Based on a recommendation by the Bush Administration, the National
Research Council has formed a new committee to look into the possibility
of transferring to NASA the astronomy responsibilities currently managed
by NSF. The Committee on Organization and Management of Research in Astronomy
and Astrophysics (COMRAA) will consider this and other options, and is
expected to release its report by September 1, 2001.
As described in FYI #24, the President's March
1 budget blueprint suggested that "now is the time to assess the Federal
Government's management and organization of astronomical research."
The document called for NSF and NASA to establish "a Blue Ribbon Panel
to assess the organizational effectiveness of Federal support of astronomical
sciences and, specifically, the pros and cons of transferring NSF's
astronomy responsibilities to NASA. The panel may also develop alternative
A provisional membership list for the committee is now available.
It would be chaired by the former head of Lockheed Martin, Norman Augustine.
The other provisional members of COMRAA are: Lewis Branscomb, Harvard
University; D. Allan Bromley, Yale University; Claude Canizares, MIT;
Sandra Faber, U.C. Santa Cruz; Robert Gehrz, University of Minnesota;
Philip Goode, New Jersey Institute of Technology; Burton Richter, Stanford
University; Anneila Sargent, Caltech; Frank Shu, U.C. Berkeley; Maxine
Singer, Carnegie Institute of Washington; and Robert Williams, Space
Telescope Science Institute. The committee's mission will be to "assess
the organizational effectiveness of Federal support of astronomical
sciences; discuss the advantages and disadvantages of transferring NSF's
astronomy responsibilities to NASA; [and] consider other options for
addressing the management and organizational issues identified by the
committee and by recent NRC reports."
The committee's web site identifies two recent NRC documents addressing
the status of U.S. astronomy: Federal Funding for Research in Astronomy
(the FFAR report), and Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium
(the AASC report). According to the web site, "the FFAR report found
that over the last decade, the balance of support has shifted toward
NASA. NSF's share of support for grants has fallen from 60 percent at
the beginning of the 1980s to 30 percent at the end of the 1990s." Both
reports raised concerns that a large portion of total astronomy funding
supports a small number of NASA space missions, and that NSF has a tendency
to underinvest in research and analysis that would capitalize on the
capabilities of new facilities.
The committee plans to hold four meetings before its final report
is due on September 1. Public comment will be accepted at the second
meeting, scheduled for June 13-14 at the National Research Council (NRC)
in Washington, D.C.
Additional information is available on the American
Astronomical Society web site
Audrey T. Leath
Public Information Division
American Institute of Physics