Press Release

AIP FYI #114: NRC Committee Recommends Separate NSF, NASA Astronomy Programs

By SpaceRef Editor
September 5, 2001
Filed under , ,

“The National Science Foundation’s astronomy and astrophysics
responsibilities should not be transferred to NASA,” an NRC
committee recommended in a report issued today. Rather, the
committee favors the establishment of an interagency planning
board for the development of a “single integrated strategy”
for the research supported by both agencies.

These conclusions were reached by an eleven-member committee
chaired by Norman Augustine that convened in June. The
committee held three meetings during which it received
testimony from 30 individuals. The American Astronomical
Society (a Member Society of the American Institute of
Physics) facilitated the transmittal of hundreds of comments
that were reviewed by the committee.

The catalyst for this examination of NSF and NASA’s
astronomical and astrophysics program was a three-sentence
paragraph in President Bush’s “Budget Blueprint” released in
March. Declaring that “now is the time to assess the federal
government’s management and organization of astronomical
research,” it called for a panel to review the advantages and
disadvantages of transferring NSF’s astronomy responsibilities
to NASA.

The NRC committee lauded both agencies for the support that
they have provided for profound ground- and space-based
discoveries during the last decade. The report reviewed
previous and potential management and funding concerns about
the programs. Among them were inadequate coordination and the
lack of coherent planning between NSF and NASA, insufficient
coordination with non-federal programs, the lack of a
coordinating program with international programs, perceived or
actual concerns about NSF management and funding practices for
major projects, “the perceived imbalance between support for
space-based and ground-based astronomy,” and “the growing
vulnerability of the astronomy and astrophysics research
talent base to disruption caused by the failure of a major
space mission.”

“Responding to each challenge will require a coordinated
approach combining the strengths and resources of all three
major astrophysics-related agencies – NSF, NASA, and DOE – as
well as other participants” the committee concluded. It
recommends the establishment of an interagency Astronomy and
Astrophysics Planning Board. Its neutral and independent
chair would be selected by the Office of Management and Budget
in conjunction with the Office of Science and Technology
Policy. The Board would have representatives from NASA, NSF,
DOE, and other agencies such as the Smithsonian Institution
and DoD. Drawing on the NRC astronomical decadal surveys, the
Board would prepare an integrated strategic plan and
coordinate research among the participants. The report cites
as examples three White House coordination programs for
oceanographic, information technology, and climate research.
This and other recommendations have the unanimous endorsement
of the Committee members. Merging the two programs, the
Committee concluded, “would have a net disruptive effect on
scientific work.”

The 63-page report can be accessed as a prepublication
manuscript at the following National Academies site:


Richard M .Jones

Public Information Division

The American Institute of Physics

(301) 209-3095


SpaceRef staff editor.