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Science for Decisionmaking: Coastal and Marine Geology at the U.S. Geological Survey 5 Program Plan Recommendations As discussed throughout this report, the nation's need for scientific understanding to support sound decisionmaking in the coastal and marine region is real and immediate. The execution of a series of short-term, issue-specific research efforts, such as those currently comprising the Coastal and Marine Geology Program (CMGP), does not offer the greatest potential for developing the scientific understanding needed to allow either the wise stewardship of coastal and marine resources or the ability to anticipate and react to emerging problems and opportunities. Rather, the key to establishing a robust and relevant understanding of coastal and marine areas lies in the pragmatic development of a vision and a set of goals and objectives to guide CMGP efforts to support the Geologic Division and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The committee framed a number of recommendations intended to help the CMGP address many of the points discussed in the previous chapters. The committee restricted its discussion and comments to those aspects of the CMGP organizational structure and procedures (discussed in Chapter 2) that were identified in the statement of task (Box 1-3) or that may impede the CMGP's ability to accomplish its scientific goals. Although the concept of a vision is easy to understand, its development is another matter. Since the vision should provide guidance for the CMGP for decades, it must be comprehensive, compelling, and attainable. To be successful, however, it should also reflect the mission of the USGS and be relevant to the nation's needs. A well-crafted vision statement will define goals that are relevant to the actions of every CMGP staff member and to every action undertaken by the CMGP.
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Science for Decisionmaking: Coastal and Marine Geology at the U.S. Geological Survey DEVELOPING A STRATEGIC PLAN Once a clear vision for CMGP has been articulated, the vision must be translated into practical decisions and actions for the CMGP. If the vision represents the long-term goal of the CMGP, then a strategic plan describes how to best achieve that vision. Hence, the successful development and implementation of a strategic plan for the CMGP will provide functional criteria for decisionmaking and further shape the actions and activities that define CMGP on any given time horizon. The committee strongly recommends that the CMGP undertake the development of a strategic plan. The committee further recommends that the CMGP obtain guidance in the formulation of this plan from its clients and collaborators and from third parties with experience in developing strategic plans. Regardless of the specific mechanisms employed to develop a strategic plan, the committee recommends that the final plan include provisions for: attaining the long-term objective(s) embodied by the CMGP vision; allowing the periodic development of near-term priorities for CMGP activities in the context of longer-term objectives (similar to the purpose of the current five-year plan); implementing mechanisms for short-term (i.e., annual) decisionmaking that will ensure continued and steady progress of the CMGP toward its long-term objective (i.e., help the CMGP achieve its vision); and encouraging a continuous evolution of a spectrum of projects and activities that will allow the CMGP to complete activities without stifling the creation of new activities. VALUE OF STRONG LEADERSHIP Central to the ability of the CMGP to develop a defining vision of its role, craft a strategic plan for achieving that vision, and refine its approaches and near-term goals will be strong leadership at a number of levels. Strong leadership can provide impetus to the CMGP as it faces a number of challenges in the pursuit of its goals. Effective leadership must reflect the experience, needs, and perspectives of program clients, collaborators, and scientific staff. As with a well-constructed vision, strong leadership will instill a sense of relevance to the actions of every CMGP staff member and every action undertaken by the CMGP. Conversely, a lack of focused and strong leadership can diffuse the impact of the efforts of the staff and greatly restrict the effectiveness of the overall CMGP. Because leadership is distributed across a number of levels, the failure of the CMGP to achieve its maximum potential cannot be attributed to the actions of
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Science for Decisionmaking: Coastal and Marine Geology at the U.S. Geological Survey any specific individual. Although staff members may be doing their best to accomplish the goals of the CMGP, lack of a central leadership figure will hamper their efforts. The committee recommends that the USGS, specifically the Geologic Division, implement organizational changes to consolidate and concentrate leadership of CMGP so that it can more vigorously pursue its mission. Limitations of the Present Organizational Structure To focus its efforts, CMGP will have to establish project priorities and change its project mix. The committee questions whether the current organizational structure (Appendix F) will be able to identify and execute the change of focus, as the responsibility and authority for CMGP's performance are vested in a large number of positions. At present, the CMGP coordinator has responsibility for allocating funding but does not have responsibility or authority for staffing and personnel allocations. As a result, effective leadership is difficult to establish and maintain. For example, if a scientific capability needed to address the objectives of the CMGP were identified, there would be no clear and direct way for the CMGP leader to obtain it; instead that person would have to negotiate with science center management. A more effective model would be the establishment of a direct line of authority for funding and staffing from a program director through team leaders to individual investigators. With a strong director, such a model would provide the necessary leadership and make the CMGP more coherent and relevant to the goals and objectives established in the strategic plan. Suggested Improvements The Geologic Division recently instituted a different approach to try to remove budget impediments to accomplishing science. It removed personnel responsibility from CMGP so that the CMGP was not handicapped by having to support scientists who were not contributing to its overall scientific goals. This is an improvement, but the suggestions below on how to organize are very different from the current model. Advisory Council Crucial to successful use of the CMGP's limited resources will be timely input and guidance from the CMGP's clients and collaborators. There is no formal mechanism to ensure this input, but the committee understands that the Geologic Division is exploring the possibility of enlarging the size of the CMGP Council (currently comprised exclusively of USGS staff [see Appendix F]) to allow participation of three or four external members (e.g., representatives of
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Science for Decisionmaking: Coastal and Marine Geology at the U.S. Geological Survey state geological surveys, academia, and federal agencies). Although the committee encourages such an inclusion of outside perspectives in this process, it is concerned that, unless the function of the Council evolves to support the CMGP's pursuit of a new vision through the execution of its strategic plan, the value of external perspectives will not be fully realized. Consequently, the committee recommends that the present CMGP Council be replaced with an Advisory Council charged with new responsibilities and drawn up to reflect the need for broad input to the CMGP. Specifically, the committee suggests that the advisory council be charged with: maintaining CMGP focus and direction through oversight of strategic plan implementation; providing advice to the CMGP director (see below) on budget and staff allocations (i.e., identifying near-term priorities); and evaluating products and providing feedback to the annual CMGP planning process. The committee suggests that the Advisory Council advise the new CMGP director and that it be balanced in composition (roughly half USGS and half non-USGS). The Council could include individuals with both technical and policymaking experience and representatives of the regional centers, the Office of the Chief Geologist, the science teams, other USGS divisions, relevant federal agencies and state geological and coastal programs, and academic scientists. To be effective, the Advisory Council should be in a position to review CMGP progress and capabilities, recommend short-and intermediate-term goals, and make broad recommendations to ensure that goals are met. Program Director The committee recommends that the Geologic Division structure the CMGP so that leadership (developing, implementing, and ensuring the success of the long-range scientific program) rests with a program director (new position), who is responsible for managing budget and personnel, carrying out the advice provided by the advisory council, and maintaining interagency lines of communication. This will result in a clear relationship between fiscal responsibility, personnel, and scientific objectives. Given the broader responsibilities placed on the program director (when compared to those presently vested with a program coordinator), there may be a need for additional senior staff in the program office. The committee recommends that the CMGP develop and employ an administrative structure with separate lines of authority for the research program and administrative support. This would be similar to the structure typically employed on research cruises whereby the scientific plan is led by the chief scientist and the technical aspects are supported by vessel operations. One approach could be to
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Science for Decisionmaking: Coastal and Marine Geology at the U.S. Geological Survey designate program element or team leaders to manage the day-to-day research activities. In such a structure, the efforts of team scientists could be coordinated and facilitated by the team leader, who, in turn, could answer directly to the program director. At present, center directors who report to the regional geologist deal with many of the administrative issues faced by CMGP staff. The committee suggests that many of the responsibilities of the regional geologist (see Chapter 1) be vested in the center directors who in turn report to the program director. Such a restructuring would create parallel scientific and administrative lines of authority, which would enhance the CMGP's ability to set scientific goals and then organize the required resources more effectively. MAINTAINING SCIENTIFIC EXCELLENCE As indicated in the statement of task (Box 1-3), the USGS is mindful of the valuable role a motivated and experienced scientific staff plays in its ability to fulfill its mission. It is generally recognized that the USGS staff is talented and uniquely positioned to identify major scientific challenges and to design research strategies to address them. Enhanced collaboration with other federal scientists, as well as colleagues in academia and state and local agencies will further enhance CMGP efforts. Unlike their academic colleagues who enjoy great freedom to pursue research in a number of areas, the scientific staff of the USGS recognizes the need to focus USGS resources on research germane to the numerous policy challenges facing the nation. Thus, the ability to maintain a high-quality staff will depend on identifying ways to reward creative and resourceful personnel. A number of CGMP staff voiced concerns that the current reward system does not adequately recognize efforts that enhance overall CMGP stature but do not result in classic peer-reviewed publications. It is the committee's understanding that much of the emphasis placed on peer-reviewed literature as an indicator of scientific stature is directly related to federal guidelines for evaluating research staff. Specifically, the Geologic Division, like other divisions in the USGS and other federal agencies, has used the Research Grade Evaluation Guide (RGEG) as the primary evaluation tool for basic and applied research positions. As recommended by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the division applies the RGEG using a peer panel to assess the research assignment and the researcher's scientific contributions and stature. Through efforts to understand the RGEG, the committee learned that OPM has agreed to review and possibly modify the RGEG. As this issue is not unique to the CGMP, or even the USGS, the committee determined that specific recommendations regarding the RGEG are beyond the scope of this study. The committee, therefore, encourages individuals at high levels in the USGS to consider the impact the present RGEG may have on its programs and staff and voice those concerns to OPM. Since the current RGEG applies to a number of federal science programs
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Science for Decisionmaking: Coastal and Marine Geology at the U.S. Geological Survey and agencies, there may be models for its application that reduce potential adverse impacts. The committee suggests that the GD explore mechanisms (that meet criteria established under the RGEG) to match expectations and rewards across the spectrum of activities and positions in the CMGP (and other GD programs, as appropriate). The committee suggests that by focusing the CMGP efforts on a limited number of national and regional efforts, greater cohesiveness can be achieved among the CMGP staff. Furthermore, increased attention to issues of national prominence, and an ongoing commitment to a well-conceived and planned research strategy, should help raise the profile of the CMGP and bring greater recognition to its staff. The proposed benefits of this approach seem to be borne out by the responses received to the staff questionnaire (Appendix C). Long-term commitment to a robust and focused research strategy should encourage staff to make a similar commitment to the CMGP, reducing turnover while encouraging potential CMGP staff members to join the USGS effort. In addition, the important role the scientific staff plays in developing and implementing projects should not be discounted. Even though many of the recommendations of this report are intended to encourage the development of strong program leadership, that leadership will be most effective if it draws on the knowledge base of its staff. The advisory council and program director should act as a focusing mechanism for ideas that emerge from the scientific staff, as well as from program clients and collaborators. Balance Between Full-time and Term Appointments A review of personnel appointments indicates that in the recent past there has been a large number of term appointments in contrast to full-time hires. Term appointments can be used to acquire special talent required for a particular short-term task or to fill specialized technical staff positions for one-time efforts. However, hiring large numbers of individuals on term appointments can pose a danger to the long-term health of the CMGP. The successful identification of national, regional, and local needs and the generation of projects to address them depend on having a full-time staff that is familiar with both the internal operations of the CMGP and the local and regional agencies that work along the continental margin. It is the contacts made over years of cooperation that usually result in building a solid base of cooperation with state and local agencies. Likewise, it will be full-time appointments that will build a sound coastal and marine program that meets the long-term goal of CMGP. A review of the age distribution in CMGP reveals that a large number of full-time appointments are nearing retirement age (Appendix E). This is an outstanding opportunity for CMGP administrators to evaluate staffing levels among both scientists and technicians that will be required to pursue the long-term goals in the strategic plan. The new hires should be evaluated in light of the overall
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Science for Decisionmaking: Coastal and Marine Geology at the U.S. Geological Survey CMGP, rather than simply responding to retirements at the individual centers. In this manner, the program can then respond more readily to the national needs that are so central to the CMGP mission. The committee recommends that CMGP leadership, during its strategic planning effort, identify the disciplines that will be required to meet long-term goals. Ensuring that these disciplines (that are not represented by collaborators) are well represented during subsequent hiring efforts should be a priority. Furthermore, because these efforts should reflect long-term needs, care should be taken to hire at a consistent and even rate (to the degree possible). Budget The present budget of CMGP is roughly $38 million. Of this amount, approximately $17 million is expended on personnel ($10.1 million) and research operational needs ($7.1 million) (Fig. 2-1b and Appendix E). This is a rather low figure considering that much of the research is field-oriented and that many scientists are involved in more than one project. It would be to the benefit of the overall program if headquarters staff first evaluated the annual average cost per scientist in other parts of the USGS, other federal agencies, and in academic institutions and compare this to the existing figure in the CMGP. In this manner, the USGS could develop a budget that is in line with the needs of the CMGP. Such considerations will be particularly important as the CMGP addresses the grand challenges identified earlier. Although a refocusing of existing program funds will be an important step, the pace of progress will be largely determined by infrastructure needs and funds to support key activities. Technological Advances Technological advances in computing capability and data acquisition are rapidly accelerating, and maintaining a state-of-the-art equipment pool is becoming a major problem for many agencies. In reviewing the equipment inventory during the visits to the centers, it was apparent that, although the equipment pool was large, many of the large data acquisition systems are quite old and will need to be replaced in the near future. In addition, large amounts of personnel time and funds are being expended on designing and constructing individual systems. With personnel and maintenance costs constantly increasing, it would behoove the various centers to evaluate their long-term equipment needs and to lease rather than purchase equipment. Efforts should be made to evaluate the overall equipment needs of CMGP programs, based on the proposed strategic plan, and to share equipment among the centers rather than duplicate expensive items. Leasing from commercial firms, other federal and state agencies, and academic institutions would help relieve increasing maintenance costs, while using new state-of-the-art equipment. There is still a need for some specialized
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Science for Decisionmaking: Coastal and Marine Geology at the U.S. Geological Survey equipment; for example, the equipment designed and constructed in the hydrate laboratory could not be leased or purchased. It is recommended, however, that decisions to design and build one-of-a-kind equipment be carefully evaluated in light of the overall equipment needs of the CMGP. PARTNERSHIPS Collaborations and partnerships at the program and individual scientist level are critical to the future well-being of the CMGP and its ability to participate in systems-science efforts. Collaboration with other prominent scientists and high-visibility agencies (federal, state, private, and academic) generally leads to high-quality science, allows sharing of resources (personnel, equipment, and ideas), and often results in higher levels of funding. On the individual scientist level, collaboration and partnerships with other scientists promote personal scientific growth and peer recognition. Collaboration at the Program Level Scientific advances in solving coastal and marine problems are proceeding rapidly, as a large number of federal and state agencies, private industry, and academia are now focused on this important area. A few decades ago, CMGP scientists, along with a few academic scientists, accounted for a very large segment of the research conducted in the coastal region, and collaboration with the academic community was relatively easy to accomplish. With the increasing number of scientists involved in research along the continental margins (in part resulting from a shift in focus from deep-ocean or blue-water oceanographic research to brown-water coastal research), it is even more important for CMGP scientists to enter into collaborations and interactions with other scientists conducting research in this area. The CMGP derives a great benefit from physical proximity to marine science research centers, major coastal and oceanographic libraries, and industrial technologies. All three centers are located in regions where these capabilities are nearby. It is important for the scientists at all three centers to recognize the inherent benefit of building strong relationships with these entities. Competition in scientific endeavors is healthy, but competing with every agency and academic institution conducting research on continental margins is not beneficial. Instead, CMGP scientists should make every effort to identify the research efforts of other agencies (federal, state, and local), industry, and academia, to collaboratively obtain or acquire the results, and to integrate them into regional and national assessments. It should be noted that the committee distinguishes between seeking out opportunities for collaboration and reimbursable funding opportunities. Although cost sharing could be an important component of collaborative efforts, such collaborations should be clearly relevant to program goals. Reimbursable work
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Science for Decisionmaking: Coastal and Marine Geology at the U.S. Geological Survey that falls outside CMGP goals should be kept to a minimum because it can tie up CMGP assets and key personnel for extended periods of time. It is the committee's understanding that each of the regional geologists often pursues reimbursable work in an effort to help support GD staff that are not fully funded through one or more of the GD programs. It would thus seem logical that reimbursable work that falls outside the CMGP goals would be addressed by non-CMGP staff. Such a distinction could serve both the USGS and potential clients well, as needed work could be completed without diverting the CMGP from its main functions. Furthermore, such a distinction should help minimize potential confusion by avoiding the appearance that two USGS entities are competing for work or otherwise serving similar functions. Collaborations at the Individual Scientist Level Collaboration is generally easier to accomplish at the individual scientist level, as individuals with similar interests can often agree on common goals and approaches, and it was apparent that this was being done among the scientists at all three centers. However, this collaboration appeared to be somewhat haphazard and was not coordinated in any manner. Furthermore, because academics can rarely contribute funds, it is generally more difficult for CMGP staff to collaborate with their academic colleagues. However, there are advantages to such collaborations, especially if they make use of expertise or specialized equipment not present in CMGP. It is recommended that collaboration be stressed at each center and be strongly encouraged by headquarters (i.e., through incentive programs). Joining with academic partners in writing joint proposals to various funding agencies should be strongly encouraged and, if necessary, rewards should be provided to those personnel who are successful in such undertakings. ENSURING RELEVANCE TO REGIONAL AND NATIONAL GOALS Although a large number of agencies and academic institutions are involved in research on continental margins, the CMGP is the only agency with the interdisciplinary scientific resources to characterize the geologic framework of the margins and integrate this information into a comprehensive national assessment. To meet this long-term goal will require a considerable amount of data synthesis by all scientists. Personnel at each of the centers will be required to assemble not only the data acquired by their own research projects but also to use data generated by other federal and state agencies, private industry, and academia. Considerable discussions between scientists and data synthesizers will need to take place to ensure compatible formats and presentation outputs. A review of products created by other agencies (e.g., the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminis-
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Science for Decisionmaking: Coastal and Marine Geology at the U.S. Geological Survey tration, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the U.S. Navy) needs to be undertaken to determine the most appropriate methods of creating the products needed by federal and state agencies. Once product formats are determined, there is a need to make these products readily and easily available to users. In the opinion of the committee, much of the work presently being conducted by CMGP scientists is of high quality, but the products and data are not easily available and exist in a variety of (sometimes) incompatible formats. Existing products and those that will be generated in the future should be used to educate federal, state, and local governments and the general public regarding the importance of the geologic information. It would be well worthwhile to hire a person at the headquarters level to integrate dissemination activities for the centers and headquarters. Federal budgets are becoming more competitive and without active education about the capabilities of CMGP, as well as active dissemination of its products, the program and eventually the nation will suffer.
Representative terms from entire chapter: