Concerns Expressed About Possible Relocation of the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR)

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Publication date: 
28 January 2014

Reaction has been swift to the Air Force’s request for public input on the possible relocation of the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) from Arlington, Virginia to Dayton, Ohio.  The President of the American Physical Society, a Member Society of the American Institute of Physics, and fifteen senior university officials have sent separate letters to the Air Force expressing significant concerns about the impacts of the relocation.

As noted in FYI #16, the Air Force released a Request for Information seeking public input. The RFI asks responders to rank on a four-point scale, ranging from “4 = Significantly Impacts” to “1 = No Impact” “the degree of impact the location of AFOSR has on your organization’s confidence in the Air Force’s ability to manage basic research.”  In addition, “If desired, comments may be provided regarding the basis for your organization’s assessed impact.” The deadline for comment is 3:00 PM Eastern Standard Time this Wednesday, January 29. 

The American Physical Society (APS) has posted a bulletin about the possible relocation.  In addition, APS President Malcolm Beasley sent the following letter yesterday:

“To Whom It May Concern:

“As president of the American Physical Society (APS) and its more than 50,000 members, I am writing to express my deep concerns regarding the proposed relocation of the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) from Arlington, VA to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, OH. As the sole basic research funding agency for the U.S. Air Force, AFOSR plays a critical role in the basic research enterprise of universities nationwide. AFOSR’s long-standing commitment to funding basic research projects and its more recent participation in innovative programs, like the Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) Program, has resulted in revolutionary scientific advances and improved national defense.

“AFOSR’s impressive efforts are aided by its strategic location in Arlington, VA. Its proximity to nearly all of the federal basic research offices (Department of Energy’s Office of Science, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, etc.) promotes communication, cultivates synergistic relationships, and provides AFOSR’s employees critical access to their civilian counterparts. Relocating to Wright-Patterson AFB will essentially eliminate these benefits and severely limit AFOSR’s interaction with other agencies, which is central to its function.

“A relocation to Wright-Patterson AFB also threatens to alter AFOSR’s culture, with the emphasis shifting from basic to applied research. Based on previous Department of Defense organizations’ moves, most current AFOSR staff would not relocate with the office and would likely be replaced by Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) employees. While experts in applied research, the latter have little or no experience in basic research. The loss of institutional knowledge, combined with the shift from basic to applied research and the loss of AFOSR’s oversight of AFRL’s basic research program, would cripple the Air Force’s long-term basic research program.

“For the above stated reasons, I submit the impact of the proposed relocation of AFOSR would be a ‘4’ and urge a more thorough analysis before any action is taken.”


Also yesterday, senior officials from the California Institute of Technology; Cornell University; Duke University; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Princeton University; Stanford University; Texas A & M University; University of Arizona; University of California, Los Angeles; University of California, San Diego; University of Chicago; University of Colorado at Boulder; University of Maryland; University of Virginia; and the University of Wisconsin, Madison sent a letter to Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James and Under Secretary of Defense for AT&L Frank Kendall III.  The letter follows:

“Dear Secretary James and Under Secretary Kendall:

“We are writing to request your attention to a matter of significant concern to our universities: the potential move of the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) from its headquarters in Arlington, Virginia to the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. We have identified a number of questions that we hope are being carefully considered and we provide those questions below. We hope you will closely examine all of the issues associated with this potential move before a final decision is reached.

“Researchers from each of our institutions have a long history working as partners with the Air Force on basic research. We are proud that the Air Force has relied on innovations growing out of research conducted at universities to help keep the United States military the best equipped and most effective in the world. Many of the capabilities that are now embedded in the modern Air Force arose through university research and almost all the PhD level research staff at the Air Force Research Lab came from universities funded by Air Force contracts.

“We are concerned that a move to Wright-Patterson could lead to a change in the thrust of AFOSR’s funding from basic research at universities to applied research at Air Force laboratories. This would jeopardize the many opportunities for innovation that are unique to the AFOSR-university partnership, seriously curtail the long-range impact of AFOSR-sponsored research, and reduce support for graduate education in areas of key national security concern.

“Our specific questions about this potential move include the following:

“1. Has the Air Force studied other circumstances where basic research program managers and operational personnel are located in the same facility? If so, what are the lessons from those experiences? If not, does the Air Force intend to undertake such studies prior to a final decision?

“2. Have AFOSR program managers expressed concerns about the move? Have you polled these managers to determine how many intend to move if the relocation goes through? Have you analyzed the potential impact on the program if long term employees with great institutional knowledge do not make the move?

“3. Has the Air Force conducted an analysis to determine what, if any, safeguards should be put in place to ensure that AFOSR program managers will continue to address long-range problems and not be influenced by the immediate needs of lab personnel? What is the confidence level in these safeguards?

“4. Has the Air Force analyzed both short-term impacts and savings of such a move, as well as potential long-term impacts?

“5. What is the current ratio of extramural research to intramural research funded by AFOSR? What is the ratio of basic research to more applied in-house research?  Has the Air Force done an analysis of how, if at all, these ratios might be affected by a move to Wright Patterson? What safeguards are in place to ensure that the ratios will not change? Has an analysis been conducted on the impact to innovation and discovery if these ratios shift?

“6. How many rotating, intergovernmental staff served at AFOSR in the last five years? Have you conducted an analysis to determine if the relocation would have an impact on the ability to recruit these staff?

“7. Has the Air Force analyzed the benefits of having AFOSR in close proximity to the Pentagon, DARPA, the DNI, NSF and other research agencies, and how those benefits would be impacted by separating AFOSR geographically from these other agencies?

“8. Has any analysis of the move been conducted by an independent entity outside of the Air Force? Would the Air Force benefit from such an analysis?

“Thank you for your consideration of our concerns. We stand ready to assist in any way you think might be helpful.”



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