Endorse the System Roadmap Commitee’s Statement on the NSF Portfolio Review

by Kelle on December 3, 2012

Bottom line: Please consider endorsing the System Roadmap Committee’s Statement with several recommendations regarding the implementation of the NSF/AST Portfolio Review that are intended to reflect the views of the broad community by submitting your name and affiliation on this Google FormThe deadline to endorse is this Friday, December 7, 2012.

As I’ve described in previous posts, the National Science Foundation (NSF) budget for Astronomy is not big enough for us do everything we want. “Everything we want” is described and prioritized in the 2010 Decadal Survey, New Worlds, New Horizons (NWNH).  The NSF commissioned a “Portfolio Review” committee to take these priorities and make recommendations for what programs and facilities to keep and what to cut. They published their report [PDF] in August and there have already been several responses: NSF AST Director, Jim Ulvestad’s response [PDF], the AURA Board’s response [PDF], and the NRAO Response. If you are planning on staying involved in Astronomy, it’s never too early to start trying to understand how all of this stuff works and I highly recommend spending some time reading and deciphering these documents, paying particular attention to the implications for the grants and facilities most relevant to your career goals.

As described in the above linked documents, the recommendations of the NSF Portfolio Review have many implications, but one of the most worrisome is the threat to open access ground-based optical-infrared astronomy, and Kitt Peak in particular. Indeed, Kitt Peak has issued a call for expressions of interest from the international community for participation in the operation of the Mayall 4-m and/or the 2.1-m facilities on Kitt Peak. In addition, the Ground-based Optical-Infrared (OIR) System Roadmap Committee (SRC), of which I am a member, has made some recommendations regarding the implementation of the report that are intended to reflect the views of the broad community. Briefly, the recommendations call on NSF to:

  • Maintain the health of the OIR System — Preserve OIR’s ability to match highly motivated people with creative ideas to resources (e.g., vital facilities and instruments), a proven approach to discovery science that preserves the health of the profession.
  • Be flexible in implementing the report — Encourage and enable creative ways to leverage NSF funding to maximize the scientific return from NSF investment in facilities.
  • Preserve opportunity — Explore and encourage new funding arrangements for Kitt Peak facilities.
  • Preserve and coordinate investment in instrumentation.
  • Engage AURA in maximizing the cost efficiency of NSF-funded OIR facilities.

Please review the full statement and, if you agree with it and are a professional astronomer (graduate student signatories welcome), we ask that you personally endorse it. While there are already many endorsers, we would like to get as many signatories as possible in order to demonstrate the community opinion. To endorse the statement, visit the System Roadmap Committee’s petition (Google Form) and enter your name and affiliation, check the “I endorse the statement” box, and hit “Submit”. You may also endorse the statement by sending an email to system.roadmap@gmail.com. The deadline to endorse is this Friday, December 7, 2012.

Comments and questions on the statement are welcome below, in the comment thread on the System Roadmap webpage, or by email to system.roadmap@gmail.com.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Eilat December 3, 2012 at 12:14 pm

I *think* I already endorsed it, but honestly can’t remember. Is there a way to see the list of endorsers? If now, I could re- endorse, but I worry it may seem like stuffing the ballot box. Can anyone advise?

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2 Kelle December 3, 2012 at 12:48 pm

- list of endorsers: http://ast.noao.edu/node/207
- and yes, you did already endorse it. :)

3 Aleks Diamond-Stanic December 6, 2012 at 2:25 pm

I thought the Portfolio Review made two clear points:

(1) The funding assumed by New Worlds New Horizons was over-optimistic by a factor of two (e.g., Figure 3.3 of the report).
(2) In a more realistic funding scenario, maintaining the status quo for NSF/AST facilities would imply severe cuts for individual grants, mid-scale projects, and new initiatives (e.g., Figure 3.4 of the report).

I appreciated how the Portfolio Review made a clear statement of the problem (i.e., we can’t have “everything we want”, as stated in this post). While I agree with the vast majority of the points made in the System Roadmap Committee Statement, my concern is that there is no clear statement of the problem and no specific funding solution. I worry about the extent to which we are asking NSF/AST to do things that it does not have the money to do. My hope for a solution is that at least a small fraction of people who are endorsing the SRC statement are also sending “expressions of interest” to Timothy Beers.

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