Monday, June 24, 2019


NOAA  employee on board a NOAA ship

The most important component for NOAA R&D is the talent of its workforce. Focusing on environmental and social outcomes requires not only the best skills in the scientific and engineering disciplines, but also the best skills in interdisciplinary work. Understanding the natural, social, and economic systems that make up a dynamic ecosystem requires increased expertise in social and economic science as well as the physical sciences (Appendix C). As the R&D that NOAA conducts becomes more systems-oriented, the challenge becomes ensuring the right mix of talent and enabling diverse specialists on interdisciplinary teams. NOAA will continue to recruit outstanding professionals, balancing disciplinary, interdisciplinary, and managerial expertise, and cultivating existing and new sources of talent to evolve its workforce capabilities over time. Under current fiscal constraints and the pending wave of retirements, NOAA must address succession planning and strive to attract, hire, train, and retain a new generation of professionals to accomplish its strategic goals. This includes developing a scientific career track that does not require researchers to shift to management, but rather allows scientists to specialize in science and managers to specialize in management.

The scientists and engineers who conduct R&D for NOAA are not exclusively federal employees. In fact, a significant portion of those conducting NOAA R&D are from academic, private, or not-for-profit entities. Many are students, recent graduates, or volunteers (Appendix C). A healthy innovation system needs to be comprised of a community of scientists across organizations, such that there is a constant flow of new ideas and coordination necessary to bring them to fruition. This balance requires strategic investment across professional specializations, ensuring that NOAA benefits from corporate knowledge, application of tactical skill sets, and innovative new ideas.


map of NOAA's cooperative institutes

NOAA’s laboratories, science centers, programs, and Cooperative Institutes support or conduct research on Earth’s physical, chemical, and biological systems. NOAA has 50 organizational units that are responsible for either conducting or funding R&D. These include units such as the NESDIS Center for Satellite Applications and Research (STAR), the NMFS science centers, the NOS National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS), the NWS Office of Science and Technology (OST), the OAR Climate Program Office (CPO), the National Sea Grant Program, and the Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL). (A full list of R&D units with descriptions is provided in Appendix B.)

NOAA also funds research that is conducted by Cooperative Institutes (CI), which are non-federal, non-profit research institutions in a long-term (5-10 year) collaborative partnership with NOAA. Many of the Cooperative Institutes are co-located with NOAA research laboratories, creating a strong, long-term collaboration between scientists in the laboratories and in the universities. The CI program has been in existence for 44 years, with Cooperative Institutes located at parent institutions from Hawaii to Maine and from Alaska to Florida. Currently, NOAA supports 18 Cooperative Institutes consisting of 48 universities and research institutions across 21 states, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. In FY 2011, NOAA provided $176.4M to Cooperative Institutes, supporting 1211 employees and 485 students.

NOAA’s National Sea Grant College Program is a national network of 33 university-based programs dedicated to serving citizens in coastal communities throughout the Nation. Sea Grant helps citizens understand, conserve, and better utilize America’s coastal, ocean, and Great Lakes resources. With on-the-ground extension experts located in every coastal and Great Lakes state, Sea Grant translates science, including results of research it funds, into services that benefit coastal residents and their communities, thus contributing to R&D at NOAA. Sea Grant has been in existence for 46 years. In FY 2011, NOAA provided $57.5M to 524 Sea Grant colleges or universities, supporting 2370 employees and 1882 students.

NOAA supports the R&D of other partners as well, such as the Educational Partnership Program (EPP), Cooperative Science Centers (CSCs) and the National Estuarine Research Reserves. In FY 2011, NOAA provided $76.5M to these partners, supporting 207 employees and 557 students. Further, NOAA awards other grants beyond Sea Grant. The total amount awarded for other R&D grant solicitations in FY 2011 was $36.9M for 36 unique solicitations. The funding awarded in FY 2011 for grants selected in prior years’ solicitations was $76.37M. NOAA also supports partnership-oriented laboratories that are designed to enhance collaboration across NOAA and with other federal, academic and state partners. Two examples are the Hollings Marine Laboratory and the Oxford Laboratory of NCCOS.

Through its laboratories and programs, NOAA seeks to balance the activities that benefit from the long-term, dedicated capabilities of federal facilities with those that require the diverse expertise of our external partners. Investment in capital equipment and modernization is critical to address the large research challenges inherent in NOAA’s mission and to support NOAA’s core competencies. At the same time, supporting our external partnerships provides for an infusion of ideas and nimbleness that is integral to NOAA’s mission. Maintaining this balance requires a constant assessment of NOAA’s R&D portfolio (see section 4) and targeting constrained resources.


Educational partnership programNOAA takes advantage of its broad national and international network of partners in other agencies, external academic institutions and professional societies, the private sector, non-profit organizations, state, local, and tribal governments, and the international community. Extramural research partners complement NOAA’s intramural research by providing extended scientific, economic, and technical expertise and sources of new knowledge and technologies. NOAA’s research partners help maintain NOAA’s international leadership in environmental research. NOAA employs a variety of mechanisms to fund extramural research within appropriated funding levels and congressional direction. These mechanisms include competitive, merit-based, peer-reviewed grants and cooperative agreements. NOAA announces the availability of grant funds for the upcoming fiscal year via a Federal Register notice.