&D in the Environment

The CENR is increasing the involvement of the academic community through merit review, peer evaluation, and the competitive selection of federal R&D projects.

The Administration is evaluating the balance between extramural and intramural R&D programs in the federal environmental R&D system. The Administration has asked all federal agencies to take a careful look at the balance between intramural and extramural environmental R&D activities within their agencies with the goal of increasing the involvement of the academic community and the private sector by competitively selecting more R&D awards. In addition, there may be instances where the quality of the research endeavor could be strengthened by combining the intellectual and institutional capabilities of both universities and federal laboratories, thus improving the overall quality and cost effectiveness of the federal research program. An ad hoc working group of the CENR is analyzing peer review and competitive awards across all the agencies; the conclusions will be available in early 1995.

Strengthening international cooperation and collaboration on important global issues such as climate change and biodiversity is a critical way to improve the leveraging of research effort and cost. The CENR has begun a process of improved integration with relevant international programs.

Competitive Awards, Strengthened Academic Research, and Merit Review

In articulating priorities for science and technology programs, the NSTC stated a number of Administration principles for R&D activities. One of these principles is increased emphasis on competitive awards for federally funded R&D projects. Another is that most federally funded R&D be subject to merit review by scientific peers to ensure quality. The NSTC also sets goals for ensuring that our academic institutions continue to provide an adequate supply of well-trained scientists and engineers.

Competitive Awards

Although most in-house federal research activities funded through noncompetitive procedures are excellent and cost effective, in many cases, greater competition for funding could lead to a broader range of solutions and an overall increase in quality. Open competition allows equal access to federal research funding, providing opportunities for a greater number of scientists and institutions in federal programs. Agencies may award both internal and external expenditures competitively or noncompetitively. Competition can be full and open to attract a wide array of competitors to work on broadly defined science questions, or agencies can manage the process by limiting the array of competitors or more narrowly defining the science questions to be addressed or both.

Federal environmental science and technology programs address a diverse array of agency missions that derive from a variety of legal responsibilities, including organic acts, other authorizing legislation, directions from appropriations committees, and international agreements. Thus, some research activities and capabilities are not suited to competition. The actual requirements for in-house expertise and capability within each agency are the fundamental issues, that is, the levels of staffing and types of facilities and expertise that are essential to ensure that agencies can meet their goals and objectives and that the nation can maintain its leadership in key science and technology areas.

The CENR is assessing current competition practices. Recent advances in computers, information systems, and network technology have changed the conduct of science, facilitating research across institutional and geographic lines. As technology has advanced, the nature of environmental research has evolved as well. Larger computational power has allowed environmental R&D to develop a stronger emphasis on larger spatial scales and longer time frames, while maintaining a focus on process studies to identify cause and effect relationships. New projects and tasks commonly require more complex, often multidisciplinary analyses and strong partnerships among scientists and institutions with differing expertise. These changes heighten the need for more full and open competition with fewer barriers to enable assembly of the best research expertise and facilities.

Of the $5.1 billion reported as focused environmental R&D in FY 1994, approximately 56% was used to fund R&D efforts outside the federal agencies, most with some form of merit review prior to selection. Agencies with resource management responsibilities, such as those within the Departments of the Interior, Commerce, and Agriculture, or regulatory functions, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, accounted for the largest proportions of environmental R&D funds retained internally.

Strengthened Academic Research

Increased competitive awards for federally funded R&D are likely to attract scientists and engineers from our nation's universities and colleges. The new challenges provided by these R&D projects will enhance the ability of the United States to maintain leadership in providing the knowledge base to support sustainable development and the long-term stability of our nation's natural resource base. It is essential to ensure that our academic institutions are able to continue to provide an adequate supply of well-trained scientists and engineers, and at the same time, enhance scientific and technological literacy for all Americans. Fiscal year 1994 levels of extramural research within CENR totaled approximately $3.0 billion. In response to a national priority to strengthen competitive, high-quality extramural research, CENR agencies are reevaluating how strategically targeted, investigator-initiated research at academic institutions and competitively awarded research within mission agencies can be used to encourage cutting-edge science and technological innovation and to increase the relevance of fundamental research to the national goals as established by the NSTC. As an example of leadership in this reevaluation, the Environmental Protection Agency has committed to increase, over a period of years, the proportion of agency funds available for extramural competitive awards by approximately fivefold.

Merit Review

Regardless of whether agencies conduct R&D internally, at federally funded, contractor-operated national laboratories, or provide extramural research funds to nonfederal scientists, rigorous merit review enhances the overall quality and value of science. Merit review includes both evaluation of R&D efforts for their relevance to science and policy needs and scientific peer review of individual studies for technical soundness. Agencies are planning to tailor the review process to the size, scope, and nature of the activities being planned or assessed, while accommodating specific agency programs, priorities, and technical information needs. Although the CENR subcommittee strategies provide a link to ensure the relevance of selected science programs and goals to management and policy needs, merit review is critical in providing quality control.

Evaluating interim and final project performance is essential. These elements can be considered under the general aegis of merit review, but they are sometimes neglected under the pressure to move on to the next issue. However, if appropriate goals and milestones are established in the initial project planning, rigorously applied periodic or postperformance review can lead to better science, improved performance, and a clearer view of the next steps.

International Cooperation

Many major environmental problems we face have global implications and must be addressed internationally. These include transboundary air pollution, desertification, deforestation, marine pollution, natural disasters, loss of biological diversity, stratospheric ozone depletion, and climate change. The United States must take a leadership role on these issues to protect the world's environmental and natural resources for future generations.

Many nations, both developed and developing, contribute to this international cooperative research, primarily through three major international programs: (1) the World Climate Research Program (WCRP), (2) the International Geosphere-Biosphere Program (IGBP), and (3) the Human Dimensions of Global Environmental Change Program. These international programs are coordinated at several levels, ranging from scientist-to-scientist, to agency and government interactions. Many of these arrangements involve United Nations agencies including the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU) provides leadership in the planning of many of these programs, including the WCRP and IGBP. The United States shares in the funding of ICSU and supports the IGBP Task Force on Global Analysis, Interpretation, and Modeling, located at the University of New Hampshire.

The United States is a major participant in international efforts to understand and assess the state of knowledge about global environmental change. Hundreds of scientists from more than 50 countries have participated in recent assessments that have included reviews of scientific results, environmental impacts, technologies, and economic considerations. These intergovernmental assessments are especially important as they serve as primary inputs to the many international conventions and protocols that the United States supports, including the Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Montreal Protocol on Stratospheric Ozone, and the Convention on Biological Diversity.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established in 1988 by the WMO and UNEP. The IPCC produces assessments on climate change that characterize the state of knowledge within the research community. This process has been critical to establishing scientific consensus on climate change issues, largely because of the extensive involvement of a diversity of national and scientific backgrounds, representation of minority views on issues of disagreement, extensive peer review, and a commitment to scientific excellence.

The IPCC produced the 1990 assessment covering changes in climate, potential impacts, and response strategies. A 1992 update to the 1990 volume was developed for the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. These documents provided the basis for the international adoption of the Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992. A 1994 special report focuses on radiative forcing of climate resulting from human-made emissions of greenhouse gases and includes technical guidelines for evaluating sources of greenhouse gas emissions and potential impacts of climate change. With involvement of thousands of scientists from around the world, the IPCC currently is preparing a second comprehensive assessment of climate change. This set of three reports, scheduled for completion in 1995, will address the current state of knowledge of the climate system and its potential perturbations; the vulnerability of natural and socioeconomic systems; and options for avoiding, adapting to, and ameliorating climate change.

Stratospheric Ozone Depletion Assessments

The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer went into effect in January 1989, and U.S. scientists have provided leadership in developing a series of international assessments for stratospheric ozone depletion. These reports have been sponsored by UNEP and the WMO, and summarize the current state of knowledge of scientific, environmental, and economic and technological matters relevant to implementation of the Montreal Protocol. Assessments in 1989 and 1991 served as the basis for amendments to the Montreal Protocol that were adopted in 1990 and 1992. A 1992 supplementary assessment on the science, technology, and economics of methyl bromide were the basis for decisions made that year to limit methyl bromide use. With the involvement of many of the world research community, the Assessment Panels of the Montreal Protocol are completing a set of reports, available in early 1995, on the state of understanding of ozone-layer science, the effects of ultraviolet radiation, and the technical and economic options regarding the use of ozone-depleting substances and their substitutes.

The Global Biodiversity Assessment

The Global Biodiversity Assessment was approved by UNEP for Global Environment Facility funding in May 1993. The objective is to provide an independent, peer-reviewed analysis of current scientific issues regarding biodiversity. The analysis will address issues such as methods for characterizing species, monitoring, sustainable use of biodiversity, biotechnology, and data and information management. The assessment will examine the current state of knowledge, identify gaps in understanding, and report where scientists have reached a consensus, as well as where scientific uncertainty has conflicting views.

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