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5 Evaluating and Balancing the Operational Portfolio
Pages 154-165

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From page 154...
... The vitality of these facilities is routinely assessed, with NASA and NSF engaging in periodic reviews of their portfolios of operating missions and facilities. The importance of evaluating the operational mission/facility portfolios on a regular basis was underscored by the 2000 and 2010 astronomy and astrophysics decadal surveys, and for NASA in a 2016 National Academies study of NASA mission extensions and the senior review process.2 All of these studies emphasized the importance of such reviews to optimize the scientific return on these facilities investments.
From page 155...
... , and for establishing criteria and a decision process for terminating missions. Its 3-year cadence ensures that all projects regularly document their scientific productivity, user demand, data products, operational plans, and budget allocations on a regular basis.
From page 156...
... : Operations and Maintenance Costs -- The Committee is concerned that operations and maintenance costs for NSF-funded research facilities require an increasingly large percentage of the funding for Research and Related Activities, especially in a budget environment where overall domestic spending is restrained and annual operations and maintenance costs increase faster than overall NSF spending. The Board is directed to consider whether this issue merits a change in NSF's funding principles or budgetary formulation processes, including considering the research infrastructure funding approaches within other Federal agencies, and whether a separate operations account is merited.
From page 157...
... Without such action, the community will be unable to do so because at current budget levels the anticipated facilities operations costs are not consistent with the program balance that ensures scientific productivity."5 As this committee assessed the ambitious set of proposed MREFC projects for the coming decade, it became clear that to implement any of them, and at the same time support continuation of the world-leading observatories such as Rubin, DKIST, ALMA, the JVLA, and Gemini, requires a fundamental change in the budgets available for AST O&M. The major projects presented to this survey carry capital costs to the MREFC line ranging from hundreds of millions to approximately $2.5 billion 4 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2016, New Worlds, New Horizons: A Midterm Assessment, Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, https://doi.org/10.17226/23560.
From page 158...
... 5.1.2 Managing the NSF Facilities Portfolio As highlighted earlier, periodic reviews by NASA and NSF of their portfolios have proven to be effective mechanisms for maximizing science return and prioritizing budgets. The NASA Senior Review, which is undertaken every 3 years, has proven to be an extremely effective way to maintain high scientific productivity while managing costs.
From page 159...
... Similarly to the NASA Senior Review process, NSF facility reviews would focus on scientific promise, productivity, and budgetary efficiency. The committee appreciates that some aspects of facility reviews have taken place as parts of the review of operating agreements for observatories, but such reviews are not an appropriate substitute for a review which considers the entire portfolio simultaneously on a holistic basis.
From page 160...
... A number of MSIP projects did provide public access time, for example 40 Keck telescope nights over 4 years resulting from funding for the Keck Planet Finder, 60 public nights per year on the Center for High Resolution Astronomy (CHARA) array, 2840 hours per year on the Las Cumbres Observatory global telescope network, and public-access targets of opportunity observations on ZTF,6 the latter two mainly for time-domain applications.
From page 161...
... On the recommendation of the Astro2000 decadal survey, NSF established the concept of the "OIR system," which was intended to balance and optimize coordination of the national and private observatories. Ten years later the NWNH report concluded that "Optimizing the long-term science return PREPUBLICATION COPY – SUBJECT TO FURTHER EDITORIAL CORRECTION 5-8
From page 162...
... investment in future facilities." Following both reports, NSF organized strategic planning committees to develop decadal roadmaps for optimizing the OIR system, and these led to significant advances, not the least the coordination of public access to privately-run facilities as described earlier. There is value in expanding this model beyond an ad hoc committee which issues a report once per decade, towards a standing committee which would facilitate dialog between the diverse set of OIR stakeholder institutions, and serve in the coordinating role envisaged above.
From page 163...
... ,9 our priorities for radio astronomy are: the support of existing facilities; the phased build-up toward the ngVLA; and competed small and mid-scale projects, all undertaken in an international context. Both because of its location and its communities, Puerto Rico has an important role to play in the future of radio astronomy, and it remains a good site for investing in mid-scale radio 9 D
From page 164...
... Conclusion: Much of the science relevant to the Astro2020 goals lost with Arecibo can be recovered through additional investment in existing facilities, and through international partnerships, while the new facilities recommended by this survey are realized. 5.2 NASA OPERATIONAL FACILITIES NASA has a well-defined and effective process, the Astrophysics Senior Review of Operating Missions, proven to be effective in setting funding priorities and for establishing criteria and a decision process for terminating missions.
From page 165...
... Thus, the survey committee found no path by which SOFIA can significantly increase its scientific output or relevance to a degree that is commensurate with its cost. Conclusion: The cost of SOFIA's yearly budget is comparable to NASA's Hubble and Chandra flagship missions, yet the scientific productivity is significantly lower.


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