Appendix D. U.S. Global Change Research Program Organization and Management

The USGCRP Mandate

The USGCRP was established in 1989, and was included as a Presidential Initiative in the FY90 budget as a high-priority research effort, designed to:

Congress codified the USGCRP in the Global Change Research Act of 1990, in order to provide for:

The Global Change Research Act defines global change as "changes in the global environment (including alterations in climate, land productivity, oceans or other water resources, atmospheric chemistry, and ecological systems) that may alter the capacity of the Earth to sustain life."

This mandate for the USGCRP makes it clear that the program is to have a broad scope and consider the full set of issues dealing with actual and potential global environmental change. This approach recognizes the profound economic, social, and ecological implications of global changes and the need to maintain U.S. leadership in this area.

Since its inception, the USGCRP has been directed toward strengthening research on key scientific issues, and has fostered much improved insight into the processes and interactions of the Earth system. The results of research supported by the USGCRP play an important role in international scientific assessments, including assessments of climate change and stratospheric ozone depletion. The USGCRP research results provide the scientific information base that underpins consideration of possible response strategies, but the USGCRP does not recommend policies on global change issues, nor does it include support for research and development of energy technologies, for development of mitigation strategies, or for the Climate Change Action Plan.

Presidents Bush and Clinton, and Congress, have supported the USGCRP as a high priority in the national scientific research agenda.

Program Direction and Agency Research Contributions

The Subcommittee on Global Change Research (SGCR) of the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources (CENR), a component of the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), provides overall direction and executive oversight of the USGCRP. Within this framework, agencies manage and coordinate Federally supported scientific research on global change. In addition to USGCRP review of the overall set of agency research programs, each agency is responsible for the review of individual projects within its programs. These reviews are almost exclusively based on an external peer- review process, which is deemed an important means of ensuring continued program quality.

The Global Change Research Act specifies a minimum of 14 Federal agencies, as well as planning and oversight offices of the Executive Office of the President, to be represented in the oversight of global change research. The SGCR currently includes representation from the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), Defense, Energy, Health and Human Services (National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences), Interior (U.S. Geological Survey), and State; the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Science Foundation, and the Smithsonian Institution; and liaison representation from the Executive Office of the President (Office of Science and Technology Policy and Office of Management and Budget), the National Research Council, the Council on Environmental Quality, and the Office of the Federal Coordinator for Meteorology.

A few of the agencies participating in the USGCRP support research on a broad range of issues, while others have a more specialized focus. Programmatic contributions are closely matched to agency missions and areas of expertise.

Thus, for example, NASA leads efforts relating to satellite observations of the Earth as well as research to interpret and understand these observations; NOAA leads efforts relating to its interests in improving predictions of atmospheric and oceanic behavior; DOE focuses on research to predict the behavior of the global climate system on decade to century time scales in response to changes in atmospheric composition, and to evaluate the contribution of energy-based emissions to climate change; NSF focuses on broadly based fundamental research to improve understanding of the Earth system; USDA focuses on the roles of and consequences for agriculture, food production, and forests of global-scale environmental change; NIH focuses on potential health-related impacts; DOI focuses on climate system history and impacts on water resources and public lands; EPA focuses on ecosystem and societal impacts of global change; DOD focuses on prediction of seasonal climate anomalies affecting its national security operations; and the Smithsonian Institution focuses on improving knowledge of the natural processes involved in global change.

Organization and Management Plan

In April 1997, the SGCR approved a new Organization and Management Plan to explain and document the programmatic and management structure of the USGCRP. The Organization and Management Plan establishes a set of formal interagency panels and working groups composed of agency program leaders. Under the overall direction of the SGCR, these program leaders will assume responsibility for program direction and coordination in each of the following areas:

  1. Program panels for four global environmental research issues: Seasonal to Interannual Climate Variability; Climate Change over Decades to Centuries; Changes in Ozone, UV Radiation, and Atmospheric Chemistry; and Changes in Land Cover and in Terrestrial and Aquatic Ecosystems.
  2. Working groups for four integrating issues: Integrated Global Observing and Monitoring Systems; Global Change Data, Products, and Information Services; Earth System Science; and Human Contributions and Responses to Global Change.
  3. Working groups for functional issues: International Research Collaboration and Coordination; Global Change Education and Communications; and Assessment of the Consequences and Impacts of Global Change at Regional and National Scales.
Although these various aspects of the USGCRP can be differentiated, it is important to recognize that they are also closely coupled and that a major responsibility of the SGCR is to sustain the cohesiveness of the overriding responsibility to treat the Earth system as an integrated whole. The Organization and Management Plan defines the new structure and responsibilities of the panels and working groups and the organizational structure for both encouraging and coordinating this set of efforts.

The Organization and Management Plan continues the operation of the Coordination Office of the U.S. Global Change Research Program, which was established in 1993 to support program coordination and management. The USGCRP Office, which is staffed by the participating agencies and departments, is responsible for facilitating the year-to- year planning and day-to-day coordination and communication needs of the program, coordinating the preparation of the annual edition of Our Changing Planet  and periodic research plans, maintaining budget and technical databases on USGCRP programs, and other functions in support of the SGCR.

The planning, coordination, and execution of USGCRP research activities are carried out in close association with and in support of the science priorities of the international research community-- particularly those put forth by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the World Climate Research Programme, the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, and the International Human Dimensions of Global Environmental Change Programme. These efforts underpin U.S. participation in and contributions to the international assessments related to aspects of global change.

The USGCRP maintains an active interaction with the National Academy of Sciences complex through the Board on Sustainable Development, the Committee on Global Change Research, and several other boards, committees, and panels of the National Research Council that interface with many of the international scientific research programs. Groups under the National Research Council evaluate the USGCRP periodically for scientific merit and continued relevance.


1 Committee on Earth Sciences, U.S. Global Change Research Program. Our Changing Planet: The FY 1990 Research Plan, July 1989.

2 Global Change Research Act of 1990, 15 USC 2921.

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