Summary of NAS Ocean Studies Board Meeting (11-9-99)

On Tuesday, November 9th, the Ocean Studies Board (OSB) of the National Research Council's Commission on Geosciences, Environment, and Resources held its 40th meeting.  The OSB was established to advise the government on ocean research issues.  At this meeting, agencies that provide support to the board gave overviews of their projected activities for the coming year and reviewed the recently passed or pending FY 2000 appropriation bills.  Representatives from the White House and Congress were also present to discuss both the FY 2000 budget and bills that may affect those involved with ocean research.  A roster of board members and an agenda of the meeting can be found on the board's website.

The following agencies or groups were represented at the board meeting:

Summary of Presentations

The Office of Naval Research noted that funds for basic research in their Ocean, Atmosphere, and Space Division (OAS) increased from FY 1998 to FY 1999, while applied research funding went down.  The increase in basic research funding was mainly due to collaboration with academic institutions, while the downward trend in funding for applied research occurred through changes in activities at the Naval Research Lab (NRL).  A thorough overview of research going on through the OAS division is available on the OAS website.

Dr. Stan Wilson, the Deputy Chief Scientist from NOAA discussed concerns with and highlights in the pending Commerce Appropriations Bill, and showed how funds would be distributed assuming that no major changes are made to the current bill during final negotiations between Congress and the President.  Highlights in the conferenced appropriations bill include funding levels at or above that requested for the National Ocean Service,  the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Office of Ocean and Atmospheric Research, and the National Environment Satellite, Data, and Information Service.  Wilson also noted that the only parts of Clinton's Land Legacy Program to receive funding were those regarding National Marine Sanctuaries and the National Estuarine Research Reserve System.

Jerry Elwood, Director of the Environmental Sciences Division of the Biological and Environmental Research Program (OBER) in the Office of Science of the Department of Energy, discussed several research projects going on within DOE that are related to carbon cycling in the oceans.  An overview of the Ocean Sciences Program is available on the DOE website.  According to the DOE website, the two main objectives of the program are:  1) the role of the oceans as a sink and source for atmospheric CO2, and 2) the use of biotechnological tools to determine linkages between carbon and nitrogen cycling in coastal environments.  Whereas the base funding for the OBER went down from FY 1999 levels, there was increased funding for a carbon-cycling technology initiative and for the Office of Fossil Energy to do research regarding carbon dioxide disposal in the ocean.

The Minerals Management Service representative, Walt Rosenbusch, focused on their Environmental Studies Program (ESP), noting that it provides the scientific basis needed to make environmentally sound program decisions regarding petroleum exploration and production on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS).  Rosenbusch discussed the Technology Assessment and Research Program that currently houses studies regarding oil spills and operational safety.  He also said that the ESP is involved with Arctic nearshore impact monitoring, socioeconomic impact studies, oil spill risk assessment, and studies about the biological and physical impacts of dredging.

Bonnie McGregor, Associate Director of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) discussed three USGS research programs that are directly linked to the ocean.  The USGS Coastal and Marine Geology Program  addresses issues such as the environmental quality, geologic hazards, and natural resources of coastal and marine areas, and also produces a knowledge bank of marine geologic and geophysical information.   USGS Coastal Ecosystem Study Areas are located around the Chesapeake Bay and Watershed, the San Francisco Bay area, and southern Florida.  The Biological Resources Division of the USGS also conducts research about coastal and marine environments.

Norine Noonan, head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)  Office of Research and Development, discussed EPA programs related to coastal and marine environments.  The hypoxia problem in the Gulf of Mexico is being studied by the Office of Water, with information available on EPA's Mississippi River Basin webpage.  Noonan also mentioned the Coastal Indicator Program (a project in conjunction with NOAA), research regarding harmful algal blooms (HAB), and the Beach Action Plan.

Bob Corell, Assistant Director for Geosciences of the National Science Foundation (NSF) gave an overview of the programs that were receiving a large portion of the FY 00 appropriations.  He noted that that programs receiving the largest amounts of funding were those related to global climate change. He also mentioned the  Ocean Drilling Project (ODP)  as one that would receive a considerable amount of funding.  A list of programs related to ocean studies, most of which were listed by Corell, can be found on the NSF website.

Ellen Athas, Generel Counsel for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, discussed a recently published report titled America's Ocean Future.  The report is available in pdf format at

Sarah Horrigan, from the White House Office of Management and Budget discussed why the budget was so hard to nail down this year.  She also suggested certain characteristics of research programs that the administration looks favorably upon.  These include:  long-term, high-payoff programs that produce results that would not occur without research funding; collaborative programs that involve more than one agency or institution:  programs that employ competition and the peer-review process; and multi-agency coordination for R&D cross-cutting priorities.  Horrigan noted that in FY00 appropriations, defense research has gone down and civilian research has gone up, making the amount spent on the two about equal.  However, she noted that about 25% of the funding delegated to civilian research is due to congressional earmarks instead of broad funding of federal research programs.

Margaret Spring, a Democratic Senior Counsel from the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, mentioned several bills that may be acted on during the second session of the 106th Congress.  These included reauthorization of the Coastal Zone Management Act (which is having problems due to the debate over non-point source pollution), several fisheries acts, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Oceans Act, and a bill addressing the use of OCS drilling funds to replenish coastal areas.  She also noted that scheduling has been, and will continue to be, a problem because Commerce Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is running for president.

Richard Russel, the House Science Committee Deputy Chief of Staff, was also present to answer questions.  In terms of legislation, he mentioned H.R. 1552, the Marine Research and Related Environmental Research and Development Programs Authorization Act of 1999, which has passed both the Resources Committee and the Science Committee.  Both congressional staffers explained that the House Resources, Science, and Commerce Committees have the same jurisdiction as the Senate Commerce Committee, and therefore science legislation moves slower through the House than the Senate.

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program.

Contributed by Alison Alcott, AGI/AAPG Geoscience Policy Intern
Posted October 7, 1999

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