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50 Years of Ocean Discovery: National Science Foundation 1950-2000 (2000)

Chapter: Ocean Sciences at the National Sciences Foundation: An Administrative History

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Suggested Citation:"Ocean Sciences at the National Sciences Foundation: An Administrative History." National Research Council. 2000. 50 Years of Ocean Discovery: National Science Foundation 1950-2000. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9702.

Ocean Sciences at the National Science Foundation: An Administrative History

Sandra Toye

National Science Foundation (ret.)


This paper traces the National Science Foundation's (NSF) organizational decisions from 1950 to the present and the place of the ocean sciences within that administrative structure. With its interdisciplinary character and its reliance on small and large-scale research, facilities, and instrumentation, oceanography has often been a test case for NSF management. Today, an oceanographer approaching the National Science Foundation for support will have no trouble finding a point of contact: one telephone call or a visit to one suite of offices brings the scientist to the Division of Ocean Sciences. Here the scientist can explore NSF programs and policies; research projects of any size; ship operations; instrumentation; international or interdisciplinary programs.1


The administrative structure of the Division of Ocean Sciences is comprehensive and straightforward. The Ocean Sciences Research Section supports research projects large and small in physical, biological, and chemical oceanography; marine geology and geophysics; and oceanographic technology. The Oceanographic Centers and Facilities Section manages NSF support for research ship operations and construction, specialized facilities operations, the Ocean Drilling Program (ODP), and instrumentation and technical support.

Moreover, the Ocean Sciences Division is part of a larger organization, the Directorate for Geosciences, which encompasses closely related fields—the Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. The intellectual ties among these fields are mirrored in an administrative structure that ensures coordination and integration in such inherently interdisciplinary activities as climate research. This strengthens the National Science Foundation's ability to represent the geosciences properly in interagency and international forums, and in policy and budget negotiations with the Administration and Congress.

But it hasn't always been this way. For most of the 50-year period covered by this symposium, NSF management of the ocean sciences has been fragmented. Major aspects of the field have been lodged in different parts of the Foundation with sharply different management styles, and often with differing scientific views and objectives. The story of how the ocean sciences came together within NSF reflects many larger trends and issues in Foundation management philosophy. It also tracks the evolution and maturation of the ocean sciences themselves.


NSF's Initial Organization for Research Support Proves to be Lasting

On May 10, 1950, President Harry Truman signed into law the act that created the National Science Foundation. For the first two years, the focus of the Foundation was getting itself organized, which it did with remarkable care and foresight. The decisions made in that period still govern the fundamental operating style of NSF fifty years later.

The support of individual investigators was identified as the fundamental research mission of the agency, with sup


 The single exception is polar oceanography, which is managed by the NSF Office of Polar Programs.

Suggested Citation:"Ocean Sciences at the National Sciences Foundation: An Administrative History." National Research Council. 2000. 50 Years of Ocean Discovery: National Science Foundation 1950-2000. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9702.

port to be provided through permissive grant mechanisms rather than contracts. Advisory committees and peer review of proposals ensured strong input from the external community. NSF's first research grants, 28 awards ranging from $780 to $50,000, were made in February 1952, completing the expenditure of NSF's $3.5 million budget. Among these was an award for oceanographic research.

The administrative decisions taken in NSF's early years were also destined to endure. Education programs and science information activities were to be centralized, with a single office or division managing the assigned programs to all institutions and across all fields of science and engineering.

Research project support was to be handled differently. Responsibility was distributed between two research divisions—one for Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences (MPE) and one for Biological and Medical Sciences (BMS).2 Within each division, programs would be established to handle proposals from a given discipline or subdiscipline.

From the outset, there was a significant difference in the two sets of disciplines that shaped the program-level definitions of the two divisions. MPE served intellectually related but operationally separate communities of practitioners— physicists, chemists, Earth scientists, mathematicians, astronomers and engineers—with distinct research agendas and arrays of instruments and equipment. Moreover, these scientists generally held positions in university departments corresponding to the MPE program boundaries.

In contrast, BMS covered essentially one very large discipline. By necessity, BMS programs were defined by the thrust of the proposed research activity—whether it addressed regulatory or molecular or developmental aspects of the organism or system being studied. Researchers who shared appointments in the same department and used the same research equipment might draw support from different BMS programs.

The initial organization of NSF research support existed virtually unchanged into the 1960s. The underlying philosophy of managing research by academic discipline was even longer lived: it remains the organizing principle of NSF today. Despite the obvious strength and endurance of the disciplinary concept, it did, and still does, pose difficulties for the assessment and management of research that does not fit within the prescribed program boundaries.

Oceanography: Below the NSF Disciplinary Horizon

For oceanography, an inherently interdisciplinary field, NSF's early organizational choices created problems that would not be fully rectified for 25 years. Each proposal for ocean research would compete in the larger field in which it had its intellectual roots. This meant that oceanography proposals were sometimes handled by program managers and reviewed by intellectual peers who might have little or no exposure to the unique demands and opportunities of ocean research. The problem was particularly acute for field programs with expensive requirements for research vessel time and other specialized facilities and instruments.

One subset of the ocean sciences did find a receptive home in NSF. The MPE Division's Earth Sciences Program handled proposals in geology, geophysics, and geochemistry. These fields were at the threshold of the intellectual revolution of plate tectonics. Marine practitioners of the geological sciences were deeply involved in this revolution, and research conducted at sea was at the heart of the ferment. Thus, from the outset, oceanographers were influential players as grantees as well as advisors and reviewers.

The organizational misfit between the ocean sciences and NSF's administrative structure during the 1950s did not become a policy issue for several years. Coming out of World War II with strong ties to the Navy and the Atomic Energy Commission, oceanography found its principal needs well supported by those agencies. NSF, as a newcomer with heavy obligations to other fields, was initially not a significant player in oceanography. By the end of the decade, that situation would begin to change.

The First Watershed: the International Geophysical Year (IGY 1957-1958)

The IGY is often cited as NSF's most enduring venture into ''big science," resulting in the permanent addition of international cooperative programs and the U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP) to the Foundation's research portfolio. But the IGY was equally important for the changes it brought about in NSF's outlook toward support of individual investigators, particularly in the environmental sciences.

In 1955, largely at the urging of the National Academy of Sciences, NSF was selected as the lead agency for planning and managing U.S. participation in the IGY. Given the multi-disciplinary nature of the project, it was clear that the IGY would not fit in either of the existing research divisions. A special coordinating Office for the IGY was set up in the Office of the NSF Director, a pattern that the agency would follow repeatedly as new programs were assigned to it over the next decade.

The IGY itself was unquestionably "big science"; it would ultimately involve 30,000 scientists and technicians from 66 countries in a comprehensive study of Planet Earth. The budget for U.S. participation in the 18 months of field operations totaled $43.5 million. Despite the size and complexity of the IGY, it fit well with NSF's interests and priorities. It was essentially science-driven, despite its political and diplomatic aspects. For all its size and coordination, it was not


 NSF's charter prescribed a separate Division of Medical Science, but this entity was folded into the Division of Biological Sciences almost immediately.

Suggested Citation:"Ocean Sciences at the National Sciences Foundation: An Administrative History." National Research Council. 2000. 50 Years of Ocean Discovery: National Science Foundation 1950-2000. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9702.

a single large project so much as an aggregation of complementary projects, offering opportunities for involvement to scientists in many fields.

The IGY also had administrative features that made it easy for NSF to accommodate. First, it was time-limited: theoretically, at least, it created no long-term commitments for NSF. Even more important, the IGY budget was funded entirely by "new money"—appropriations over and above those for ongoing NSF programs.


The impact of the IGY experience extended into NSF's traditional research support structure for "small science." Despite the finite limits of the IGY itself, its field programs produced new ideas and generated data that resulted in research proposals long afterward. NSF's role in the IGY made it the natural recipient of proposals of this sort. Furthermore, IGY scientists had enjoyed both the intellectual enrichment and the logistical and financial feasibility offered by coordinated programs. They continued to propose cooperative field programs and other forms of collaborative research that NSF's disciplinary program structure was not equipped to handle.

The IGY greatly increased the visibility and reputation of environmental research. It became apparent that these fields often had research objectives and requirements that were fundamentally different from those of the larger disciplines in which they were intellectually based. As we have seen, MPE's basic structure made it possible for an emerging discipline to argue for a program of its own. By 1959, the Atmospheric Sciences enjoyed separate program status in the MPE division.

Outside NSF, in the aftermath of the IGY, oceanography was widely recognized as a legitimate academic discipline with its own set of research imperatives. The National Academy of Sciences Committee on Oceanography (NASCO) and the Interagency Committee on Oceanography (ICO), part of the new Federal Council on Science and Technology, were actively engaged in policy recommendations to expand ocean research and education.

Within NSF, however, oceanography was still not a recognized discipline, and ocean research was still dispersed across the agency. Throughout the early 1960s, NSF created a succession of internal coordinating groups to respond to the growing external requirements of NASCO and ICO as well as to deal with the unique operational and logistic needs of the growing cadre of NSF-supported oceanographers. In 1963, NSF expenditures for oceanography totaled $26.8 million, a sum that exceeded the budgets of many established NSF programs. The agency's inability to deal with ocean research and policy in a coherent way made for difficulties in dealing with the Academy, other federal agencies, and the science community itself.

1960s Reorganizations Bring a Degree of Unity to NSF Ocean Sciences Program

The early 1960s were a period of expansiveness and optimism about government programs in general and science and technology in particular. It was the era of the space program and intense competition with the Soviet Union for scientific dominance. NSF was the recipient of responsibility for many of the new programs. By 1962, the Office of the NSF Director was crowded with a plethora of special offices that had been created as ad hoc responses to new program responsibilities.

The time had come to fold these programs into NSF's line organizations, which had been largely unchanged from its establishment in 1950. As part of the agency-wide consolidation, the formerly independent BMS and MPE Divisions, along with several other research support programs, were brought together under a new organization, headed by an Associate Director for Research (AD/R).

MPE, now a Division of AD/R, took advantage of the new situation to restructure its portfolio. Because of its disciplinary substructure, MPE was able to react to the emerging identity of the environmental sciences as fields in their own right. The former Earth Sciences Program was elevated to the status of a section, putting it on an organizational par with Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Engineering and Atmospheric Sciences. The new Earth Science Section established four component programs: Geology, Geophysics, Geochemistry, and Oceanography . For the first time, the field could point to a "home" in NSF, but it was not comprehensive, covering only submarine geology and geophysics (SG&G) and physical oceanography.

Over the next five years, the evolution and elevation of the environmental sciences accelerated. In 1965, AD/R created a Division of Environmental Sciences. The new division subsumed the Atmospheric Sciences Section and also assumed responsibility for the Office of Polar Programs, which had been shifted among several organizational settings in its short lifespan. In 1967, the Division of Environmental Sciences created a fourth section—Oceanography. The section included physical oceanography, SG&G, and in a significant departure from previous structures, an oceanographic facilities program.

BMS did not use the 1962 reorganization as an opportunity to rethink its structure. At that point, BMS had nine major program areas, and oceanography proposals were handled in several of them. In 1965, the B MS programs were reorganized into a more hierarchical structure, with sections having responsibility for several related programs. This eased coordination problems somewhat, but biological oceanography proposals still straddled too many organizational lines. Finally, in 1968, a Biological Oceanography Program was established in the Environmental and Systematic Biology Section.

Suggested Citation:"Ocean Sciences at the National Sciences Foundation: An Administrative History." National Research Council. 2000. 50 Years of Ocean Discovery: National Science Foundation 1950-2000. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9702.
Oceanographic Facilities Support: A Special Problem

NSF's charter does not mention equipment or facilities. From the outset, however, NSF policymakers decided that instrumentation and facilities were an inherent part of NSF's mission to support research. In the first round of research grants in 1952, some of the budget was earmarked to help institutions acquire instrumentation for shared use.

In oceanography, shared-use facilities, particularly research vessels, are an inextricable aspect of the enterprise. This was among the characteristics that made ocean science research proposals difficult for NSF program managers to handle. In an era when $15,000 was considered a generous grant budget, reviewers and program managers were hard-pressed to deal objectively with ship costs that might double or triple the budget of a project grant. Fieldwork would often be whittled back in budget negotiations to a point that undermined the research objectives. Sometimes program managers refused to pay for ship time at all, leaving researchers to get aboard a research vessel as best they could. Even in programs or sections that dealt primarily with oceanography proposals, ship costs were an unwelcome demand on research budgets, and funding for them was uncertain and uncoordinated.

Dealing with cooperative field programs and shared-use instrumentation was a particular problem in the life sciences. The BMS Program structure, as we have seen in prior sections, tended to cut across subdisciplines or academic departments. It was an effective way to compare the merits of competing research ideas, but it did not provide a good setting for looking at cooperative projects or shared-use research equipment. In 1958, responding to criticisms that largely originated with oceanographic institutions, BMS created a small fund for Special Programs and Instrumentation to deal with such proposals. By 1960, Facilities and Special Programs graduated to full program status in BMS. Interestingly, NSF's first grant for research ship operations came from this program.

NSF's diffuse program management was also a problem for the institutions that operated research ships. Sending a ship to distant waters is a complex and expensive operation, requiting months and sometimes years of preparation. It is only worthwhile if there is a body of research large enough to share the costs and justify the commitment. When the proposals for a single cruise or expedition were under review in many different NSF programs, with independent management styles and funding schedules, it was difficult to gather the critical mass of approved projects in a time frame that matched the planning period required for ship commitments.

In the early years, this problem was minimized because the Office of Naval Research (ONR) was the major founder of oceanography. Administratively, ONR used block-funded contracts that covered all of the research, instrumentation, and ship costs for its projects at a given institution. This provided a sufficient framework for ship operators to set plans for cruises into distant water. With these commitments in place, scientists could approach NSF for grants that might add to or complement the cruise objectives.

Throughout the 1960s, as NSF support for ocean research became a more significant fraction of the total funding for the field, the facilities support issue became more pressing. Dealing with the ship support problem was part of the mission of all of the internal NSF ocean science coordinating bodies mentioned in the preceding section. When an Oceanography Section was created in the Division of Environmental Sciences in 1967, an Oceanographic Facilities Program was part of its portfolio.

Research Ship Construction and Conversion in the 1960s

In 1962, AD/R established an Ad Hoc Panel on Grants and Contracts for Ship Construction, Conversion, and Operations to advise NSF on a set of procedures for handling these areas. Given the lack of focused NSF programs in ocean science and the chronic problems of paying for ship time for researchers, it is surprising to find that proposals for ship construction found support at NSF in this era.

In fact, NSF funded the construction of three oceanographic research ships and the conversion of several others during the early 1960s. BMS Facilities and Special Programs funded the construction of R/V Eastward (Duke University) in 1962 and R/V Alpha Helix (Scripps Institution of Oceanography) in 1965; MPE's Earth Sciences Program supported the design and construction of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution's Atlantis II (1963). The justification for the funding of these ships underscores the fragmentation of NSF's treatment of the ocean sciences during that period. Each was proposed as a specialized facility, outfitted for the needs of the supporting discipline.

All three ships eventually became general-purpose oceanographic vessels, but the two BMS-funded ships kept their ties to special biological programs for more than a decade. Because ship construction was funded by standard research grants, NSF exercised little management direction of the design and construction projects, and the completed ships became the property of the institutions that built them. In later decades, this policy would be criticized, and NSF would alter its procedures to be more proactive in managing construction projects, retaining title, and assigning ships to operators through special contracts.

Project Mohole 1957-1967

From its start in 1957 until the project office closed its doors in 1967, Project Mohole was among NSF's most controversial undertakings. Mohole had its roots in the review of regular NSF disciplinary science projects. At an Earth Science Advisory Committee meeting in 1957, the concept

Suggested Citation:"Ocean Sciences at the National Sciences Foundation: An Administrative History." National Research Council. 2000. 50 Years of Ocean Discovery: National Science Foundation 1950-2000. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9702.

of drilling through Earth's crust into the Mohorovicic discontinuity was aired as a serious proposal. Over the next few years, the Earth Sciences Program supported grants for feasibility studies and field tests. By 1960, the project required funding and management oversight beyond what the program could provide.

In 1960, NSF was no longer a newcomer to large-scale facility-based operation, having run the IGY. In addition, the agency had been funding construction and operation of astronomy centers and physics facilities for several years. These projects had been marked by their fair share of management problems. Despite these experiences, when Mohole reached developmental stage, NSF still had no policies or procedures in place for management of, or even decision-making about, projects that required large-scale capital investment and long-term operational commitments. Every decision was an ad hoc matter, usually requiring personal involvement of the NSF Director. For each such project, NSF would seek "new money": an additional appropriation outside its ongoing budget. Fortunately, in the expansive 1950s and 1960s, funds were generally made available.

The early Mohole studies and initial field tests had been carried out by AMSOC, a special committee of the National Academy of Sciences. But their charters precluded both the Academy and the Foundation from direct operation of projects. The NSF Director had recently been involved in disputes between the academic consortium managing one of the astronomy construction projects and the commercial subcontractors actually fabricating the equipment. Perhaps because of this experience, NSF decided to contract directly with a commercial firm for the technically demanding developmental phases of Mohole. After an extremely contentious competition of nearly two years' duration, in 1962 NSF entered into a contract with Brown and Root, an engineering firm with no experience in scientific management.

By this time, strains of every kind had begun to afflict the project. Scientific disagreements had emerged about the extent and phasing of the developmental work; the contract competition drew political fire; personality disputes had emerged; and finally, NSF decisions about management of the project were criticized. The underlying management concern, from NSF's viewpoint, was to maintain accountability and control over the very large contract budget and the challenging engineering problems. From the point of view of Mohole's proponents in the community, the issue was to maintain clear and competent scientific oversight.

NSF established the position of Managing Coordinator for Project Mohole, and appointed an engineer with the requisite technical experience to the job. The Mohole Project Office was attached to the Office of the NSF Director, but because of the huge budget and administrative implications of the contract, the coordinator actually reported to NSF's Associate Director for Administration. Scientific guidance was to come from the Academy, with a NSF program officer from Earth Sciences acting as Science Coordinator in-house. Policy guidance came to the Managing Coordinator from a committee comprised of the Associate Director for Administration, the Science Coordinator, and the NSF Director's executive assistant. Quite apart from the scientific, technical, and political problems confronting the project, it would be hard to conceive a more unworkable managerial scheme.

For the next three years, Project Mohole pursued a mercurial course; sometimes appearing to be well underway, only to fall prey to cost overruns, technical barriers, and scientific disagreements. In 1966, the Congress denied NSF's request for further funding of the project. One year later, the project office closed its doors and Mohole entered the history books.

The Origins of the Deep Sea Drilling Project

Oceanographers were among Mohole's leaders from the project's conception to its demise; but perhaps because of the lack of a clear disciplinary identity for oceanography in NSF at the time, the field escaped much of the blame for its failure. Indeed, in NSF's institutional lore, oceanographers are credited with having "rescued something of great value" from the traumatic Mohole experience—the Deep Sea Drilling Project (DSDP).

Like everything about Mohole, there were arguments about the origins of DSDP. Some saw it as a preliminary test program for Mohole technology; others considered it a worthy project in its own right. For oceanographers whose research interests lay in the oceanic sediments and underlying crust, the idea of a separate ocean sediment coring program gained momentum.3

In 1963, in the midst of the Mohole controversy, NSF's second director took office. He was disturbed by the dis-unity of the academic leadership of the project and the lack of scientific capability of Brown and Root. In one of his first meetings with Mohole's proponents, the director urged the development of a scientific consortium that would eventually take over management of the program. He also expressed enthusiasm about the sediment coring concept, and indicated that NSF might consider it as "a companion program" to Mohole. In Congressional testimony in the fall of 1963, NSF went considerably further, stating that the agency was prepared to support an entirely separate sediment coring program if funding were made available for it.

Proponents of the sediment coring program had made short-lived attempts to organize a management consortium in the previous years. Spurred by NSF support, in 1964 four ocean research institutions created the Joint Oceanographic Institutions for Deep Earth Sampling (JOIDES) and proposed it as the scientific management entity for the new pro


 This is the origin of the bureaucratic title given to 'he DSDP in NSF budget and organization documents—the Ocean Sediment Coring Program (OSCP).

Suggested Citation:"Ocean Sciences at the National Sciences Foundation: An Administrative History." National Research Council. 2000. 50 Years of Ocean Discovery: National Science Foundation 1950-2000. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9702.

gram. In a departure from other existing academic consortia such as Associated Universities, Inc., which managed research centers as corporate entities, JOIDES did not incorporate, indicating that one of its members would serve as the operational contractor.

In 1966, Congress provided $5.4 million in "new money" to start the ocean sediment program. NSF accepted a proposal from a JOIDES member, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, to operate the program; scientific guidance would be provided by JOIDES. Two years later, with Glomar Challenger as its platform, DSDP began one of the most productive scientific ventures in NSF history (see Winterer paper in this volume).

Sea Grant: 1966-1970

In 1966, Congress passed the National Sea Grant College Program Act. Sea Grant was modeled on the Land Grant concept that had left an indelible mark on higher education a century before. NSF was assigned responsibility for the new program.

Sea Grant included components that cut across every line organization in NSF--education, basic and applied research, institutional support, and public outreach. In earlier times, NSF would have created a special management office reporting to the NSF Director. Given the nature of Sea Grant, that would probably have been a good choice in this case. However, just having undergone a series of reorganizations designed to assign such functions to line operating units, NSF decided to place Sea Grant under the Associate Director for Research.

The Office of Sea Grant invited proposals in 1967 and made its first awards, totaling $2 million, the following year. The program had its critics. Among the most vocal were other marine research institutions that felt that Sea Grant awardees were not always held to the same standards that were exacted in "standard" research support programs. Because of the administrative decision to place the program in the Research Directorate, such comparisons were probably inevitable.

By the closing years of the decade, the new Nixon Administration was weighing the report of the Stratton Commission, a group appointed by the previous Administration to examine ocean policy issues. One of its recommendations was the establishment of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Sea Grant was among the programs proposed for assignment to the new agency. In the interagency Marine Council, NSF expressed misgivings about creation of the new agency and reassignment of Sea Grant, but was overruled on both points.


It is hard to imagine a sharper contrast than between the optimism and expansiveness of the early 1960s and the pessimism, disenchantment with government programs, and social unrest of the end of the decade. The primary cause was the Vietnam War. For the nation, the science community, the Foundation, and the ocean sciences, it was a time of profound change.

As the budgetary and social pressures of the Vietnam War increased, Navy support for academic oceanography began to decline. The Mansfield Amendment, attached to a Defense Department procurement bill that took effect in 1970, made it unlawful for the Department of Defense to fund projects in basic science unless they were clearly related to a military function or operation. The chilling effect of the prohibition was felt at once throughout the research community. In the ocean sciences, in the space of a few years, ONR dropped from dominance to a minority position in the support of academic research.

Proposals for creation of NOAA, under discussion for several years, would come to fruition in 1970. It had been argued that one of the possible roles for the new agency would be directing centralized operations of regional research fleets. Although this concept was not embodied in the NOAA legislation, it was still popular in some circles, and would recur in one form or another over the next two decades. It helped to spur NSF to take seriously the recommendations for creation of a National Oceanographic Laboratory System (NOLS) to coordinate academic ship operations.

NSF's Management Style Comes Under Attack

By the end of the 1960s, NSF' s management capabilities had come into question in many quarters. Mohole was a public embarrassment, and several NSF education programs had become philosophically and politically controversial. Although they had drawn less public attention, some of NSF's ventures into construction of astronomy facilities had encountered management problems that were well known in the Administration and Congress.

The new Republican Administration was intent on curbing the growth of some of the programs established in the prior decade, and budgets were pressed by the costs of the ongoing Vietnam War. At the same time, the Administration wanted to be sure that civilian agencies picked up some of the research support being dropped by the Department of Defense, particularly research with economic and social relevance. Some Presidential advisors felt that NSF was too passive and not sufficiently concerned with managerial and budgetary realities to be trusted with new programs. A new NSF Director was appointed and given instructions to "clean house."

The Reorganization of 1969-70: Major Changes for the Ocean Sciences

The new NSF Director was given a significant administrative tool in the form of a law that provided him, for the

Suggested Citation:"Ocean Sciences at the National Sciences Foundation: An Administrative History." National Research Council. 2000. 50 Years of Ocean Discovery: National Science Foundation 1950-2000. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9702.

first time, five Presidentially-appointed subordinates—a deputy director and four assistant directors (ADS). He undertook a complete reorganization, bringing in new people to fill the new posts. Assistant directors for Institutional Programs, Education, and Research were named, all with instructions to streamline their respective organizations.

The new Assistant Director for Research (AD/R) decided to unify, at last, the biological and physical sides of ocean sciences. The Biological Oceanography Program was transferred to the Ocean Science Research Section (OSRS) of the Division of Environmental Sciences, joining the existing programs in Physical Oceanography and SG&G. A few years later, Marine Chemistry would be established as a separate program, rounding out the OSRS offerings.

The last of the new AD positions was used to create the Directorate for National and International Programs (AD/NI). A former Chief of Naval Research was appointed to the position and charged with nothing less than revolutionizing NSF's approach to coordinated research and large-scale facilities and centers. The astronomy observatories, National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), and the DSDP were pulled out of their respective research areas and brought together in an Office for National Centers and Facilities (NCF). The Office for Antarctic Programs was transferred from AD/R, as was Sea Grant. The latter, however, would be transferred to NOAA just a few months later.

Responsibilities for oceanographic facilities were also transferred from AD/R, and AD/NI was given the additional duty of Special Project Officer for NOLS—the National Oceanographic Laboratory System—the emerging fleet coordinating entity. A short time later, these functions would be brought together as the Office of Oceanographic Facilities and Support (OFS).

In the late 1960s, the specialized agencies of the United Nations had generated recommendations for a coordinated international research effort in the world's oceans. The idea found strong support among U.S. science advisors. In 1969, the White House announced a special Presidential initiative, the International Decade for Ocean Exploration (IDOE), and assigned responsibility to NSF, along with $15 million in "new money," NSF's favorite currency. The IDOE assignment went to AD/NI.

In many ways, the 1970 reorganization was a major step forward for the ocean sciences. AD/R' s unification of all of the sub-disciplines in the OSRS was an essential and overdue recognition of the comprehensiveness of the field, and enabled NSF to interact more rationally with the community. AD/NI's emphasis on management and accountability brought significant improvements to the Foundation's oversight practices for centers and facilities. For OFS and IDOE, AD/NI proved to be an excellent incubator for the special management attention needed to gear up new programs and create the necessary interagency and international linkages.

On the other hand, the separation of facilities and "big science" from the research project support aspects of their respective disciplines was a controversial move. At a practical level, it created bureaucratic coordination problems for NSF staff and the affected research communities. Perhaps of more concern in the long run, the reorganization underscored the long-standing tensions between "big" and ''small" science by making them direct competitors for NSF resources.

For the ocean sciences, one of the fields most affected by the split between the project research "base" and the larger programs, the reorganization came at a particularly important time. Between the new funding brought into the field by the IDOE and the ongoing reduction in ONR support, NSF had become the lead agency in the support of academic oceanographic research. To some extent, the Foundation's ability to act effectively in that role was weakened by the divided administrative structure for the field.

The International Decade for Ocean Exploration

This paper will offer only brief comments on some of the organizational aspects of IDOE; Feenan Jennings discusses IDOE's scientific legacy later in this volume. As indicated in the prior section, IDOE was created as a Presidential initiative.

The role IDOE set for itself was the sponsorship of a small number of large-scale long-term research projects, drawing on the expertise of specialists from all disciplines, to address scientifically challenging and socially relevant problems in the oceans. Despite its ambitions to support truly inter-disciplinary work, each of IDOE's four major program areas had strong ties to one of the component fields of Ocean Sciences: Seabed Assessment (SG&G); Environmental Forecasting (Physical Oceanography); Environmental Quality (Marine Chemistry); and Living Resources (Biological Oceanography). IDOE made extensive use of planning workshops to achieve the coordination and integration required to meet the program's objectives.

The workshops were also helpful in developing proposals that would consistently meet NSF quality standards. IDOE was committed to the NSF tradition of peer review, using both ad hoc mail and panel reviews. This multi-level review generally ensured excellence in the research core of IDOE projects. However, in the large-scale programs, there were components such as data archival, site surveys, and instrument development that were essential to the overall scientific objectives, but not particularly exciting in their own right. Reviewers more accustomed to looking at stand-alone proposals were sometimes unduly critical of proposals of this type, assigning tepid ratings that made funding hard to justify.

As originally conceived, NSF would pass along as much as half of the IDOE budget to other federal agencies. But the proposals from mission agencies generally farted poorly under peer review. Moreover, mission agencies found it hard to subscribe to the broader goals of IDOE, tending to limit

Suggested Citation:"Ocean Sciences at the National Sciences Foundation: An Administrative History." National Research Council. 2000. 50 Years of Ocean Discovery: National Science Foundation 1950-2000. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9702.

their proposals to components compatible with their ongoing programs. As a result, academic researchers, with only modest engagement of other agencies, eventually carried out most IDOE programs.

Facilities Programs: OFS and UNOLS Evolve Together

The establishment of the Office for Oceanographic Facilities and Support (OFS) and the creation of the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS) coincided with NSF's abrupt assumption of the dominant role in ocean science funding.

Today the "academic fleet" is widely acknowledged as a capable and efficient research establishment. In 1970, the label of "academic fleet" would have been a misnomer; each institution tried to maintain its own operation, competition for funding was intense, and there was little incentive for cooperation in scheduling. In the rapid growth of the preceding decades, it had been almost too easy for institutions to obtain ships. Military surplus ships were converted for research use, as were yachts and tuna clippers. While some of the conversions served well, others were poorly maintained and outfitted, or simply not properly configured for research. Basically, there were more ships in operation than the system could afford.

The task facing OFS and UNOLS was thus not simply to compensate for the decline in Navy funding, but to change the community's way of doing business at sea. Having a ship had become part of an institution's identity as a center for marine research. If institutions were to be persuaded to give up inefficient ship operations, they would have to be convinced that they could still be serious players in ocean research. The key to that assurance would be to ensure that any scientist with a legitimate need for ship time could have access to the supported fleet. That required a change in attitude on the part of operating institutions as well as the scientific community.

The major instrument of that change was UNOLS. As with JOIDES, UNOLS was not an incorporated body, but rather an association of oceanographic institutions—ship operators as well as ship users. One of the participating institutions would serve as home base—the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution offered to be the initial host. In the ensuing years, UNOLS established credibility with ship operators, the larger research community, and NSF and other federal agencies.

OFS brought NSF attention to bear on the long-neglected area of facilities support. Ship operation funds for all NSF-supported research, whether originating in AD/R or AD/NI, were budgeted and administered by OFS. With the changing roles of federal agencies, interagency coordination took on new importance. OFS chaired the interagency negotiations that kept DSRV Alvin in operation and secured access to surplus Navy fuel supplies during the oil crisis in the mid-1970s. New programs were established for shipboard instrumentation, technician support, and oceanographic technology. The design and construction of several classes of mid-sized and coastal research ships was supported.

IDOE also made important contributions to the new approach to facilities use. Its large-scale coordinated programs became the linchpin of the schedules of the larger ships, enabling institutions to plan distant expeditions. IDOE's team approach introduced many senior scientists to the experience of working on ships other than those of their home institutions. Individual investigators were also indirect beneficiaries, because the schedule lead times provided an opportunity for them to seek support for additional projects in the areas visited by IDOE cruises.

The changes did not occur without debate. Ship operating institutions had to surrender much of their independence in scheduling. Decisions to reduce the size of the fleet were invariably controversial: institutional identity might be at stake, and ships generate emotional ties not often associated with inanimate research equipment. The net outcome of the changes, however, was a more capable and cost-effective fleet. Even more important, the new approach to scheduling did a better job of matching the needs of researchers to the facilities most capable of supporting the projects.

The Reorganization of 1975: The Ocean Sciences Are Reunified, But at a Price

In 1975, the NSF organizational pendulum swung again. Part of the reason was the continued "big vs. small" science tension, exacerbated by the complaints of the affected disciplines about the bureaucratic divisions between their "base" research programs and the AD/NI portfolio. Another internal pressure was the view that AD/R, encompassing basic research in all fields, had become unmanageable.

The ostensible purpose of the 1975 change was to restore the grouping of like disciplines as the organizing principle for all NSF research activities. Three new research directorates were established: Mathematical and Physical Sciences (MPS), Biological, Behavioral, and Social Sciences (BBS), and the awkwardly-titled Directorate for Astronomical, Earth and Ocean Sciences (AEOS). The AEOS portfolio also included the Office of Polar Programs and the Division of Atmospheric Sciences. The presence of the latter was soon acknowledged by expanding the title to an even more unmanageable formulation, directorate for Astronomical, Atmospheric, Earth and Ocean Sciences (AAEO), promptly dubbed "A-Squared E-O" by NSF staffers.

The naming problem of the new directorate came about because of the Foundation's continued ambivalence about management of large-scale facilities. Logically, the disciplinary concept should have sent astronomy to MPS, where its intellectual roots in physics and mathematics lay, leaving the environmental sciences to form a separate, coherent directorate. But the positive experience of the prior five years

Suggested Citation:"Ocean Sciences at the National Sciences Foundation: An Administrative History." National Research Council. 2000. 50 Years of Ocean Discovery: National Science Foundation 1950-2000. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9702.

in terms of management improvements in the large-scale operations made NSF wary of that move. Instead, the basic research programs in astronomy were brought into AAEO to join with the operation of the observatories. That decision was vigorously protested by the astronomy community, but it would not be changed for more than a decade.

Another anomaly marked the internal organization of AAEO. The DSDP had been among the large-scale programs assigned to AD/NI in 1970. Although it had intellectual content spanning both the Earth and ocean sciences, the DSDP had been staffed and managed by oceanographers from its inception. Nonetheless, AAEO decided to assign it to the Division of Earth Sciences. The rationale was largely bureaucratic: it made for more symmetrical divisions in terms of budget and program structure. Without the DSDP, Earth Sciences would have been the only part of AAEO that did not have both research and facilities elements. The oceanographic community protested the decision, but to no avail.

For the ocean sciences, the reorganization of 1975 produced mixed results. IDOE and OFS were moved intact from AD/NI to AAEO; OSRS was moved intact from AD/R. The resultant Division of Ocean Sciences thus brought together for the first time all of the research support elements, large and small, and all of the facilities programs, with the exception of the DSDP.

This newfound organizational unity might have been the occasion for a surge of energy in NSF's leadership in the field. Unfortunately, the newly-created position of division director would remain vacant for more than two years. In the interim, the IDOE and OFS section heads alternated as acting division director, but neither had any mandate to complete internal organizational changes or to exert NSF leadership externally on behalf of the division.

This period of organizational limbo was particularly unfortunate on the research side, where tensions between proponents of "big" and "small" continued to grow. With IDOE at its mid-point, leadership toward a comprehensive ocean sciences research portfolio, including both individual and coordinated projects, might have invigorated the remaining years of the IDOE. Instead, resolution was postponed for several years.


The End of the IDOE

1980 marked the official end of the IDOE. Contemporary views of its legacy were mixed. Some IDOE programs were acknowledged as tremendously successful, achieving research objectives that could not have been reached without the cooperative planning and management that characterized the program. Others were considered to have fallen short, not only of IDOE's objectives, but of what might have been accomplished by more traditional individual investigator projects.

As had been the case with the IGY two decades earlier, IDOE had given rise to many ideas for additional research, both large and small in scope. It had encouraged interdisciplinary research, not only within the ocean sciences, but also with other environmental fields. Moreover, the increased funding levels associated with the IDOE would largely be retained by the ocean sciences.

The research support functions were merged into an enlarged OSRS, where the former IDOE sections were restructured and renamed, resulting in an awkward transitional set of eight programs. The distinctions between them were more historic than substantive: "Oceanic Biology" and "Biological Oceanography" coexisted, for example, as did "Chemical Oceanography" and "Marine Chemistry." In 1981, NSF began dismantling the internal management structure for the IDOE. IDOE facility needs had always been handled by OFS, so that element did not require organizational change.

The Ocean Drilling Crisis

By 1980, DSDP had been in operation for 15 years. It had become a truly international program, with foreign participation in every aspect of science planning and operations as well as financial support. Discussion about successor programs had been going on in the community for some time. Three schools of thought had emerged: (1) continue the DSDP with a new ship or rehabilitated Glomar Challenger; (2) begin an Ocean Margin Drilling Program (OMDP), concentrating on deep penetration of a small number of drill sites, using a new advanced platform with riser capability; or (3) begin a new generation Advanced Ocean Drilling Program (AODP) with a new platform and revised management structure. A fourth option was to end ocean drilling altogether. That last view had few adherents in the ocean science community, but was seriously considered by NSF management, Congress, and the Administration.

DSDP was granted a two-year extension while discussions of options grew more heated. When discussions of new drilling options began in the 1970s, senior NSF officials indicated that while international JOIDES scientific direction was welcome, the agency would prefer to deal with an incorporated entity as the primary contractor for any new program. The ten U.S. members of JOIDES created JOI, Inc. Even though the ten continued to be members of JOIDES and participated in the ongoing aspects of the DSDP, the creation of JOI caused unease among the international partners.

Initially, JOI undertook a few small service contracts and special studies related to the DSDP and the future options. Soon, however, by virtue of an agreement among NSF, a consortium of U.S. oil companies, and JOI, Inc., JOI became the prime contractor for developmental work for the margin

Suggested Citation:"Ocean Sciences at the National Sciences Foundation: An Administrative History." National Research Council. 2000. 50 Years of Ocean Discovery: National Science Foundation 1950-2000. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9702.

drilling option. Conceptually, OMDP was proposed as an international program; as a practical matter, it soon became apparent that the proprietary interests of the participating oil companies might preclude foreign participation. International unease about the shape of future drilling gave rise to diplomatic complaints and threats to resign from JOIDES and DSDP sponsorship.

Another complicating factor entered the scene when pressure developed to convert the Glomar Explorer, the enormous spy ship that had been in mothballs since its reputed intelligence missions some years earlier, to serve as the platform for any future drilling program. In the space of three years, the scientific and political debate escalated to become one of the most contentious in the history of NSF. Ultimately, the OMDP experiment was abandoned for both scientific and technical reasons, and Glomar Explorer was rejected as too costly to convert and operate. A final completion date was set for the DSDP, and NSF committed to a new, expanded international drilling program. JOIDES would continue as the scientific monitor, but JOI, Inc., would become the operational contractor. JOI selected Texas A&M University as its primary subcontractor for the Ocean Drilling Program, and the conversion of a large commercial drillship, eventually renamed JOIDES Resolution, was soon underway.

NSF tried a series of organizational changes to deal with the tumultuous arguments over the fate of ocean drilling. In 1980, AAEO pulled DSDP out of the Earth Sciences Division and established an Office of Ocean Drilling Programs. The new office was also assigned responsibility for developing the emerging options. Less than a year later, the office was removed from AAEO control, relocated in the Office of the NSF Director, and renamed the Office of Scientific Ocean Drilling (OSOD).

Late in 1982, OSOD was transferred back to AD/AAEO, and a new program director, the third in two years, was named. Six months later, OSOD was assigned to the Division of Ocean Sciences, with instructions to work toward eventual integration of the drilling activity. At the end of 1984, with the ODP just months from its initial cruise, OSOD was disestablished and ODP was folded into the Oceanographic Facilities Section of the Division of Ocean Sciences. The new entity was named the Oceanographic Centers and Facilities Section (OCFS).

With that change, the Division of Ocean Sciences essentially took the form that it maintains today. The only significant oceanographic support managed elsewhere in NSF is for the Antarctic, under the purview of the Office of Polar Programs.

1986-87: The Directorate for Geosciences Emerges

The last significant organizational change affecting NSF Ocean Sciences occurred at the Directorate level. In 1986, a new NSF Director became concerned by continued complaints from the astronomy community about their "miss-assignment" to AAEO. The AD/AAEO, also newly appointed, concluded that there was merit to the argument of the astronomy community. Moreover, he believed that the environmental sciences had never fulfilled the potential of their organizational co-location, in part because the different interests of astronomy diluted the unified management focus that would be needed. Research thrusts such as global climate and the availability of new satellite and computer technologies called for greater integration across the environmental sciences.

In 1986, the Astronomy Division was reassigned to MPS. Concurrently, the Directorate for Geosciences (GEO) was established, with the focus on "whole earth" research as its unifying principle. With that change, today's management structure for the ocean sciences was essentially complete.


The Foundation's early and enduring decision to organize research support by discipline was, for many years, a source of difficulty for oceanography. When the Foundation was established in 1950, oceanography was a young and evolving field. Profoundly interdisciplinary, it would not find a unified home in the NSF research support portfolio until 1970, at which time the biological and physical subdisciplines were brought together in an Ocean Science Research Section.

The evolution in the ocean sciences was closely linked to the growth of other environmental sciences. Following NSF's successful management of U.S. participation in the International Geophysical Year (1957-1958), the environmental sciences asserted themselves as separate fields with important research objectives and practices of their own. Environmental sciences received increasing recognition and stature in NSF throughout the 1960s and 1970s, but it was not until much later that they fully came into their own with the establishment of the Geosciences Directorate in 1986.

NSF's early institutional certainty about managing individual project research stands in marked contrast to its ambivalence about the support of large-scale research and facilities. Oceanographers were among the first to challenge NSF reticence in this area, and over the years, ocean science has often been a test case generating new NSF policies and arrangements for the management of "big science" and facilities.

Project Mohole dominated NSF management councils from its inception in 1957 until its demise in 1967. That failure gave rise, however, to NSF' s largest and longest-lived experiment in the support of big science, the Deep Sea Drilling Project. Administratively, these programs were set apart from the rest of the ocean sciences until the mid-1980s, at which time the Ocean Drilling Program was finally brought under the purview of the Division of Ocean Sciences.

Suggested Citation:"Ocean Sciences at the National Sciences Foundation: An Administrative History." National Research Council. 2000. 50 Years of Ocean Discovery: National Science Foundation 1950-2000. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9702.

Following on the experience of the IGY, scientists pushed for large-scale coordinated field projects, often in the world's oceans. In the 1960s, such projects were generally handled on an ad hoc basis. In 1970, with support from the United Nations and the White House, the International Decade of Ocean Exploration provided a long-term administrative home in NSF for large-scale coordinated research. Much of the administrative history of the ocean sciences in the 1980s and 1990s dealt with the integration of the IDOE into the regular ocean science research structure and the development of a balanced approach to both large-and small-scale project research.

Support for research ships and other large-scale instrumentation and equipment became part of NSF's portfolio very early on. Indeed, the need to coordinate ship operations support was the driving force in NSF's early attempts, in the 1950s and 1960s, to deal coherently with the diffuse structure of research project support in oceanography. By the 1970s, NSF was the lead agency for federal support of the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System. Oceanographic facilities support and research project support were separately administered in NSF until the Division of Ocean Sciences was established in 1975.

Today' s unified Division of Ocean Sciences, encompassing all fields of project research, large and small, facilities programs, and the Ocean Drilling Program, is thus the product of a long and sometimes difficult administrative evolution. Similarly, the co-location of the environmental sciences in the Geosciences Directorate was a long time in coming. These arrangements have now been in place for more than a decade. NSF's administrative history is characterized by change, growth, and experimentation: what might lie ahead for the ocean sciences in the decade to come?

Suggested Citation:"Ocean Sciences at the National Sciences Foundation: An Administrative History." National Research Council. 2000. 50 Years of Ocean Discovery: National Science Foundation 1950-2000. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/9702.
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This book describes the development of ocean sciences over the past 50 years, highlighting the contributions of the National Science Foundation (NSF) to the field's progress. Many of the individuals who participated in the exciting discoveries in biological oceanography, chemical oceanography, physical oceanography, and marine geology and geophysics describe in the book how the discoveries were made possible by combinations of insightful individuals, new technology, and in some cases, serendipity.

In addition to describing the advance of ocean science, the book examines the institutional structures and technology that made the advances possible and presents visions of the field's future. This book is the first-ever documentation of the history of NSF's Division of Ocean Sciences, how the structure of the division evolved to its present form, and the individuals who have been responsible for ocean sciences at NSF as "rotators" and career staff over the past 50 years.

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