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Confronting the Nation’s Water Problems: The Role of Research 6 Coordination of Water Resources Research The provision of adequate supplies of clean water is not only a basic need. It is a matter of national security and the underpinning of the nation’s economy as well as its ecological functioning. The strategic challenge for the future is to ensure adequate quantity and quality of water to meet human and ecological needs. The growing competition among domestic, industrial–commercial, agricultural, and environmental needs is approaching water gridlock in many areas. Research is a key component to effectively and efficiently addressing the water resources problems that are quickly becoming today’s headlines. The multiple and looming water crises in virtually every region of the nation suggest that the approximately $700 million currently spent on water resources research is not sufficiently focused or is not effectively addressing national needs. Without a clearer national water strategy, there is no adequate way to entirely address this issue. Beyond the total investment, there are both topical and operational gaps in the current water resources research portfolio. Although the federal agencies appear to be performing well on their mission-driven research, most of this work focuses on short-term problems, with a limited outlook for crosscutting issues, for longer-term problems, and for the more basic research that often portends future solutions. As a result, it is not clear that the sum of individual agency priorities adds up to a truly comprehensive list of national needs and priorities. The many state agencies that the committee heard from (see Appendix D) made clear that while some water issues are local, others are becoming increasing common across the country or are of such a scale that the individual states are not equipped to address them. That is, not all problems are local, even though they might appear to be. This misperception has proved to be a significant barrier to coordinating the federal water resources research enterprise. Furthermore, many
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Confronting the Nation’s Water Problems: The Role of Research of today’s most pressing (and expensive) problems, and particularly tomorrow’s problems, require broader perspectives because they often go beyond the ability and authority of any one federal agency, both in their scale/size and scope. This chapter summarizes those factors that encourage or discourage effective coordination of large-scale research programs, the roles and benefits of coordination, and the recent history of coordinating water resources research. It concludes with a description of three possible options to achieve coordination. ENCOURAGEMENTS/DISCOURAGEMENTS OF COORDINATION During its third meeting, the committee heard from a panel of representatives associated with coordinating large research programs, including programs for highway research through the Transportation Research Board of the National Research Council (NRC), the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, the National Earthquake Hazard Reduction Program (NEHRP), and the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP). The panelists were asked to comment on which factors or conditions encourage research coordination and which inhibit it in order to help shed light on an effective model for coordination of water resources research. Several factors stood out as virtually imperative to successful research coordination. First, a strong sense of the relevance of the research, particularly to decision makers like Congress, is important. Much of the success of the USGCRP was attributed to this factor. A second factor is the availability of sufficient resources to implement coordination. In the case of the Transportation Research Board, stakeholders themselves contribute funds that allow for a coordination mechanism—a circumstance that would be difficult or impossible to reproduce in the water community. A third important facet is a clear legal mandate with broad congressional support, such as the mandates of NEHRP and USGCRP. For example, the NEHRP representative noted that the devastating earthquakes in China in 1975 (Haicheng) and 1976 (Tangshan) contributed to support for U.S. legislation authorizing NEHRP in 1977. The National Earthquake Protection Act mandated tasks for four agencies and a two- to three-year reauthorization cycle. Other facilitating conditions noted by the panel included having research agendas based on scientific objectives and related to agency missions and mandates—obviously a challenge for research areas like water resources that involve multiple federal agencies. Furthermore, strong leadership despite political changes was cited as important. Several administrative factors were cited, including having the participating agencies play complementary roles, engaging external review panels, and making the agenda-setting process transparent. One panelist felt that placing a coordination committee in an agency that could foster scientific exchanges and professional networks between committee meetings was most effective.
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Confronting the Nation’s Water Problems: The Role of Research Additional factors the panelists said encouraged coordination included specific tasks and deadlines, which, for example, characterized the multiagency Gulf of Mexico hypoxia task force (see NSTC, 2003, and P.L. 105 383, section 640 (b), for example). Mechanisms for ensuring accountability of the coordination process are also important, for example by documenting successes. One panelist pointed out that interagency communication and wide dissemination of research results were important to help ensure stakeholders that they were benefiting directly from their support for research. The panelists also commented on those factors that discourage coordination of research. A primary deterrent is that fact that different agencies utilize differing budgeting processes (see Box 6-1). Indeed, even with programs like NEHRP, the participating federal agencies have separate authorizing or allocation committees and separate Office of Management and Budget (OMB) examiners. Another frequently mentioned factor is that participants in coordination meetings often do not have decision-making power, and higher-level individuals either are not interested or are not available. A third hindrance, suggested by anecdotal information, is strong agency territoriality regarding particular research topics. Other factors that were identified as working against coordination included the inability to move money across allocation categories (see Box 6-1), lack of sufficient resources and/or staff, and vague planning for coordination. Given that coordination requires additional staff time and funds that could otherwise be used for research or other activities, the benefits of coordination need to be obvious and substantial. None of the panelists characterized their own programs as having an ideal coordination mechanism. Some of the challenges mentioned included the importance of paying attention to both long-term and emerging issues, and filling gaps when research needs fall between agency missions. One panelist indicated that addressing a gap is more difficult than reducing duplication, that latter often being addressed in response to stakeholders’ mistrust of government’s management abilities. Another panelist said that agencies have different definitions of “research” that need to be explicitly stated and clarified. For example, some agencies include technology transfer and training in their concept of research while others do not. Coordination itself can be interpreted differently, with some groups perceiving it as only occurring within the federal government, while others include externally conducted research as well. Further challenges mentioned by the panelists included initiating and maintaining effective relationships with stakeholders and identifying societal issues. Concerns were raised about the difficulties of understanding what data exist, linking databases from separately designed and operated data collection programs, and managing large datasets. It is important to note that several impediments to coordination of water resources research are institutional arrangements unlikely to be changed by a recommendation from this committee. Examples include the structure of OMB, the appropriation/allocation structure, and federal accounting and fiscal control
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Confronting the Nation’s Water Problems: The Role of Research BOX 6-1 Budget Issues that Deter Coordination of Research Across the Federal Agencies Agency research budgets are assembled each year by starting with a “base” defined as those elements that change only marginally from year to year, and then adding “above base” initiatives that may or may not be supported at the departmental or OMB level. Agencies carefully guard their base. Hence, in the context of interagency coordination, an agency would be unlikely to willingly give up a portion of its base to another agency, even if that other agency would apply the funds to a higher national priority. Such trade-offs are expected to occur at the OMB program director’s level, but integration across agencies in OMB, which is largely built along the structure of the departments and agencies, can be difficult. Further, the structure of the congressional appropriations process discourages the shifting of money between agencies that are funded through different spending bills. Each appropriation bill comes out of its own subcommittee on the House Appropriations Committee and out of a corresponding subcommittee on the Senate Appropriations Committee. The agencies funding most of the research on water resources span multiple appropriations subcommittees, as shown in Table 6-1. As a consequence of this fragmentation of water resources research funding, the reality of the appropriations process is that new research directions would most likely have to be funded with new money rather than out of base appropriations. Practically speaking, there is no fungible pot of money representing water resources research funding for all agencies. TABLE 6-1 Subcommittee Jurisdiction of the House and Senate Appropriations Committee Responsible for Each Federal Agency Doing Water Resources Research Agency Appropriations Subcommittee Army Corps of Engineers Energy and Water Environmental Protection Agency Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Independent Agencies Bureau of Reclamation Energy and Water; Interior Department of Energy (civilian) Energy and Water National Aeronautics and Space Administration HUD and Independent Agencies National Science Foundation HUD and Independent Agencies National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration State, Justice, Commerce U.S. Department of Agriculture Agriculture U.S. Geological Survey Interior
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Confronting the Nation’s Water Problems: The Role of Research requirements. These realities were kept in mind as the coordination models and methods described later in this chapter were developed. Finally, it is clear that there must be sufficiently strong incentives for agencies to consider coordinating their research agendas. The dominant incentive may be cost savings, time savings, insights and/or knowledge gained by leveraging assets with other agencies, or anticipation of meeting mandated or other high-priority needs that would be difficult to meet without a partnership. Whatever the driving force is, it must clearly outweigh the many potential disadvantages. It is easy to understand why it may take a national or natural crisis to effect change for a task as complex and challenging as coordinating water research to meet long-term national needs. PURPOSES OF COORDINATION From a federal perspective, the most compelling need for coordination among agencies conducting water resources research is a strategic planning function: to make deliberative judgments about the allocation of funds and scope of research; to minimize duplication where appropriate (although sometimes more than one agency approach to the same problem can be productive); and to present to Congress and the public a coherent strategy for federal investment. Further, coordination can encourage more interdisciplinarity in the framing and conduct of research. In the absence of coordination, other more conventional activities can still add substantial value to current research management, such as more effective leveraging of research methods and capabilities. For example, agencies could increase the use and value of existing field research facilities by jointly sponsoring field experiments, technology development, and management of demonstration projects. More widespread use of interagency personnel exchanges would improve understanding of the missions and goals of other agencies. National Agenda Setting and Strategic Planning Chapter 3 introduced thinking about public investments in research as being analogous to a diversified financial portfolio, which is built on the premise that a diverse mix of holdings is the least risky way to maximize return on investments. In the context of water resources, a diversified research portfolio would capture the following desirable elements of a national research agenda: it would have multiple national objectives related to increasing water availability, to understanding water use, and to strengthening institutional and management practices; it would include short-, intermediate-, and long-term research goals supporting national objectives; the research would encompass agency-based, contract, collaborative, and investigator-driven research; it would address national and region-specific problems; and data collection would be in place to support all of the above.
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Confronting the Nation’s Water Problems: The Role of Research In practice, the President and Congress implicitly define the balance among all these elements and subelements through the annual budget and appropriations processes. However, they are unable to do so explicitly because they lack (1) information about the size and shape of the whole portfolio, (2) measures of the individual research elements, (3) a consensus view of national priorities, and (4) guidance on what might constitute a productive balance of research elements. Thus, the goal of coordinating water resources research is to enable the collection of information about the level and types of research and to advise OMB and Congress on a preferred shape of the entire portfolio, and in particular, a long-term research agenda to address national priorities in water resources. Note that a well-conceived vision of national priorities would not require revision each year; every three to five years would likely suffice. However, whether all the elements of the research portfolio are being adequately worked on would need to be assessed at least biannually to provide a basis for subsequent adjustments. This is not a trivial task. As described in Chapter 4, simply characterizing the dimensions of the research portfolio is very difficult to do under current budgeting practices. Furthermore, once the portfolio is characterized, appropriate performance measures need to be defined, capturing for example differences between short- and longer-term research. Indeed, performance metrics for research portfolios are now an active area of engagement among many federal agencies, stimulated in large measure by the Government Performance and Results Act. To perform these functions, the coordinating body would bring together agency perspectives, an interdisciplinary perspective from the technical community, and a perspective that overarches the missions of the agencies. The latter point is critical. Unlike most areas of research, a significant portion of federally funded water resources research is conducted by scientists within the agencies, not by the external university-based or industry-based research community. As a consequence, the current portfolio of research, such as it is, conforms largely to the bounds set by agency missions, which may or may not comprehensively address national needs. Data Sharing and Technology Transfer The setting of data standards and the facilitation of data sharing are among the most critical value-added functions of coordination. One of the best examples of these functions is the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC). The FGDC has brought together federal agencies, state and local governments, and the private sector to set numerous and sometimes complex standards for the collection, access, display, and storage of geospatial data including topographic, hydrographic, transportation, and cadastral (i.e., property boundaries) data layers (FGDC, 2004). Similarly, the Advisory Committee on Water Information and
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Confronting the Nation’s Water Problems: The Role of Research related activities such as the National Water Quality Monitoring Council promote compatible methods and standards for data to facilitate the sharing of data among agencies and as a consequence have improved data utilization. Coordination also can facilitate technology transfer from research organizations to user communities. Over the last several decades, coordination mechanisms through the USGS Federal-State Cooperative Program and the National Water Quality Assessment program have been effective vehicles for conveying state-of-the-art surface water and groundwater modeling tools, water quality monitoring methods, and water management approaches. A BRIEF REVIEW OF COORDINATION OF FEDERAL WATER RESOURCES RESEARCH Over the last half century, Congress has occasionally opted for temporary, stand-alone bodies—most notably, the National Water Commission (see Chapter 2)—to consider national water issues and suggest both policy and research agendas. In retrospect, these mechanisms have had relatively little influence on the national research agenda. First, they rarely have had a constituency among the chief architects of agency budgeting. Second, there rarely is a ready-made implementing body to translate recommendations into tangible actions. Similarly, there are weaknesses associated with permanent, stand-alone coordination bodies. They are relatively easy to undercut, ignore, and disband. The demise in 1981 of the Water Resources Council illustrates this point and offers the further lesson that the operations of permanent coordinating bodies need to be carefully circumscribed to avoid political entanglements. Finally, Congress (or federal agencies) has often turned to the NRC, as is the case with this committee, to articulate a national water research agenda as viewed largely by the research community (e.g., NRC, 1981, 1991, 2001). There is evidence that some of these NRC efforts have had an impact on budgeting and program focus within agencies. For example, the report on the state of the hydrologic sciences (NRC, 1991) led to the creation of a new grants program administered by the National Science Foundation (NSF). However, because of the sporadic nature of such counsel, follow-up on recommendations and assessment of outcomes is difficult and, consequently, rarely done. For the last 20 or so years, coordination of water resources research has occurred largely as an occasional exercise among the federal agencies and as an advisory activity to the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), with OMB staff involved but not in a leadership role. The basic concept is for agency representatives to get together to discuss emerging needs and share information about current programs. Even within this limited definition, coordination among agencies has occurred only sporadically over the last several decades, despite repeated calls for more coordination among the agencies (see Chapter 2).
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Confronting the Nation’s Water Problems: The Role of Research After a hiatus of several years, OSTP has reconstituted an interagency group to examine water resources research priorities and needs. Since May 2003, the Subcommittee on Water Availability and Quality (SWAQ) of the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) has been meeting on a regular basis. SWAQ has articulated an ambitious mission and agenda, included as Appendix E, built on the observation that the nation’s research needs have fundamentally shifted with the advent (in the mid 1990s) of the “Third Era” of water resources, characterized most notably by a focus on in-stream water needs, surface water and groundwater interactions, and demands for improved biological and other monitoring needs. In general terms, a concept paper, written by the SWAQ’s co-chairs and included in Appendix E, outlines potential areas of cooperation among agencies. According to its charter, the SWAQ may seek and receive advice from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) and other outside groups. To date, that interaction has not occurred. It remains to be seen whether sufficient incentives are in place for SWAQ to realize its ambitious agenda, particularly pertaining to recommending budget priorities that could lead to reallocation of funding among agencies. As currently configured, SWAQ has few resources and staff to do much beyond analysis of gaps in specific research areas. At the present time, coordination of a national water resources research agenda among the federal agencies and other interested parties, including the states and industry, is ad hoc and fragmented, to the extent that it exists at all. If agency missions were sufficiently inclusive and broadly viewed, interagency coordination would certainly suffice. However, the committee’s view is that agency efforts to look beyond their own missions and define long-term national research priorities are necessary but not sufficient. Indeed, Congress and OMB closely scrutinize agency budgets specifically to avoid so-called “mission creep.” The absence of a sustained, independent, broad, and long view of water research priorities means that both the administration and Congress are deprived of vital information to guide funding priorities. OPTIONS FOR IMPROVED ANALYSIS, STRATEGIC PLANNING, AND COORDINATION Based on these past and ongoing experiences, the committee has concluded that an effective and sustainable coordinating body needs to draw from a constituency or community of experts that goes beyond the agencies themselves, but that is integrated to the extent possible into existing processes. If the coordinating body is made up only of agency representatives, the overarching national perspective will likely devolve to the sum of agency wish lists. However, independence from agency agendas needs to be balanced by close interaction with agency leaders who have unique and valuable perspectives on national needs as seen through the lens of their missions. Further, agencies need to feel that they have a
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Confronting the Nation’s Water Problems: The Role of Research positive stake in the outcome from coordination and not simply and reflexively assume a defensive posture. Thus, the coordinating body will need to strike a balance between independence and integration into existing institutions. The coordinating body should have a clear mandate from Congress, which plays a critical role in the agenda-setting and funding process. Congress conferring legitimacy on a coordination process elevates its importance within the executive branch and its relevance to outside constituencies. The coordinating body also needs a reliable means to tap into stakeholder groups and other constituencies to learn of their needs, and to communicate potential new directions for which feedback is desired. Past experiences also suggest that an effective coordination mechanism should be synchronized with the schedule of the federal budgeting and appropriations processes to maximize impact. An effective coordination mechanism should be cyclical and sustainable in order to provide the flexibility that will be needed to address future unknown problems. During “on years,” the coordination body could focus on adjusting the national research portfolio. During “off years,” the focus would be on assessing the effectiveness of implementation, thus allowing a determination of the value added by the coordination effort. Sustainability derives from a demonstrated ability to add value to the agenda-setting and budgeting process. Several options were considered to provide coordination among the multiple research and user communities and advise the Congress and OMB on the key long-term priorities of a national water resources research agenda. Each of the options discussed below would increase the likelihood that at least some of the basic functions of data collection, information sharing, and national priority setting might be implemented. Option 1: Existing NSTC Subcommittee Option 1 is a slight variation on the status quo as of this writing. The NSTC was formed in 1993 as a successor to the Federal Coordinating Committee for Science, Engineering, and Technology. Members of the council include almost every cabinet secretary and major agency head. Beneath the NSTC are several standing committees whose members include senior leadership from the agencies. The relevant NSTC committee for water research is the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources (CENR); a subcommittee within CENR is devoted to water issues. For most of the last decade, the water resources research subcommittee has been dormant. However, as described earlier, the SWAQ was revived in 2003 and appears to be functioning effectively as a forum for agency representatives to share information about their respective programs. The SWAQ’s activities have not yet extended beyond information exchange among agencies, although its charter explicitly calls for the SWAQ to provide advice on national agenda setting.
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Confronting the Nation’s Water Problems: The Role of Research As of this writing, the SWAQ plans to release two reports in 2004: an overview of water availability and use that identifies knowledge gaps, and a report on the linkage between land use and water quality. This coordination option has its attractions. Arrangements are already in place, and agency roles and responsibilities are well defined. In the past, this mechanism has been used to direct and analyze a “data call” from OMB to the agencies when specific budget and program information has been sought to support an administration initiative. In principle, this function could be expanded to collect consistent and comparable information from the agencies every two years or so about the nature and extent of their research activities (for example, in a manner similar to the survey in Box 4-1); the effort could be timed to coincide with the annual budgeting and appropriations processes. This option also could include a competitive grants program located within the NSF. A competitive grants program would serve two important functions: to increase the proportion of long-term research and to address topical gaps in the current water resources research portfolio. This program would require new (but modest) funding. To be effective in meeting its purposes and to address the gaps noted in Chapter 4, funding would be needed on the order of $20 million per year for research related to improving the efficiency and effectiveness of water institutions, and $50 million per year for research related to challenges and changes in water use. Along with everyone else, scientists within the federal agencies would be allowed to compete for those funds and indeed would have an incentive to demonstrate their capacity to conduct interdisciplinary and systems-based research. This would provide existing agencies with a positive incentive to participate in a program of this sort, although it represents a departure from current practice. The competitive grants program would give Congress and OMB latitude to pursue new lines of research without necessarily disrupting mission-driven programs requiring sustained, long-term funding. Option 1 also has significant shortcomings. After many iterations during previous administrations, this approach has yet to demonstrate that it can be an effective forum for looking beyond agency missions to fundamental research needs. In the absence of new funding, the tendency of program managers is to protect their agencies’ interests. Incentives and rewards for agency-to-agency coordination and higher-level agenda setting are usually too meager to merit attention by any means. To make this mechanism more effective than the current NSTC apparatus, the OMB budget coordination function would need to be strengthened and made explicit in the charter of the SWAQ. Otherwise, agencies would have little incentive to participate in any meaningful way or abide by recommendations that might have an adverse effect on their own budgets. Further, without new funding, the SWAQ would not have the resources or the staff needed to actually carry out a budget data call and subsequent analysis. Another weakness of this approach is that the SWAQ lacks connections—formal or informal—to states, stakeholders, and other users. Few members of
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Confronting the Nation’s Water Problems: The Role of Research Congress know of its existence. Its primary audience is OMB and the agencies. As such, the SWAQ is invisible to the public at large as well as the research community outside of the federal agency leadership; as yet, it has conducted no outreach activities. Option 2: A “Third Party” Water Research Board Model A second option involves Congress authorizing a neutral third party called the Water Research Board to carry out the following functions: do a regular survey of water resources research using input from federal agency representatives advise OMB and Congress on the content and balance of a long-term national water resources research agenda every three to five years advise OMB and Congress on the adequacy of mission-driven research budgets of the federal agencies advise OMB and Congress on key priorities for fundamental research that could form the core of a competitive grants program administered by NSF or a third party (identical to that described above under Option 1) engage in vertical coordination with states, industry, and other stakeholders, which would ultimately help refine the agenda-setting process In contrast to Option 1, a Water Research Board would place the outside research and user communities on equal footing with agency representatives. An advantage of this mechanism is that a national research agenda would reach beyond agency missions to include the views of broad-based research and user communities. The Water Research Board could exist, for example, as a standing committee or commission consisting of prominent individuals, with term limits, from one or more national professional scientific societies or trade associations concerned with water resources research (e.g., the American Society of Civil Engineers, the American Geophysical Union, Sigma Xi, the Water Environmental Foundation). It could be organized and operated in a manner similar to which the NRC selects and manages its standing boards and committees. The Water Research Board would ideally report to OMB, OSTP, and the Congress on a cycle compatible with the budget and appropriations processes. In return, OMB would gain a credible source of advice on a regular basis that it could use to improve the efficiency with which the federal agencies fund and conduct water resources research. Congress would similarly be assured that the advice being given to OMB integrated the interests of a community that extended well beyond the agencies. Agencies would have the opportunity to make a case for their own research agendas and build a constituency beyond their traditional interests. This option, of the three proposed, is the most likely to provide a credible and unbiased view of research needs and priorities to Congress and the administration. Further, the indepen-
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Confronting the Nation’s Water Problems: The Role of Research dence from the agencies afforded by this option makes it possible to focus the competitive grants program on longer-term research needs, particularly those needs falling outside the areas of interest of the agencies such as water use and water institutions. A disadvantage of Option 2 is that it may engender resentment from the agencies by requiring their regular participation in the survey exercise and if it draws resources away from the agencies’ mission-driven research. Indeed, as with the SWAQ under Option 1, a Water Research Board would require modest funding both for the competitive grants program and for its own operation. Ideally, this would be provided by Congress, but it may be drawn from agency base budgets. It is also possible that such a mechanism would create pressure for new funding that OMB and Congress would prefer to avoid. Further, OMB may be reluctant to establish a formal advisory body, preferring instead to work within the NSTC framework and gather stakeholder views informally through normal, ad hoc channels. Finally, this option suffers from the fact that OMB would be under no obligation to take the advice given by the Water Research Board, thus limiting its potential effectiveness. Option 3: OMB-led Model A hybrid model of a Water Research Board described in Option 2 would be led by OMB and formally tied to the budget process. OMB is the only federal agency in a position to implement budget-based coordination and “crosscutting” programmatic functions. In this model, OMB would chair a committee of seniorlevel agency officials; a working group of staff to these senior officials could provide the background material and suggested agenda items for the senior-level group. This group could also establish and receive the views of a federal advisory committee made up of leading scientists, state and local officials, representatives from the business community, environmental groups, labor, and any other relevant stakeholders. However, at its root, this option is an OMB-led coordination mechanism that would place agency budget exercises at the center of its activities and most directly address congressional concerns about the coherence of the federal investment. It is legitimate to ask why OMB should perform this function for water resources research and not for many other areas of research that cut across agency lines. While there clearly are other multiagency research areas, water resources research stands out as particularly in need of repair because of the sheer volume of agency players, the critical importance of water in the economy, and the history of fragmentation and compartmentalization of research activities by agency mission instead of by broader national and regional needs. Another reason for singling out water resources research as an area worthy of OMB’s special attention is their inability to accurately estimate the magnitude and character of federal investment in this area or find another entity to do so on a sustained and unbiased
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Confronting the Nation’s Water Problems: The Role of Research basis. There is precedence for highly successful OMB-led coordination in the realm of the geosciences. OMB has played a leading role in implementing various integrated budget activities, like Bulletin 17, governing the estimation of flood frequency for use in evaluating proposed flood control projects and federal flood insurance (IACWD, 1982), and Circular A-16, governing the collection of geospatial data (OMB, 2002). OMB works with the OSTP to review the research components of all of the agencies as a routine part of the budget process. In practice, active coordination of research and development budgets across agencies rarely occurs outside of a formal “crosscutting” exercise like USGCRP. Further, OMB staff participate in nearly all of the subcommittees and committees of the NSTC and PCAST. Both NSTC and PCAST are managed by OSTP. In this option, the committee of senior-level officials—under OMB’s direction—would perform the same functions as those listed in Option 2 for the Water Research Board. The difference is that in this case, OMB would run the process, so that it would feed more directly into their activities. Like Option 2, this option provides a structured process to solicit a wide range of views and then synthesize a national research agenda. It is tied to budget and policy processes, and it would be a credible convener of scientific, federal, state, and private sector interests. An OMB-led committee would require a modest budget and structure for agenda setting and for administering the competitive grants program, and as with both other options, agencies might end up footing the bill unless new money is appropriated. OMB and Congress would be assured of a credible infusion of advice on national priorities, with an integration of views from a much broader range of stakeholders than would be the case through the NSTC option described in Option 1. However, OMB clearly would be challenged to manage the increase in staff and funding required to meet the objectives of a Water Research Board as described in Option 2. OMB’s interest in rising to the challenge would depend on perceived gains, from both a budget and program perspective. Those gains would not necessarily be obvious from the perspective of an agency budget examiner. Hence, for Option 3 to be viable, support for the process would need to be strong and clearly communicated by senior management to budget staff. A strength of Option 3—its close connection to the budgeting process—is also a potential weakness because of conflicts of interest. Depending on its agenda at any given time, OMB may not have an interest or incentive to give the committee of senior-level agency officials free reign to advise on a research agenda in an objective manner in the same way that an independent, external committee could (Option 2), but rather might insist that the committee of senior-level agency officials hew to an administration position. In other words, the quest for an unbiased accounting of national water research needs might not necessarily align with other objectives such as balancing the budget or supporting other lines of
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Confronting the Nation’s Water Problems: The Role of Research research. A congressional mandate and ongoing oversight could partially mitigate this potential shortcoming. ISSUES OF VERTICAL COORDINATION Regardless of the chosen mechanism for coordination of water resources research, it will be important to ensure two-way communication between the generators and sponsors of research (primarily the federal agencies) and the users of such research (e.g., state and local governments). In this regard, it is worth mentioning the potential role for the Water Resources Research Institutes in helping achieve this vertical coordination. The Water Resources Research Institute system, described in Chapter 2, provides an existing, well-organized mechanism for articulating state-based research needs and for bringing together water managers, stakeholders across a wide cross section of the public, and academic researchers and academic institutions throughout each state. Each institute convenes advisory groups of managers, academics, and stakeholders to formulate and periodically review the research agenda of that state, and it uses a peer-review system for competitively awarded research funds. The institutes also are required to maintain an information transfer program, which links research with the user public in a two-way flow of information. Because the institute system has been in existence for nearly 40 years, these linkages are well established. The institute system can provide an effective means of communication between, for example, a national-level Water Research Board and the state and regional water resources research needs. A review of the Water Resources Research Institutes completed five years ago (Vaux, 2003) corroborates the view that the institutes are capable of shouldering the task of interlocutors between state and local research needs and federal agencies and funders. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS Coordination of water resources research is more than gathering representatives of federal agencies together in a room several times a year to exchange notes. As conceived here, coordination includes national research agenda setting, leadership in tackling large and complex multiagency research efforts targeted at emerging problems, sustained attention to the composition of the research portfolio and identification of gaps, and a competitive grants program that addresses national research needs unaddressed by agency missions. Coordination of the water resources research enterprise is needed to make deliberative judgments about the allocation of funds and scope of research, to minimize duplication where appropriate, to present Congress and the public with a coherent strategy for federal investment, and to facilitate the large-scale multiagency research efforts that will likely be needed to deal with future water problems. This report has documented the need for coordination to reach beyond
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Confronting the Nation’s Water Problems: The Role of Research agency-defined research priorities to a broader community of interest and expertise in national water research. A data collection effort that would enable Congress and OMB to understand the full dimensions of the federal water resources research portfolio is also a necessity. Finally, the case has been made for a competitive grants program focused on heretofore ignored national water resources research priorities. Any one of the three options presented in this chapter could be made to work in whole or part to meet these needs; each has strengths and weaknesses that would need to be weighed against the benefits and costs that could accrue from moving beyond the status quo. Option 1 has the distinct advantage of currently being in existence and having the full support of OMB and OSTP. However, the NSTC process lacks a historical record of success, visibility outside of the executive branch, and support beyond the participating agencies. By definition, its role is limited by its composition and its narrowly scoped mission. From a budget perspective, the NSTC process would be an unlikely source of advice to Congress and OMB on reallocating existing water resources expenditures. As described in Option 2, a Water Research Board associated with an objective, third-party organization would represent a marked improvement in representation and consensus-building beyond the Option 1 mechanism. Further, the independence from the agencies afforded by this option makes it possible to focus the competitive grants program on those research needs falling outside the areas of interest of the agencies. But it is possible that what would be gained in breadth, independence, and objectivity would be lost in detaching the coordination mechanism from existing government arrangements. Unless explicitly directed otherwise by Congress, OMB might attach no particular imperative to the Water Research Board’s recommendations. Option 3 has the advantage of being an OMB-led venture from the start, and it would be naturally tied to routine executive branch schedules for budget development and review. As with Option 2, OMB would have the advantage of an expert and representative body that would enable it to tackle an area of the budget that has hitherto escaped an effective national focus. However, an OMB-led effort would lack the independence that would be provided in Option 2 without overcoming the financial hurdles, and it might suffer from internal conflicts of interest. In the end, decision makers will choose the coordination mechanism that meets perceived needs at an acceptable cost in terms of level of effort and funding. It is possible that none of the options is viable in its entirety. However, it may be possible to partially implement an option, which in itself would be an improvement over the status quo. For example, the initiation of a competitive grants program targeted at high-priority but underfunded national priorities in water resources research could occur under any one of the options and in lieu of the other activities listed above. The coordination problem—broadly conceived—is eminently solvable, but it is unlikely to be solved without a concerted effort by leaders in Congress and
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Confronting the Nation’s Water Problems: The Role of Research the administration. However, with the strategic application of national-level leadership, modest resources, and a sharp focus on national water resources research needs for the 21st century, the opportunity for substantially improving on the status quo is within reach. REFERENCES Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC). 2004. The Federal Geographic Data Committee: Historical Reflections—Future Directions. An FGDC paper on the history of the FGDC and NSDI. January 2004. http://www.fgdc.gov. IACWD (Interagency Advisory Committee on Water Data). 1982. Guidelines for Determining Flood Flow Frequency. Bulletin 17–B. Reston, VA: USGS Office of Water Data Coordination. National Research Council (NRC). 1981. Federal Water Resources Research: A Review of the Proposed Five–Year Program Plan. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. National Research Council (NRC). 1991. Opportunities in the Hydrologic Sciences. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. National Research Council (NRC). 2001. Envisioning the Agenda for Water Resources Research in the Twenty–First Century. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) Committee on Environment and Natural Resources. 2003. An Assessment of Coastal Hypoxia and Eutrophication in U.S. Waters. Washington, DC: Executive Office of The President of the United States. Office of Management and Budget (OMB). 2002. Circular No. A–16: Coordination of Surveying, Mapping, and Related Spatial Data Activities. http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/circulars/-a016/a016_rev.html. Vaux, H. J., Jr. 2003. Results of the 1999 Evaluation of the State Water Resources Research Institutes mandated by the Water Resources Research Act of 1984 (P.L. 98–242).
Representative terms from entire chapter: