Dr. Mark Schaefer
Assistant Director for Environment
Subcommittee on Toxic Substances, Research, and Development
Committee on Environment and Public Works
United States Senate
July 21, 1994
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, my name is Mark Schaefer. I am the Assistant Director for Environment in the Office of Science and Technology Policy. I appreciate the opportunity to meet with you this morning to discuss the Administration's efforts to enhance federal environmental and natural resources research and development (R&D) programs. The Administration is fully committed to working with Congress to improve federal environment and natural resources R&D programs.
World population and industrial activities have increased dramatically during the last century, and human activities are affecting the environment at all geographical scales from local to regional to global. The range of environmental issues is diverse and encompasses such issues as pesticides and toxic substances, hazardous and solid waste disposal, water quality and quantity, urban and rural air pollution, resource use and management, loss of wetlands, soil erosion, degradation of aquatic and terrestrial ecological systems, desertification, deforestation, marine pollution, natural disasters, loss of biological diversity, stratospheric ozone depletion, and climate change. These issues are interrelated and are no longer the sole concern of the scientific community and environmentalists. Their importance is now well recognized by the private sector and governments around the world. Sound national and international environmental policies must be based on a solid foundation of scientific, technical, and economic understanding of the relevant facts. This understanding will allow us to meet a number of key Administration and Congressional priorities:
-- a cleaner environment, by providing the scientific and technical information needed to continue to refine environmental and economic policies;
-- a healthier safer America, by improving our understanding of the human health implications of environmental changes and the societal vulnerabilities to natural hazards;
-- a stronger economy, through the continued development of cost-effective pollution prevention technologies, and a reduction of market and government inefficiencies that prevent the diffusion of technologies and efficient use of legal, economic and environmental resources;
-- national security, by providing the information needed to reduce destabilizing environmental degradation and resource depletion that leads to conflict, environmental refugees, and further ecological damage resulting from war; and
-- an improved education and training of Americans through environmental education curriculum development and strengthening environmental continuing education initiatives, utilizing such mechanisms as government-private sector partnerships.
Given the increasing complexity, scope and linking of local, regional and global environmental issues facing our nation and globe, significant changes are needed in the federal environment and natural resources R&D system. The classical single agency, single scientific discipline approach to problem solving needs to be transcended by a coordinated multi-agency interdisciplinary approach. The problems will only be understood by bringing together natural and social scientists, economists, engineers and policymakers.
Several recent reports have criticized the federal environmental research and development system and its relationship to environmental policy formulation:
-- the Carnegie Commission on Science, Technology, and Government, December 1992: Environmental Research and Development: Strengthening the Federal Infrastructure;
-- the National Commission on the Environment, 1993: Choosing a Sustainable Future;
-- the National Research Council, 1993: Research to Protect, Restore and Manage the Environment;
-- the Committee for the National Institute for the Environment, 1993: A Proposal for a National Institute for the Environment: Need, Rationale, and Structure;
-- the Office of Technology Assessment, October 1993: Preparing for an Uncertain Climate;
-- the Environmental Protection Agency, 1992. Safeguarding the Future: Credible Science, Credible Decisions; and
-- the National Research Council, 1993. A Biological Survey for the Nation.
The major issues raised by these reports include:
-- no clear leadership;
-- inadequate links between research and policy;
-- no comprehensive national environmental research plan;
-- no comprehensive think tank for assessing state of knowledge;
-- no approach to research issues beyond near-term regulatory or management needs;
-- an imbalance between intramural and extramural R&D;
-- a lack of funding for ecological and social sciences, and for finding engineering solutions to environmental problems;
-- insufficient attention to long-term monitoring, data collection and management, and interpretation.
-- the need for improved education and training of people.
In general, the Administration believes that these criticisms are based in fact and must be addressed. Consequently, it has already enacted a number of major changes to rectify these apparent weaknesses in the environmental R&D structure and in the links between science and policy. At present the Administration believes that there is no compelling reason for a fundamental restructuring of the research agencies or to create any new entities given the changes it has already initiated. These changes need to be given an opportunity to work before taking further steps.
The Administration has taken a number of steps that respond to these criticisms:
-- creating the Office of Environmental Policy (OEP);
-- creating the National Biological Survey (NBS);
-- signing the Convention on Biological Diversity;
-- creating the Environment Division in Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP);
-- elevating the Federal Coordinating Committee on Science, Engineering and Technology (FCCSET), to the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC);
-- creating the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources (CENR) within the NSTC, which builds upon the earlier efforts of the FCCSET Committee of Earth and Environmental Sciences;
-- creating the President's Committee of Advisors for Science and Technology (PCAST);
-- proposing the elevation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to Cabinet status;
-- strengthening the links between science and policy through the CENR;
-- strengthening the assessment capabilities through the CENR;
-- enhancing support for environmental R&D, despite limits on discretionary spending;
-- developing an environmental R&D strategy through the CENR;
-- expanding the scope of environmental R&D, through increased emphasis on the socio-economic dimensions, impacts assessment, adaptation and mitigation, and the development and utilization of science-policy tools in the FY 1995 budget.
The following section briefly describes Administration actions to specifically address the major issues raised by the reports.
Creating federal leadership for environment and natural resources R&D
Through all the steps listed above, the Administration has demonstrated its leadership and commitment to a strong, integrated and comprehensive federal program of environmental R&D.
In particular, the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources is leading the effort to coordinate all federal environment and natural resource research and development activities, and improve the links between the scientific and policy components of the executive branch. A unique aspect of the CENR is that subcommittees are organized by key environmental policy areas. This subcommittee structure was created recognizing that coordinated, interdisciplinary, multi-agency, R&D efforts are required to respond effectively to complicated environmental problems.
The strength of the CENR, and its subcommittees, is that it has active participation from all relevant agencies and offices of the White House, including OSTP and OMB during all phases of the budget process. The CENR is not a top- down decision- making entity of the White House; if it were, it would fail. The CENR will work because there is buy-in at all levels of the agencies from program managers and from agency heads. R&D priorities must, and will, explicitly take into account Administration priorities, environmental statutes, and international Conventions. Agency agendas that are consistent with the priorities of the interagency process are likely to have highest priority in the budget process. The challenge is to increase the total amount of resources available to environmental and natural resources R&D and to identify areas of lower priority or where unnecessary redundancies exist. This identification is being done by agencies working with the CENR subcommittees.
The structure of the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources is shown in attached chart. The objectives of the committee include:
-- maintaining, and improving, a strong science base for environmental and natural resource issues;
-- developing a balanced, comprehensive environmental and natural resources R&D program that provides the scientific and technical basis for national and international policymaking;
-- strengthening research on: the socioeconomic aspects of environmental changes; the impacts of environmental changes on human health, ecological and socio-economic systems; adaptation to environmental changes; and the mitigation of environmental changes;
-- creating an organization that improves the way that the federal government plans and coordinates environmental and natural resource R&D activities;
-- establishing a structure for developing environment and natural resources budget inventories;
-- developing a strategy to strengthen extramural academic R&D programs;
-- promoting the utilization of merit-review and peer evaluation and competitive selection in federal R&D projects;
-- developing the tools needed for policy formulation, e.g., integrated models and risk assessments;
-- creating a body to link science and policy.
Environmental issue subcommittees
-- Global Change: The scope should be comparable to the existing USGCRP, i.e., includes climate change (broad definition) and stratospheric ozone, but with increased emphasis on socioeconomic dimensions, impacts, adaptation, mitigation, and integrated assessments.
-- Biological Diversity and Ecosystem Dynamics: Biodiversity (population/community; systematic biology/surveys; habitat analysis; and conservation biology); and ecological dynamics (physiology and biochemical ecology; genetic processes and responses; basic ecosystem processes; and population/community response to stress).
-- Resource Use and Depletion: Management, conservation and extraction of renewable (terrestrial and marine ecosystems, including grasslands, wetlands, fisheries, and forests), and non-renewable resources (oil, gas, minerals, and coal).
-- Toxic Substances and Hazardous and Solid Waste: Environmental toxicants (e.g., pesticides, hazardous waste, solid waste, and oil spills).
-- Air Quality: Ambient air pollutants (oxidants and their precursors, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and particulates); acid deposition and its precursors, and indoor air.
-- Water Resources and Coastal and Marine Environments: Water quality and quantity, integrated watershed management, and coastal and marine systems
-- Natural Disasters: The scope encompasses weather related hazards (storms, hurricanes, typhoons, tornadoes, floods, droughts), geological hazards (volcanoes, earthquakes), and wildfires.
Program content of each issue subcommittee
Each subcommittee has established its own working group structure, and has developed a balanced, comprehensive R&D program that covers the following aspects of the issue: structure and function of the system, socioeconomic driving forces of environmental change, impacts of environmental change, adaptation to environmental change, mitigation of environmental change, and assessment.
Strengthening links between research and policy
The Administration recognizes that for the past decade or more the link between the scientific and policy formulation agencies has been too weak. Consequently, the Administration has taken some initial steps to improve significantly the integration of environmental research with policymaking and resource use management decisions:
-- a senior-level interagency committee, co-chaired by members from the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Council of Economic Advisors, and the Office of Environmental Policy, has been formed to provide an effective science-technology-economics-policy link across all sub-committees of the CENR, through close interaction with both technical and policy offices within the White House and the agencies;
-- each subcommittee of the CENR has a senior level policy vice-chair, ensuring that the policy agencies will play a vital role in setting environmental R&D priorities;
-- each environmental issue subcommittee, with membership from both the science and policy branches of agencies, will have an assessment function, to include all stakeholders in the evaluation of the current state of knowledge for addressing these environmental problems;
-- a data and information working group has been formed within the CENR, reporting directly to the executive committee, that will, with stakeholder participation (including, academia, industry, environmental organizations, Congress, State and local government), work to develop a distributed system that ensures rapid access by all users to scientific, technical, and economic environmental information.
The risk assessment subcommittee will examine a range of scientific and technical issues in the risk assessment and risk management area. Its work will complement the broader policy- oriented efforts of the interagency working group on risk, which is examining issues related to the interface of risk analysis and cost- benefit analysis and the appropriate use of these tools in setting regulatory priorities. The subcommittee will examine such issues as comparability across agencies in undertaking risk assessments, ways to better integrate socioeconomic considerations into risk analyses, approaches to advancing the assessment of ecological and non cancer risks, and possible mechanisms to undertake comparative risk analyses.
Developing a comprehensive national environmental research plan
The Administration is committed to formulating an environment and natural resources R&D strategy through the CENR. The charge to the CENR is to design a balanced environmental R&D program that is:
-- scientifically excellent;
-- policy relevant, not policy driven;
-- well coordinated between federal agency programs and private sector programs;
-- meets the near- and long-term needs of the scientific and policy communities;
-- broad enough to catch, and respond, to surprises;
-- anticipatory, and not just focused on the policy and management issues of today.
The CENR has been structured with respect to both scope and membership so that it can develop and implement, in concert with non-federal partners, a comprehensive environment and natural resources R&D strategy. The CENR has already taken a number of steps toward developing this strategy.
-- The environmental issue and cross-cutting subcommittees of the CENR developed a set of draft strategy documents that presented initial views on: an environmental vision; near-and long-term policy questions; the scientific information needed to answer the policy questions; the scientific goal of each CENR subcommittee; the current state of scientific knowledge; the highest priority scientific needs; and a strategy to develop the required scientific knowledge.
-- The draft strategies were presented to more than 200 non-federal scientists from academia, industry, environmental organizations, Congress, and State and local government, at a White House sponsored scientific forum that was hosted at the National Academy of Sciences from March 28-30. The specific goal of the fora was to develop an initial set of priorities for a federal environment and natural resources R&D program based on the perspectives of a wide range of interests. Senior members of the Administration, including Vice President Gore, Bruce Babbitt, John Gibbons, Carol Browner, Jim Baker, and Katie McGinty, addressed the forum participants.
-- The experts reviewed the material presented and identified important near-term priorities for funding. The major conclusions of the forum are being used to guide the Agencies as they develop their FY 1996 budgets, are summarized below. The key conclusion was that there needs to be more attention paid to scientific basis for integrated ecosystem management; socio-economic dimensions of environmental change; the development of science-policy tools such as integrated assessments and risk analysis; observations, and data and information systems; and environmental technologies.
-- The next step is to further refine these "environmental issue" strategy papers. Additional sections will be included, such as a description of the roles of the different agencies, a plan for implementing the strategy, and a list of performance milestones to assess relevance, progress, and cost-effectiveness. These issue strategies will then be integrated into an initial federal environment and natural resource R&D strategy by fall 1994.
New approach for assessing state of knowledge
The Administration is committed to strengthening the manner in which the federal government performs assessments, particularly integrated assessments, which provide a bridge for a two-way dialogue between policymakers and scientists. The policymakers need to articulate the challenges they face in pursuing a particular environmental objective, while the scientists must convey to the policymaker a sense of the degree of understanding of the environmental problem; the physical, biological, and socioeconomic issues that underlie it; and alternative approaches to responding, mitigating, or adapting to it.
The CENR is currently developing a set of principles that should be used, and mechanisms that could be used, to conduct credible scientific and technical assessments. The principles that should be applied, independent of the mechanism employed, will likely include the involvement of all stakeholders, as appropriate and an independent peer-review process. The mechanism chosen would depend upon a number of factors, including the scope and audience of the assessment, and the deadline for completion of the assessment. The CENR will develop a credible flexible approach for conducting environmental assessments.
In addition to legislatively mandated environmental assessments conducted by individual agencies, assessments could, and should, be conducted by: (a) subcommittees of the CENR; (b) the White House science-policy assessment group, co-chaired by OSTP, CEA, and OEP; and (c) the National Academy of Sciences/National Academy of Engineering and Institute of Medicine, depending upon the scope of the assessment under consideration. The Administration has begun work on (a) and (b), and has started a dialogue with the NAS/NAE/IOM with respect to option (c).
We believe the combination of these three new mechanisms for performing assessments across a wide variety of environmental issues will fully utilize the strengths of the academic community and the federal agencies, together with other key stakeholders, while being responsive to policymakers needs without requiring the creation of any new agencies or institutions.
Research strategy that goes beyond near-term regulatory and management needs
While many of the environmental research programs may be too near-term and policy driven, some of the largest federal R&D programs have a long-term perspective, and some have actually been criticized for being too long-term and not adequately near-term and policy relevant.
One example of a federal research program that has combined excellence in scientific content, coordination with private sector research, and has balanced near-and long-term policy requirements is the federal stratospheric ozone program. The federal research program, which was primarily housed in NASA, NOAA and NSF, provided most of the scientific information that formed the basis for both national and international policy formulation. However, even this program was not adequately balanced to meet the complete needs of the decision makers. While NASA, NOAA and NSF developed a robust program to understand quantitatively the impact of human activities on the abundance and distribution of ozone, agencies responsible for impacts research did not aggressively pursue a program to understand the implications of ozone depletion on human health, ecological and economic systems.
As the CENR subcommittees develop their research strategies and implementation plans, they will explicitly consider both near- and long-term priorities.
Approach to redress the imbalance between intramural and extramural R&D by utilizing merit review, peer evaluation and competitive selection in federal R&D projects
The Administration plans increase the involvement of the academic community through merit review, peer-evaluation and the competitive selection of federal R&D projects. In addition, we plan to improve the evaluation procedures and quality of federal R&D efforts. The style of external peer-review may, in some instances, need to be tailored according to agency mission.
The Administration believes that the imbalance between extramural and intramural R&D programs is a significant weakness of our federal environmental R&D system. "Intramural" refers to those R&D programs conducted within a department or agency and its laboratories. Extramural programs are activities supported by the federal government through grants, contracts, cooperative research and development agreements, or other mechanisms. Some agencies have relatively large extramural programs. NASA's Mission to Planet Earth program, for example, is all competitively peer-reviewed and has a large extramural component. Other agency programs are almost entirely intramural. EPA's extramural program includes university-based research (i.e., through grants and cooperative research agreements) and contract research, but the agency has limited funding for competitive grants. This deprives the agency of a mechanism to reach many of the best academic scientists and engineers in the nation. The Administration proposes that all federal agencies take a careful look at the balance between intramural and extramural environmental R&D activities within their agencies with the goal of increasing the involvement of the academic community by competitively awarding most R&D activities, in a manner similar to NSF and NASA. In addition, there may be instances where the quality of the research endeavor may be strengthened by combining the intellectual talent residing in the universities with the institutional capabilities of the federal laboratories, thus improving the overall quality and cost-effectiveness of then Federal research program.
Following procedures put in place by the Committee on Earth and Environmental Sciences for the U.S. Global Change Research Program, we plan to develop performance standards and foster a process of measuring progress, identifying gaps, and assessing the effectiveness of agency activities. In this management arrangement, meaningful performance measures for major elements of the CENR strategy will be developed and tracked, providing periodic evaluations of both individual projects and the strategy as a whole.
Increased funding for ecological and social sciences, and for finding engineering solutions to environmental problems
The Administration recognizes that there has been insufficient attention to the ecological sciences, the socioeconomic dimensions of environmental problems, and for engineering solutions to environmental problems.
Biological sciences: The ecological sciences are clearly underfunded in comparison to the physical sciences in the study of some environmental issues, e.g., climate change and ozone depletion. In 1993 the FCCSET Subcommittee for Environmental Biology performed an analysis of the federal environmental biology budget and reported an annual expenditure of over $900 million, a level comparable to that spent on the study of the physical and chemical aspects of global change. However, the NRC Corson report noted that 50 percent of all ecological experiments are performed on plots of less than one meter squared, and only 7 percent last longer than seven years. This suggests that more long-term, large scale ecological studies need to be performed. Additionally, it is clear that there needs to be an increased emphasis on understanding the interactions among biodiversity, ecosystem dynamics and management, and environmental degradation. The President's FY 1995 budget for the USGCRP, the DOI National Biological Survey, and EPA, through its integrated ecological research program, shows that steps are being taken to enhance comprehensive ecological research.
Social sciences: While it is well recognized that environmental change has both anthropogenic and natural components, our understanding of the human dimensions of environmental change will not improve until more resources are committed to studies of this kind. The President's FY 1995 USGCRP budget, within the NSF, reflects an increased emphasis for this type of research.
Engineering: The Administration has already moved aggressively to increase the level of funding for research and development for environmental technologies in several agencies: EPA, DOE, Commerce (NIST). In addition, DoD has been charged with increasing its efforts on dual-use technologies. The President's FY 1995 budget for energy efficiency and renewable energies reflect an increased emphasis on these areas of research, with the total federal budget for environmental technologies exceeding $4 billion.
Increased attention to long-term monitoring, data collection and management, and interpretation.
The Administration agrees that inadequate attention has been paid to monitoring and assessing environmental trends and consequences. Vast quantities of data on environmental quality are generated, but historically there has been insufficient attention to the collection, quality assurance, management and interpretation of data. Thus, data is not readily accessible to investigators within and outside the federal government. In some areas we have instituted major programs to organize data; in other areas, data management is severely lacking. For example, through the EOSDIS program, NASA, working closely with NOAA and other agencies, is organizing remote sensing data.
There is a recognized need for coordinating the monitoring, evaluation, and reporting on these trends. The federal system should improve the tracking and regular reporting on major environmental trends, from climate change, to water quality, to the exposure of individuals to pollutants and the health consequences of exposure. In some areas there is already a significant, but not fully adequate, amount of effort.
The Administration believes that we can significantly improve our collection and dissemination of data and information by developing an evolutionary and cooperative international environmental monitoring and information system, using civilian and dual-use technologies. This system will support the identification of trends, advancement of scientific understanding, and the development of prediction systems, but will require the successful implementation of an international policy for securing open and stable exchange of environmental data and information. A multi-step strategy is proposed, including inventorying, collecting and assessing existing data sets for a range of environment and natural resources issues; increased use of existing "operational" monitoring systems, by making minor modifications, thus enhancing the value of ongoing observations; improve existing monitoring systems and data bases to develop enhanced observational capabilities; improved data collection, data sharing, data base management, and information systems building upon the evolutionary concepts of initiatives such as EOSDIS and the NII, and consistent with the terms and conditions of the executive order on a National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) coordinated through the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC).
The Administration has already embarked on a number of activities that will improve our ability to determine environmental trends: the reorganization of DOI to create the National Biological Survey; the implementation of the EPA Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program to assess the status and trends of ecological resources and stressors; the development of a single converged meteorological and environmental monitoring polar-orbiting satellite system; and the design of the U.S. component of an integrated international ground- and space-based system for long-term systematic observations, including the data management system, of the environment and natural resources.
Improved education and training of people
The Administration acknowledges the need for improved environmental education and training. One of the high priorities for the NSTC Committee for Education and Training will be to assess how to improve education and training on environmental issues at all levels.
The Administration has made significant progress toward to dealing with the issues that this Committee and others have legitimately raised. The Administration has mounted a substantial and well-orchestrated effort to conduct environment and natural resources R&D, which is both scientifically sound and policy-relevant. In establishing the CENR, the Administration has created a mechanism to better develop an R&D strategy and coordinate agency efforts. Under the NSTC, the CENR elevates the level of guidance to that of agency leaders, while maintaining and enhancing the quality of agency R&D manager participation.
We have already taken a number of significant actions, and will be moving rapidly in the coming months to implement the objectives of the CENR that have been outlined in our testimony today and are summarized below:
-- provide a higher proportion of federal R&D funds to support competitive, peer-reviewed, extramural research;
-- devote more funds to areas such as the social and ecological sciences, and environmental technologies;
-- ensure the development of the science-policy tools required for policy formulation, e.g., integrated assessment models;
-- improve data and information activities;
-- enable credible comprehensive national or international assessments to be performed involving all stakeholders (government, industry, and environmental scientists and decision makers);
-- improve education and training on environmental issues at all levels.
We would like to express our gratitude to this Committee for holding this hearing and we value your participation in helping to make our coordinated environment and natural resources R&D efforts more effective.