Implementation of the R&T Plan
This chapter is focused on successful implementation of the Oil Pollution Research and Technology Plan (R&T Plan). The chapter first discusses the importance of enhancing communication during the R&T Plan development, followed by an examination of ways to use cooperation, coordination, and collaboration to advance oil pollution research within the U.S. federal agencies and across a much broader and international stakeholder group. This chapter then ends with a discussion of the major hurdles to implementation, followed by conclusions and recommendations.
COMMUNICATION OF THE R&T PLAN
As described in Chapter 2, preparation and development of the R&T Plan mostly occurs during the last year of the 6-year cycle, which limits the conduct of a comprehensive review of ongoing studies and the identification of emerging Research Needs. Beginning the R&T plan preparation and development earlier, for example, in year 3 for the next development cycle (2024), would enable the Interagency Coordinating Committee on Oil Pollution Research (ICCOPR) to focus on the implementation of its plan in the first 2 years and to develop a more continuous and streamlined process to collect and update oil pollution research needs and progress.
Oil Pollution Research Dashboard
The overall R&T Plan process could be streamlined by creation of an active oil pollution research dashboard to facilitate regular updates from member agencies and stakeholders. The dashboard would be an interactive website allowing the display and discussion of past, ongoing, and recommended oil pollution research, organized by ICCOPR, but applicable and usable by the international oil spill research community as a tool to foster networking and help prevent duplication of research efforts. The dashboard would include links to the research programs and projects carried out through various agencies and global organizations active in oil pollution research. The dashboard would support implementation of the current R&T Plan (as discussed in the following
section) and the development of future plans by tracking the progress of ongoing research projects and newly identified Research Needs emerging from these projects. The dashboard could also be designed to facilitate the generation of the biennial reports to Congress. Open access to the frequently updated dashboard would make the plan development process more transparent and enhance awareness of project deliverables, including technology transfer, and would provide the means for input and collaboration with the broader research community. Such an initiative would not only lead to a stronger development process for future R&T Plans but could be a catalyst for building international collaboration to address important research gaps.
There are recognized challenges with such an effort. There may be concerns about proprietary ideas, intellectual property, and security of research that would need to be addressed; however, to successfully promote sharing of project information, the dashboard needs only metadata describing the research programs or projects. The dashboard does not require inclusion of scientific results of the research to be used effectively. The committee also recognizes that such a dashboard would require extensive funding and expertise to create and maintain. Therefore, sufficient resources (in terms of initial and annual funding, as well as staffing) would need to be identified to assure that the dashboard remains current and an effective collaboration platform. Additionally, the committee recognized that ultimately, responsibility for the dashboard could fit within organizations other than ICCOPR (e.g., the National Response Team).
Broadening Engagement During R&T Plan Development
Another avenue to ensure more continuous feedback exists through coordination with existing Standing Research Area (SRA) working groups (such as those currently convened by the Coastal Response Research Center [CRRC]) and new working groups, where appropriate, to cover the scope of the SRAs, also discussed in Chapter 2. Annual or biennial meetings of the working groups could be convened to review and document the status of the priority Research Needs, identify new Research Needs, and support the preparation of the biennial reports to Congress. Ensuring that such meetings are well advertised and open to the academic community, oil spill response community, and international research groups would reduce duplication of research effort and help foster joint partnerships and collaborations with ICCOPR members and external partners.
The committee believes that R&T Plan preparation and development would benefit from broader outreach to stakeholders, particularly to underrepresented groups, such as coastal communities at risk of harm from oil pollution. With or without the creation of an oil pollution research dashboard, ICCOPR should include a wide range of practitioners (i.e., Indigenous and other underrepresented communities; operational spill responders; professionals with expertise in restoration, human health, and socioeconomics; and policy makers) during the identification and prioritization of Research Needs. Their implicit knowledge is invaluable. Engaging the user community would enhance its support for the development, testing, and use of technologies identified in the R&T Plan.
Many opportunities exist for ICCOPR to increase the visibility of the R&T Plan during its development. For example, as part of the plan implementation, ICCOPR could send reminders that the next round of identifying Research Needs will take place in years 3 to 6. Special sessions at regional, national, and international oil spill and related scientific conferences could report on the status of the current R&T Plan and the preparation for the next one and could inform stakeholders about the proposed ICCOPR dashboard. Regular online knowledge transfer sessions organized by ICCOPR, member agencies, or collaborators could also enhance awareness of the R&T Plan by a broader audience.
COOPERATION, COORDINATION, AND COLLABORATION IN ADVANCING RESEARCH
ICCOPR member agencies clearly engage with public, academic, and private researchers through several avenues to raise awareness and gather information. The results of these efforts are evident in Part One of the R&T Plan, quarterly meeting notes available on the ICCOPR website, and the biennial reports to Congress. Less clear, however, is whether ICCOPR or individual member agencies can leverage those contacts to directly advance the R&T Plan and its priorities or to initiate research collaboration. ICCOPR would benefit from developing and implementing a communication and collaboration strategy to engage as partners in research programs or specific projects aligned with R&T Plan priorities. For example, a strategy that includes the development and use of the aforementioned oil pollution research dashboard could facilitate coordination of efforts throughout the global research and development (R&D) community.
Also unclear is the funding that agencies can commit to sustained oil pollution R&D. Some of the ICCOPR agencies (United States Coast Guard, U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement [BSEE], U.S. Environmental Protection Agency [EPA], Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, and U.S. Department of Transportation) receive annual appropriations through the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund (OSLTF). Other agencies receive direct base funding appropriations on an ad hoc basis or receive project-specific funding from other entities (sometimes other ICCOPR partners). This funding environment complicates planning of the funding levels available for fiscal years 2022-2027. In addition, because of congressional funding restrictions, the funds received are not flexible enough to address the ebb and flow of the funds needed to advance priority Research Needs. In particular, the agencies that do receive funding cannot request additional funds for a specific year without negatively impacting the funding for their other missions. ICCOPR agencies that do not already receive funds, similarly, cannot request OSLTF funds for their specific research without negative impacts on existing appropriated funds. The 2022-2027 R&T Plan (p. 139) states:
However, federal budgetary rules count any funds withdrawn from the OSLTF for research purposes against an agency’s overall budget, which means that oil pollution research initiatives still must compete against other agency missions to obtain funding. The National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling (2011) made the following comment on the funding levels for oil pollution research: “Specifically, Congress should provide mandatory funding (i.e., funding not subject to the annual appropriations process) at a level equal to or greater than the amount authorized by the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 to increase federal funding for oil spill response research by agencies such as Interior, the Coast Guard, USEPA, and NOAA—including NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration.”
While mandatory funding, not subject to appropriations, may be impractical, federal funding for coordinated research, presumably through ICCOPR, is generally recognized as beneficial to improving prevention of and response to oil spills.
Without the ability to articulate available funding and to coordinate needs among the ICCOPR members, the R&T Plan becomes simply a compilation of Priority Research Needs with no indication of which needs can be reasonably addressed in the planning period. If future versions of the R&T Plan could provide details on investment over the planning period, the non-federal research community would know better how to optimize their own resources either independently or in support of projects aligned with ICCOPR’s research priorities (i.e., leveraged support and partnerships).
Given the current status of funding, ICCOPR should continue to engage and share information about the R&T Plan and agency ongoing research areas. In particular, to avoid duplication of effort and leverage international and public–private partnerships, ICCOPR’s participation remains
critical in national and international oil spill conferences, industry research consortiums, such as the American Petroleum Institute, IPIECA, the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers, and regionally geo-focused based research groups (e.g., U.S. Arctic Research Commission, Oil Spill Research Institute), and other external governmental (Multi-Partner Research Initiative – Canada, Cedre – France) and nongovernmental research programs and agencies (e.g., ITOPF, SINTEF). One current example of a relevant global effort is a large research effort between ITOPF, SINTEF, EPA, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, and private-sector organizations to evaluate the toxicity and effectiveness of response options on spills of new fuel types, such as low-sulfur fuel oils.
After completion and publication of the R&T Plan, targeted outreach would ensure that partners, stakeholders, and researchers are aware of the ICCOPR priority Research Needs. If the document is updated during the 6-year period (using an evergreen, dashboard-type approach) or development of future R&T Plans stay with the current 6-year cycle, the R&T Plan and its progress reports (biennial reports to Congress) can be shared through email lists, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or other agency-sponsored social media sources. If, as suggested elsewhere in this report, a dashboard or other web-based system exists to maintain an active evergreen R&T Plan, interested parties will have a central repository for accessing oil spill research and technology information.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many professionals had to adjust to conducting business remotely and participating in meetings through remote technologies. This cultural change in doing business provides an opportunity for ICCOPR to increase participation in quarterly meetings, particularly those that engage specific researchers or agencies to provide updates. Continuing to allow remote participation in ICCOPR’s quarterly meetings would enhance ICCOPR’s outreach and position for coordination and collaboration with non-member stakeholders.
One important challenge is a quantification of the extent to which research outcomes lead to innovation relative to what might otherwise have occurred (i.e., effectiveness of research in addressing Research Needs). Reliance on counts of publications that closely align with each SRA or Subcategories is flawed. For example (1) the quantity of publications does not necessarily and directly measure the quality of the knowledge contained therein; (2) publications vary in their degree of perceived impact; and (3) simple counts may not be adequate for cross-disciplinary analysis because publication rates vary by research field (i.e., SRA or Subcategories), type of research, research within the context of the R&T Plan (basic versus applied), and a host of external factors, including availability of funds. Similarly, the number of patents associated with the research may provide measures of success for some but not all SRA or Subcategories.
Support of oil pollution R&D, particularly through the U.S. federal government, is essential for driving innovation and contributing to technology transfer and improved strategies that prevent, mitigate, or enhance response to oil spills. However, evaluating the performance and value added of an R&D program is a difficult task. Industry tries to correlate a return on investment (ROI) that balances the amount spent with the potential profit. This approach is most useful when sufficient hard data that provide specific measures for comparison are available. This approach can become problematic when trying to compare R&D to other potential business investments with different types of funding or strategies. In contrast, this task can be fairly easy when a company’s projects perform similar development, such as “design and build a new car every so many years.” In addition, measures for the performance of the individual projects are needed (e.g., on time, on budget).
Evaluating an R&D program is even more difficult for federal government programs. Some research develops specific products, such as a fighter jet or medication, but no good method exists to determine an ROI for such projects, as well as those that deliver a process or report. In addition, some projects may never develop an ultimate product or report because of insufficient or incremen-
tal annual funding. Many times, such as in the R&T Plan, evaluation of progress defaults to the use of subject-matter experts (SMEs) because of the lack of specific data or metrics. A systematic evaluation scheme would use metrics, applied at different levels of the process (see Figure 4.1).
Within each level of the process, findings and performance should be presented in terms of output, outcomes, and impact.
Project Output: A review of ongoing research projects based on documentation, interview evidence, and the expert opinion to determine whether projects are on track to achieving their planned outputs. How many projects were completed, technologies were developed, or journal articles were published due to research projects implemented?
Research Need and SRA Outcomes: Analysis of documentation, interview evidence, and expert opinion to determine whether project outcomes are being realized. Is progress being made toward meeting the Research Need? Are industry and regulators using ICCOPR program findings to support their decision-making?
R&T Plan Impacts: Evaluation of impacts, although it may also be too early to fully assess the extent to which impacts are being achieved. Is the R&T Plan meeting the congressional requirements and the needs of the oil spill community?
Metrics for Projects (Measuring Output)
There are multiple levels for evaluating performance. As stated in the previous section, one is the evaluation of individual projects that support or address priority Research Needs. For the R&T Plan, this process usually occurs at the agency level, but how these results are shared and
communicated across the ICCOPR community is unclear. Are SRA projects being managed well? For example, using generally accepted “management of R&D criteria,” are the projects within each SRA managed with due regard for economy, efficiency, and effectiveness? The technology readiness levels (TRLs), developed by BSEE and modified by Panetta and Potter (2016), are applicable to all organizations performing or funding federal research; use of the TRLs, or a closely related strategy, to communicate progress is encouraged.
Listing the reports and peer-reviewed publications and projects completed provides a measure of the volume of research, but research alone might not be sufficient. For instance, the listed projects do not explicitly indicate the extent to which previously identified Research Needs have been successfully addressed and completed or provide evidence of their successful integration into practice or their contributions to the oil spill community.
Examples of metrics that can be used to evaluate project output include the following:
- Final research products or enhanced products
- Number of new devices, technologies, or techniques
- Number of new knowledge tools, including guides and reports
- Number of educational and training materials development
- Number of times product, devices, technologies, or techniques have been successfully implemented during an oil spill response
Metrics for Research Needs and SRAs (Measuring Outcomes)
In terms of reporting performance to Congress, the 2022-2027 R&T Plan lacks information on administrative methods to track ongoing progress of SRAs, Research Needs, and projects, as well as on financial resources spent. The R&T Plan lists completed projects but does not include information about how progress was determined or to what extent Research Needs have been addressed beyond SME opinion. The ICCOPR biennial reports to Congress list completed projects and provide some details about progress that are not captured in the R&T Plan. The latest biennial report for fiscal years 2018-2019, delivered to Congress in 2020, lists all the SRAs and indicates the Research Needs that were not addressed. Descriptions of intended outcomes for SRAs and Research Needs within the R&T Plan would provide the framework for determining progress and success and would also help to communicate the importance of the work. Metrics to systematically evaluate progress of SRAs and Research Needs could be integrated into development of the biennial report to Congress, thereby streamlining the evaluation process and development of the R&T Plan.
Examples of evaluation metrics that could be used to measure SRA and Research Need outcomes include the following:
- To what extent is there achievement of SRA outcomes and, where practical, impacts (taking into consideration the length of time funded projects have been conducting work within the ICCOPR framework)?
- Are there sufficient overall funds (within government and leveraged with the private sector and industry) to effectively achieve the intended outcomes of the SRAs? Consider including past agency budgets in analysis. For example, if the effort in an output for an SRA is low, is the reason the amount of funding from Congress or cooperation among agencies?
- How many collaborative projects have been executed, interagency and with outside groups? Potentially include contracts with outside vendors.
- Is there evidence of acceptance, and what are the views of the end-user community, including industry, with regard to this type of research (e.g., productive, efficient, or other)?
- Is there open public access to reports other than in peer-reviewed publications?
Metrics for Overall R&T Plan (Measuring Impact)
The metrics for the overall plan are twofold. First, is the R&T Plan meeting Congress’s requirements, including the two general responsibilities to prepare and coordinate a federal oil pollution R&D plan and to promote cooperation through information sharing, coordinated planning, and joint funding of projects? Second, does the R&T Plan serve the oil spill community and end users?
Examples of evaluation metrics that could be used to measure impact include the following:
- Are congressional requirements met and to what degree have they been met?
- What are the impacts of the ICCOPR R&D funded projects?
- Is collaborative research working well? Are funds being leveraged appropriately in collaborating entities?
- Have R&T Plan projects resulted in a policy change? What is the frequency or level of the research’s contribution to policy change?
- Have R&T Plan projects resulted in improvements to methodology; technological enhancements and innovation; or cost reduction or increase in efficiencies in the fields of oil spill prevention, preparedness, response, or injury assessment and restoration?
- Is the R&T Plan used outside ICCOPR membership and is the value of the R&T Plan recognized by the greater oil spill community?
The ability to measure and communicate outputs, outcomes, and impacts of the R&T Plan is an important (and currently missing) tool for its successful and effective implementation.
OBSTACLES TO IMPLEMENTATION
Throughout the study process, the committee identified a few fundamental obstacles to both the development and the implementation of the R&T Plan. First, as discussed throughout the report, very little funding is directed toward ICCOPR activities and research. Without dedicated and sustained funding, or a strategy for implementation, the R&T Plan becomes a list of research needs, not a research plan, as intended. In Chapter 3 of this report, the committee concluded that dedicated funding is needed to support ICCOPR in fully addressing the congressionally mandated requirements of the R&T Plan, thus ensuring a robust development process and successful implementation.
The second fundamental obstacle is timing. As described in Chapters 2 and 3, the development process allots insufficient time for the information gathering and priority setting that is required for such a large body of research. This report outlines several ideas for streamlining the information-gathering process in combination with wider and continuous outreach efforts to create a more robust and transparent R&T Plan, as well as to facilitate collaboration and coordination of research efforts among federal agencies and the wider oil spill response community. Such a coordinated effort would support national efforts to ensure equitable delivery of federally funded research results and data (OSTP, 2022) and would help combat other factors that will affect the success of the R&T Plan, which is partially defined by continuity of research, attraction of new researchers, and public acceptance of response actions (see Box 4.1).
As highlighted in past R&T Plans and in numerous studies, including Oil in the Sea IV (NASEM, 2022b), field testing remains a hindrance to progress in oil pollution research toward the deployment-ready stage. The committee concluded that agencies’ reluctance to tackle this difficult but not insurmountable obstacle influenced the prioritization process.
Lastly, it is difficult to declare success without a defined metric for its quantification. The ability to measure and communicate outputs, outcomes, and impacts of the R&T Plan is an important (and missing) tool for its successful and effective implementation.
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
The following conclusions and recommendations are provided for consideration by the ICCOPR. These conclusions and recommendations were developed in the context of ensuring successful implementation of the R&T Plan, including the promotion of coordination and collaboration with oil spill research organizations outside ICCOPR membership. The ability to work synergistically is vital to the success of a historically underfunded field of study.
Conclusion: Outreach. ICCOPR would benefit from developing and implementing a communication and collaboration strategy to engage as partners in research programs or specific projects aligned with R&T Plan priorities. In addition, the following outreach activities, in current practice, were noted as particularly important to continue:
- ICCOPR’s participation in national and international spill conferences, industry research consortiums, and other external governmental and nongovernmental research programs and agencies remains critical.
- Continuing to allow remote participation in ICCOPR’s quarterly meetings would enhance ICCOPR’s outreach and position for coordination and collaboration with non-member stakeholders.
Conclusion: Funding. ICCOPR requires dedicated funding to enable a more robust and continuous R&T Plan development and evaluation process and, at a minimum, to address the most critical Research Needs. In the meantime, ICCOPR will likely benefit from continued efforts to leverage related research and development activities, in part through engagement with industry and other organizations, to effectively address and ensure advancements of priority Research Needs. Although this conclusion is not new, it reiterates an unresolved challenge hindering the success of the R&T Plan.
Conclusion: Oil Pollution Research Dashboard. The overall R&T Plan process could be streamlined by creation of an active oil pollution research dashboard and/or other methods for obtaining more continuous feedback. This dashboard would not only assist in communication and promotion of the R&T Plan outside ICCOPR member agencies but would also support the efficient and comprehensive development of future R&T Plan content, provide a means for updating progress on Research Needs and specific research projects, facilitate regular updates from the broader (and global) oil spill research and practitioner community, and increase opportunities for coordination and collaboration of research efforts. Such a dashboard could also provide the means for evaluating the extent to which a particular Research Need has been addressed. Dedicated funding is needed to support such an effort.
Recommendation 3: ICCOPR should lead an effort to develop and maintain an oil pollution research dashboard. The dashboard would support an ongoing process to streamline and improve data gathering, research prioritization, and evaluation of the R&T Plan. It would also facilitate communication of the R&T Plan—in terms of both research priorities and access to federally funded research results—and implementation through coordination and collaboration with the larger oil pollution research community.
Conclusion: Field Testing. Open-water field testing following controlled oil releases or actual spills is critical to the testing, validation, and future implementation of technological advances, and it enables the validation of laboratory-based observations.
Recommendation 4: ICCOPR should initiate development of a regulatory process to enable the conduct of experimental open-water field trials. In conjunction, ICCOPR should pursue opportunities for field trials though national and international collaborations (with countries such as Canada and Norway, who have established a formal authorization process for such tests). Continuous releases associated with offshore seeps (i.e., Santa Barbara, Gulf of Mexico) and well-designed “spill of opportunity” research projects could present opportunities for conducting some field tests.
Conclusion: Metrics. Both qualitative and quantitative metrics are needed to evaluate the success of the R&T Plan. Such metrics would support communication of the plan, future improvements to the plan, and reporting of progress to Congress.
Recommendation 5: The R&T Plan descriptions of Classes, Standing Research Areas, and Research Needs should include metrics to measure outputs, outcomes, and impacts. Such metrics should, at a minimum, enable a performance evaluation against NDAA requirements and should tie directly to biennial reports to Congress.
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