10:00AM Mountain Daylight Time

Members present: Peter Sullivan, Brad Klotz, Lulin Xue, Eric Apel, Allison Baker, Olga Wilhelmi, Anna Malanushenko, Mariana Cains, Ben Johnson
Also present: Glen Romine from the Directorate’s Office

Discussion with Glen Romine


Directorate is currently in the Annual Budget Review season for FY25. Complicated space, since the FY24 budget isn’t known yet. So guessing what FY25 will be interesting exercise. Looking strategically where we are trying to go.

NSF NCAR Strategic Plan

Current strategic plan covers 2020-2024. With the new cooperative agreement in place, the Directorate is developing a new strategic plan that will be similar to the 2020-2024 plan. There was a big shift in the development of the 2020-2024 plan in contrast to prior plans. Historically the labs developed priorities and the Directorate synthesized these lab-level plans.

In recent years, NSF has “leaned in” and now owns the mission of NSF NCAR so there is a higher degree of coordination and planning involved in the newer strategic plans.

In the 2020-2024 plan, there were seven goals, three of which were mission aligned and four of which were implementation aligned and were described as “positioning for success.” There were two large pivots in the 2020-2024 plan:

  • The first pivot was to step back from a predominantly atmospheric focus at NSF NCAR and focus instead on the entire earth system;
  • The second pivot was to focus on actionable science.

The new plan will focus on major themes (rather than goals) and each of these themes will be aligned to a bold vision. The four positioning goals from the previous strategic plan will be folded into the major themes. From the themes, a small set of roughly ten priority objectives will be crafted with success metrics in order to hold ourselves accountable for achieving them. The challenge of this strategy is ensuring we can meet these targets. If we don’t meet these targets, we’re in trouble because NSF wants to see the success metrics being achieved. The challenge is finding a balance of how much of our research priorities are included in our success metrics. Since the upcoming strategic plan is similar to the 2020-2024 plan, the Directorate won’t be going through the same level of engagement as there will be less of a shock factor transitioning between plans than there was transitioning from the plan ending in 2019 to the 2020 – 2024 plan. A consultant will be hired to help think about how to execute objectives in the strategic plan.

Question and Answer with Glen

Question: Will the plan have a component specifying how we are going to bridge the gap between models and observations?

There are existing programs such as the Inform Program that have been created in that space. Take, for example, APAR observations and other observing platforms that can be flown on the C-130. Inform includes educational programs and outreach to the university community. As a national center, we should focus on what we can do that universities can’t do. Do we want to look like a university with 180 research faculty or do we want to focus on challenges that can’t be completed in the university setting?

Question: In context of themes and future planning, how would this impact the types of field campaigns that would be funded? Would such campaigns have to fit into themes or will there be opportunities for basic research? 

The Directorate doesn’t have a direct say in science objectives. It weighs the feasibility of the projects. The Directorate can influence the conversation to maximize the leverage we have. For example, enabling combined atmosphere/ocean experiments to create opportunity spaces for new research. The Directorate can also help to align the community around priorities and build momentum toward certain research objectives.

Question: In establishing priorities in the new strategic plan, what role do the lab directors play?

Lab directors play an essential role since they identify what opportunities we should focus on as objectives, since this entails a certain amount of risk. Historically NSF NCAR has found opportunities and has been able to take risks that pay off.

Question: Will the directorate be putting forth overarching ideas or will this be a grassroots effort?

It will be somewhat of a mix. The plan will have existing priorities that will continue, but some of the priorities will be determined from the ground up. For example, there’s input from the ESPAT workshop and engagement. Lab directors also have white board ideas that are being discussed. The priorities will be selected from these.

Question: How can the strategic process be aligned with the current situation with the current vacancy in the RAL director position and the hiring of a new director?

Current RAL personnel, including Matthias and Rajesh, are adept at positioning RAL strategically. Hoping to get a new director hired in time to participate. The richest space for input from RAL will be when Matthias brings the plan to RAL to socialize it with staff. If an internal candidate is hired as RAL director, there should be a clear opportunity to engage with the new director. The process will be more difficult if an external candidate is hired.

Question: Will the paring down of priorities be before the plan is socialized or after?

Unclear how it will proceed. Planners are aligning on the themes and aren’t sure what suggestions we’ll get. ESPAT, SEAL, AIM have been working for a year to provide a set of recommendations, as have the lab directors. There’s also lots of external idea-sourcing from community reports and workshop activities. If there are a lot of potential objectives, there will be a need to figure out which are suitable to go forward and which we’re well-positioned to implement. Will we initially bring in a set of priorities that is larger than the 10 desired priorities? We don’t know. It depends on how many priorities are in the initial set and once we’ve reached that point we’ll have to figure out how to choose.

Question: How will the process of an individual staff member looking for external funding opportunities change with new priorities?

The process will be unchanged. When looking for external funding, staff have to demonstrate how the opportunity aligns with NSF NCAR’s mission. The major change will be with internal core funds. If a current program is misaligned with the strategic themes, that program is at risk. The roughly ten objectives will be strongly prioritized and we’ll bring “all of the guns” to support these objectives. For example, bringing in UCAR government relations, lab directors, engaging with science staff to gauge interest and provide for as much cosponsorship between labs as possible because these are the objectives that will distinguish us as a national center.

Membership updates

NSA-EC welcomed a new member, Mariana Cains, who is the co-chair of the ECSA Steering Committee and represents MMM. Mariana introduced herself to the present members and vice versa.

NSA-EC has one CGD vacancy.

Action item updates

1. Tabled item: NSA-EC has one CGD vacancy. Peter Lawrence (CGD) has initiated efforts to fill that vacancy.

Efforts to fill the NSA-EC chair position will proceed when the CGD vacancy is filled.