State of the UNAVCO Consortium

Presented by Will Prescott
at the
2003 UNAVCO Annual Business Meeting
Tenaya, California
20 June 2003

Thank you all for giving up your evening to attend our annual business meeting.


First, I would like to welcome those new members/applicants of the consortium who have applied or joined since our last meeting in Colorado Springs a year ago.
Columbia U., Lamont, Mikhail Kogan
Purdue U., Eric Calais
Russian Academy, Grigory Steblov
U. Hawaii, Mike Bevis
U. Arkansas, Glen Mattioli

I would like to take a few minutes tonight to discuss the current State of the Consortium.


I will divide my comments into three categories: the Good, the Bad and the Plans. Let me start by summarizing the Good News.

Good news

In the waning days of the 20th century, a decision was made to split UNAVCO away from UCAR and incorporate as an independent entity. With a lot of work on the part of a lot of people, this happened on the 24th of April 2001. In October 2002, just 9 months ago, UNAVCO headquarters hired its first employees and moved into its first office. For those of you familiar with the UNAVCO Facility location in Boulder, UNAVCO headquarters is currently located just across the parking lot in an adjacent building. Since last October, UNAVCO headquarters has hired a staff of four people. UNAVCO has been through one formal audit and a site visit from NSF. UNAVCO is preparing a transition for the Facility from its current administrative location in UCAR to the new location in UNAVCO, Inc. This administrative change will be accompanied by a physical change of location. UNAVCO has signed a lease on a building that will house Headquarters, Facility and the Boulder based PBO staff. In addition PBO will have staff located in field locations through out Western North America.


At the same time that UNAVCO has been busy restructuring itself, UNAVCO has shepherded three major proposals through submission with excellent prospects for funding all three.
UNAVCO has submitted a proposal for NSF and NASA funding for continued operation of the UNAVCO Facility and for continued support of the UNAVCO community. Early indications are that this proposal will be successful. This is excellent news. It will allow us some stability in carrying out the transformation of UNAVCO from a project within UCAR to an independent entity and to develop plans for the future of the UNAVCO community and its facilities.
The UNAVCO community has submitted an Existing networks proposal that requests funding for operation of 6 existing regional networks of continuous GPS stations (Alaska, BARD, BARGEN, PANGA, SCIGN and Yellowstone). This proposal also will be the vehicle for the integration of these networks into PBO. Early indications are that this proposal will also be successful. The challenge then will be to transform what are today 6 independently operated GPS networks, into the Plate Boundary Observatory so that in five years data from most of the continuous GPS and strain meters in the Western US are available to the whole community in consistent ways.
And, in partnership with IRIS and Stanford, UNAVCO has submitted a proposal for EarthScope. EarthScope has been funded by Congress, and the EarthScope proposal has progressed through NSF, including approval by the National Science Board. Between initial NSF Panel review and final NSB approval, there was extensive discussion about how the EarthScope Facility should be managed. Our proposed management structure included separate cooperative agreements to each of the three partners and a committee, the EarthScope Facility Executive committee to manage it. A competing model which would have PBO and SAFOD constructed under subcontracts to IRIS was not viewed positively by IRIS, UNAVCO, or Stanford. I am happy to report that this discussion has resulted in a management plan that satisfies all parties. The desire of NSF to have a single responsible party has been reconciled with the existence of three groups that will carry out the three parts of EarthScope. Instead we have drafted an MOU between UNAVCO, IRIS and Stanford that meets NSF concerns for a single responsible individual. The MOU gives significant control over the project to the Project Director.
We are moving ahead with work on the agreements for funding the project and for developing detailed plans for building the EarthScope Facility. At the same time, NSF has released a Program Announcement for science, education and outreach, and information technology proposals to take advantage of the data that the facility will produce.
One EarthScope-related disappointment was Geo-PBO, the geologic component of EarthScope. Geo-PBO did not receive high marks from the Review Panel. Panel members and NSF criticized some aspects of this part of the proposal. They did, however, leave the funding for it in place. They have asked the EarthScope Facility managers to come up with some new plans for effecting this component of EarthScope, and we are in the process of doing that. It is too early to predict exactly how this will turn out, but we are endeavoring to keep as much of the community developed plan for GPS as possible within constraints provided by NSF.
The development of the proposal and the effort to move it through the review process in the past few months have developed a very positive collaboration between partners in EarthScope, UNAVCO, IRIS and the SAFOD investigators. This experience bodes well for cooperating in building EarthScope. In particular, early in the process the UNAVCO Board of Directors and the IRIS Executive Committee signed a joint "Declaration of Intent" to cooperate. There are several concrete examples of this cooperation already extant, this meeting and the EarthScope proposal being the most obvious. Personally, I have benefited from another aspect of our cooperation. IRIS provides UNAVCO in general, and me in particular, with office space, telephone, and internet connectivity whenever I am in Washington. And, as Susan Strain from IRIS can testify, I often take advantage of this on short notice, calling her from the street outside IRIS headquarters to tell her I would like to use the office and will be there in 5 minutes.
I would like to comment on people resources. In getting UNAVCO headquarters and the PBO proposal off the ground, we mined some very good people out of the UNAVCO Facility. In getting the PBO off the ground, I expect that we will mine some very good people from the Regional GPS networks. This process has put a burden on the UNAVCO Facility with key people filling multiple roles during the transition period. I suspect that PBO's luring people out of the regional networks will similarly stretch these groups with key people again being asked to fulfill multiple roles during the transition.
So the newly hatched UNAVCO is in great shape. Our growth curve resembles that of a dot-com company during the heyday of the dot-com boom. We have gone from 0 people and 0 dollars in 2001 to 4 people and $1.1M/yr in 2003 to perhaps 75 people and $25M/yr in 2004.

Bad news

In spite of the rosy picture I have just outlined for UNAVCO, there are some clouds on our horizon. There are really two kinds of clouds out there. First there are the messages that we have received in feedback from mail and panel reviewers for the UNAVCO Community/Facility Proposal. Then there are some, what I would call community issues. None of these issues are new, nor are they unrelated. Let me start by talking about some of the issues raised by mail and panel reviewers of the recent UNAVCO Community/Facility proposal.


In April this proposal was reviewed by the NSF-EAR I&F panel. This is the proposal that supports many of the traditional UNAVCO activities, meetings like this, a large fraction of the headquarters operation, and much of the activity of the Boulder Facility. It is a joint proposal to NSF and to NASA As usual with reviewers we received lots of comments on issues large and small, some accurate and some not so accurate. in my view at any rate.
The most significant issues and the ones that I would like to discuss here are: 1) the reviewers perception that no exciting science has come from our community; 2) that it was difficult to reviewers to understand the relation between resources that UNAVCO asked for and the value that UNAVCO added to PI GPS-based research projects.
Let me expand on each of these a little bit. To quote from one reviewer "it has to be said that GPS geodesy has not had an enormous impact on the earth sciences, at least if we use the towing of proton precession magnetometers around the oceans (-> sea-floor spreading), the World Wide Standardized Seismograph Network (-> transform faulting and subduction), or DSDP (-> confirmation of the Heirtzler geomagnetic time scale and much of Milankovitch forcing of climate) as examples of enormous impacts." This same reviewer went on to give us a vote of confidence, however, by commenting further that "From another perspective, however, in 10 years GPS geodesy surely will have had more of an impact than most of EarthScope, which may do little but 'mop up,' as Thomas Kuhn might say." I can argue, as I am sure many of you can, about the significance of the achievements of our community or whether GPS has been around long enough to fairly assess its long-term contribution or those of its practitioners. And if this were an isolated comment by an individual reviewer, it wouldn't be worth commenting upon. However, we got a similar impression from members of the I&F PanelÑthat they had trouble understanding the accomplishments or the prospects for this line of research. To me it means that we have to do a better job of demonstrating these accomplishments in all of our proposals and that we as a community have to do a better job of convincing the science community at large that this field is an exciting and promising field.
The other point I would like to discuss related to I&F Panel feedback concerns the relation between the resources that UNAVCO requested to the use of those resources by the UNAVCO community. Again, in the words of one reviewer "UNAVCO is extremely limited in members and they are virtually all primary users of GPS (and an 'old boys network' to some degree)." The panel's suggested remedy to the perceived problem of relating UNAVCO costs to UNAVCO use was to recommend a "fee for service", a tax that would be levied on PI proposals that took advantage of UNAVCO services. I think the reviewers failed to distinguish between the governance of UNAVCO and the use of UNAVCO facilities. Clearly there is a relatively the small community of hard core GPS aficionados for whom GPS is a large enough fraction of their life that they are willing to be actively involved with GPS community activities. You enlist your university as a member of UNAVCO, and participate actively on UNAVCO Boards and committees. There is a much larger community of GPS users out there who take advantage of the resources that UNAVCO provides. These resources consist of direct support in the form of instruments and engineers from the UNAVCO Facility. They also include the indirect support from members of the UNAVCO community who contribute stations or data to IGS or develop SCIGN domes or the myriad other developments that are necessary for a non-GPS specialist to carry out a GPS experiment.
If we want to continue to have this community forum called UNAVCO, we have to we have to do a better job of convincing our fellow scientists to understand, and to communicate to program managers, the importance of this activity.
I said a few minutes ago, that there were two clouds on our horizon. The second cloud that I see does not come from NSF panels or reviewers, but relates to tensions within our community. There are two aspects to this tension. First there is debate within our community about what services should be provided by UNAVCO. Such debate is healthy, but in the end we have to come together with a shared vision for what we want UNAVCO to be. It is a highly competitive world and, as EarthScope has so aptly demonstrated, it is the groups that can present a united front to the outside world that are most successful in competing.
A second aspect to the tension within the UNAVCO community is the friction between the UNAVCO staff and the UNAVCO community. Both sides sometimes, not always by any means, but sometimes appear suspicious of the others' motives and critical of the others' abilities. In my view, we have a highly talented and motivated staff within the UNAVCO and a highly talented and creative pool of PIs within the GPS community. I would very much like to get beyond the suspicion and distrust that I see, and find ways to constructively work together. We have too many opportunities and too much work to do, to waste energy alienating each other.

Process

So how do we address these issues. I don't have a magic wand that can turn a community of highly talented, highly motivated, and sometimes strongly opinionated individuals into a tightly knit cohesive unity. It is in our best interest to try to smooth out some of the rough edges that have been with UNAVCO since its inception.


To this end I am forming two somewhat related groups, one looking at where we are now and giving us suggestions for how things can be improved, and another looking at where we should be in five years and giving us suggestions for what steps are required to get there. The first group, the UNAVCO Review Advisory Team (URAT), will be charged with examining how well all of UNAVCO's activities meet the needs of the UNAVCO community. Under activities I include everything UNAVCO does: UNAVCO Headquarters, the Boulder Facility, working groups, Facility support to PIs, PI's relations with UNAVCO staff, and interaction between PIs, the facility, NSF, NASA. And when I refer to the needs of the UNAVCO community, I include the needs of members, PIs, sponsors and staff. The second group, the UNAVCO Strategic Advisory Team (USAT), will be charged with: revisiting UNAVCO's mission and values, identifying Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats, and identifying strategic issues facing UNAVCO. Over the next 5 years, UNAVCO is going to be very busy maintaining its current activities while constructing PBO. At the same time, we must begin positioning ourselves for where we want to be when the construction phase of PBO ends. This group will be tasked with developing a written five year plan for guiding UNAVCO through the next five years and beyond.
I don't kid myself that forming a committee or even two committees will by itself change anything. But I am sure that these groups will help to clarify the issues and develop some options for dealing with them. The discussion that will take place in these groups will be essential in developing that plan. I intend to personally chair the Strategic group, USAT. I recently stumbled across a quote from Dwight D. Eisenhower that seems applicable here: "In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable". -- Dwight D. Eisenhower

Conclusion

Good parents encourage their kids that they can be anything they want to be. Well, we own UNAVCO now. We have an infrastructure and resources in place to do what we need and want to do. Lets see what we can do with it. I work for you. Your Board of Directors works for you. It is your job to take an interest in what we are doing and make sure it is meeting your needs. One of the most important things you do is select a Nominating Committee and then electing Board Members. And if you are not a member and want to have a direct say in what we are doing, by all means join.


I hope you all share with me a feeling of a tremendous sense of accomplishment on the part of the whole community for getting UNAVCO to its current independent state, and for bringing the largest ever solid earth geophysics project from conception to reality. Now the real work starts. UNAVCO is facing the future with the resources it needs to maintain its past activities and to grow into new activities. We have some major challenges facing us in building PBO, addressing the issues facing existing networks, enhancing our support to PI science, and building a strong sense of community within the UNAVCO Community. The next few years will be an exciting time for GPS, for strain, for UNAVCO staff, for UNAVCO PIs, and for UNAVCO Members.