In 1989, the T/V Exxon Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound and spilled approximately 11 million gallons of oil. As one of numerous reactions to the spill, Congress passed the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA 90) and within the legislation mandated the creation of the Oil Spill Recovery Institute (OSRI). OSRI was established to “conduct research and carry out educational and demonstration projects designed to (Title V, Section 5001, Oil Pollution Act of 1990):
identify and develop the best available techniques, equipment, and materials for dealing with oil spills in the Arctic and sub-arctic marine environment; and
complement Federal and State damage assessment efforts and determine, document, assess, and understand the long-range effects of Arctic or subarctic oil spills on the natural resources of Prince William Sound and its adjacent waters…and the environment, the economy, and the lifestyle and well-being of the people who are dependent on them, except that the Institute shall not conduct studies or make recommendations on any matter that is not directly related to Arctic or subarctic oil spills or the effects thereof.
OPA 90 identifies the Prince William Sound Science Center (at the time called the Prince William Sound Science and Technology Institute) in Cordova, Alaska, as the administrator of OSRI. Although established in legislation in 1990, substantial funding for OSRI was not provided until 1996. It disbursed its first funds in FY98, at a start-up level of $200,000.
Now OSRI receives about $1.2 million per year, generated as interest on a $22.5 million trust held by the U.S. Treasury (U.S. Coast Guard Authorization Act, 1996). Thus, OSRI is a relatively new program with a limited track record to evaluate. To date, the OSRI research program has supported about $5 million of projects over the approximately five years of operation since it began making awards. Figure 1-1 provides a general timeframe of OSRI activities.
Under the guidance of the OSRI director and with advice from its Advisory Board and the Scientific and Technical Committee, the current OSRI R&D grant program translated its legislative mandate into three focus areas: applied technology (to conduct research and development on new technologies for preventing and responding to oil spills in the Arctic and subarctic), predictive ecology (to develop new capabilities to predict changes in populations at risk from spills), and public education and outreach (to make the research process interactive with the public and in general provide public information and education about oil spill impacts and response). These areas of focus and other key aspects of how OSRI is administered arose out of a strategic planning workshop held in 1997, when the Advisory Board provided guidance, adopted procedures, and wrote its first business plan. In this plan, the Advisory Board adopted an allocation system to ensure a balanced program that addressed the OSRI mission, and instructed the director to seek spending targets of 40-40-20 percent for applied technology, predictive ecology, and public education and outreach grants, respectively. These three areas continue to be OSRI’s primary areas of focus, although there is some overlap among the areas. The Advisory Board also directed OSRI staff to develop a grant policy manual. OSRI policies are based on the policies and procedures of the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Undersea Research Program, and the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council (EVOSTC). The Advisory Board also adopted the current mechanism for grant approval, authorizing the director to approve awards under $25,000, involving the STC in awards of less than $100,000, and requiring Advisory Board approval for awards over $100,000. OSRI funding is authorized for a 10-year period that ends in 2006 and discussions are beginning to determine if the Institute will be continued.
THE COMMITTEE’S CHARGE AND METHODS
The legislators who created OSRI under OPA 90 foresaw the need for periodic reviews to ensure that the program was meeting its legislative mandate, and Section 2731 allowed OSRI to request a review from the National Academy of Sciences. This report is the first external view of
the OSRI program, and it is the effort of a committee of nine members selected based on expertise relevant to the OSRI’s program (see Appendix A).
This report is not a project-by-project review of all OSRI activities; it is a broad assessment of the programs strengths and weaknesses, with special emphasis on whether it is addressing its intended mission and whether the work supported is of high quality. In many ways, the committee operated as a visiting committee (an evaluation technique often used in university settings, where a group of outside experts is invited to visit, gather information, and provide an evaluation). The committee met three times over the course of about eight months to gather information, deliberate, and write its report. By necessity, we relied heavily on OSRI to provide documents and answer questions about its modes of operation. As a result, much of our information comes as personal communication and our findings and recommendations are based on our consensus expert judgments.
To gain an understanding of OSRI’s mission and activities, the committee held conversations with OSRI staff, the OSRI Advisory Board, members of the OSRI Scientific and Technical Committee, past and current researchers, potential users of OSRI products, and others knowledgeable about OSRI programs. It distributed a call for input to gain other views of the program; although the responses received were anecdotal, they did help shape our understanding of the program. The committee also reviewed selected documents from the OSRI files in an attempt to develop a broad view of how the program has operated and its effectiveness. Documents included but were not limited to:
the Grant Policy Manual,
the Advisory Board minutes,
sample Broad Area Announcements (BAAs),
samples of proposals received,
the 1995 Oil Pollution and Technology Plan,
annual work plans,
the 1999 Business Plan, and
progress reports and publications for OSRI projects.
This report is organized to parallel the five questions posed to the committee (Box 1-1). Chapter 1 describes the OSRI mission and provides the general context for this review. Chapters 2 and 3 examine the organization and administration of OSRI and assess whether the process used to select research and technology projects is sound and fair. Chapter 4 considers whether OSRI planning documents set an appropriate course for the future. Chapters 5 through 8 focus on the primary components of the
BOX 1-1 CHARGE TO THE COMMITTEE
The Oil Spill Recovery Institute was established to identify and develop methods to deal with oil spills in the Arctic and subarctic environment and develop a better understanding of the long-range effects of oil spills on the natural resources of Prince William Sound and its adjacent waters, including the environment, economy, and people. This committee was charged to review OSRI’s activities (both the research program and technology development and implementation activities). The committee was assigned the following tasks:
OSRI program (predictive ecology, applied technology, modeling, and education/outreach) and assesses whether the funded mix of research and technology projects adequately address the mission of OSRI and whether these activities are of high quality. Finally, Chapter 9 summarizes our findings and recommendations.
OSRI STRUCTURE AND FUNCTIONS
OSRI was authorized in OPA 90, but it did not begin to take shape until 1996 when funding was provided within the Coast Guard Authorization Act. This act defined some of the key structures and functions of OSRI. It mandated creating the OSRI Advisory Board and specified its composition, chairmanship, terms, and members’ voting status. The operations of the Advisory Board—including policies and procedures related to officers of the board, meetings, quorums, public notice, voting and resolutions, and establishment and operation of an Executive Com-
mittee—are detailed in bylaws created by the Advisory Board and amended in April 1999 (Appendix B).
The 1996 legislation also mandated establishment of a Scientific and Technical Committee (STC). This group provides scientific input, and is composed of specialists in matters relating to oil spill containment and clean-up, marine ecology, and the living resources and socio-economics of Prince William Sound and its adjacent waters. The STC provides advice to the Advisory Board regarding the conduct and support of research and technology projects and studies. Appointment procedures for the STC are relatively informal, with people added as the need arises at the request of the director or the Advisory Board and there are no set term limits. The pool of potential members for the STC was identified in the 1996 legislation as “… the University of Alaska, the Institute of Marine Science, PWSSC, and elsewhere in the academic community.” Under the bylaws, the chair of the STC is a representative of the University of Alaska and this person is also to serve as a nonvoting member of the Advisory Board.
The legislation mandates that OSRI should operate its granting process using a traditional approach such as those used by the National Science Foundations (NSF) and others. Projects are to be identified by advertising Broad Area Announcements or Requests for Proposals. To evaluate the proposals received, the 1996 legislation requires use of an outside proposal review process “on a nationally competitive basis….” The legislation encourages research results to be published and made widely available, giving the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) a role as a repository for copies of all research, educational, and demonstration projects.
The legislation gives responsibility for selecting the OSRI director to the Advisory Board, with recommendations from the STC and the PWSSC. The director is empowered to hire staff and incur expenses. The legislation stipulates various procedures and policies for OSRI’s operation and use of funds, and authorized funding for 10 years ending in 2006. Related to funding, it is mandated that the program’s funds would come from interest on a $22.5 million endowment. No funds were to be used to institute litigation, purchase real property, or construct buildings, and no more than 20 percent of the funds may be used to lease facilities and administer OSRI. The legislation also stipulated that “the Institute shall not conduct studies or make recommendations on any matter which is not directly related to Arctic or subarctic oil spills or the effects thereof.” The revenues for OSRI over its 10-year term are expected to be about $14 million total, with annual revenues averaging $1.4 million.
OSRI AND OTHER GULF OF ALASKA RESEARCH PROGRAMS
OSRI was one of numerous responses to the Exxon Valdez oil spill, however, its establishment came at a time when emphasis was shifting away from damage assessments and toward improving our capabilities to understand and respond to future events. Several external influences were important in how the OSRI legislation was implemented as an operational program. For example, according to conversations with Advisory Board members involved in the founding of OSRI (W. Parker, OSRI Advisory Board, personal communication, February 7, 2002), a major research program known as GLOBEC (Global Ocean Ecosystem Dynamics) was evolving at the time OSRI was being established in the early 1990s and the GLOBEC experience was considered in designing OSRI. GLOBEC stressed the importance of understanding the coupling of physical and biological systems in understanding ecosystem change in marine systems. Also in the same timeframe, the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council (EVOSTC) was administering a major program designed to conduct damage assessments after the spill and conduct research related to restoration of damaged resources and understanding of environmental change in the northern Gulf of Alaska. One part of the EVOSTC activities was a program called the Sound Ecosystem Assessment (SEA)1 and a 1997 SEA workshop and a 1997 SEA workshop on modeling appears to have been important to OSRI planning.
With about $1 million in allocatable funding each year, OSRI is a relatively small program. But it is working in a region with many other ongoing research programs (Box 1-2) and coordination and leveraging of funding is an essential part of making sure that the various programs are synergistic and not redundant.
BOX 1-2 EXAMPLES OF RELEVANT RESEARCH ACTIVITIES IN THE PRINCE WILLIAM SOUND AND GULF OF ALASKA REGION