AAS Informational Email 2012-09

Subject: AAS Statement on the NSF Portfolio Review

For more than fifty years, the Astronomical Sciences have set a
standard for responsible stewardship of public resources. Each decade,
the community reviews the current state of the disciplines of
astronomy and astrophysics, planetary science, and heliophysics and
produces a prioritized list of projects, programs and initiatives
important for scientific progress in the coming decade. The AAS
strongly supports the principle of making such decadal recommendations
and works to have them implemented as part of its mission to enhance
and share humanity's scientific understanding of the Universe. These
grand aspirations are now being pursued in a changing fiscal
environment that is likely to see severe constraints on federal
research expenditures.

As a consequence, the Astronomical Sciences Division of the National
Science Foundation convened a committee to review its complete
portfolio of facilities and programs. The Portfolio Review Committee
report provides a thorough and detailed audit of the nation's
ground-based resources in light of the scientific priorities set forth
by the Decadal Surveys. Their recommended balance of large, medium,
and small-scale efforts highlights the need to maintain sufficient
funds to support individual investigators, to continue a program of
technical innovation, and to train the next generation of scientists,
while also funding those facilities essential for addressing the
decadal surveys' scientific priorities.

The AAS supports such community involvement in the hard decisions
imposed on us by the current trend of diminishing federal investment
in the nation's future scientific capacity, a trend we regard as
unwise. The Astronomical Sciences Division's diminished projected
budget cannot both initiate the new projects envisioned by the decadal
surveys, and operate the entire current suite of ground-based
facilities. These national facilities, available to all solely on the
basis of scientific merit, are essential to keeping the astronomical
community strong and diverse. Curtailment of access will have a major
negative impact on many in our active research community. Even if some
public-access facilities can be converted to private ownership,
smaller programs will be disproportionately challenged, producing a
negative impact on the training of a diverse scientific workforce.

The Portfolio Review presents an opportunity for a new dialog with the
leadership of the NSF and other federal agencies, along with the
Executive and Legislative branches, on the value to the nation of
their investments in the astronomical sciences. The recent surveys --
New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics, Vision and
Voyages for Planetary Science, and Solar and Space Physics: A Science
for a Technological Society -- aptly noted that astronomy is a key
"gateway science", promoting growth in the K-16 STEM pipeline which,
in turn, helps to build the innovation economy. If, however, the NSF
budget projections become our reality, the Portfolio Review has both
provided a framework for developing creative new arrangements for
facility operations and opened important new pathways for innovative
mid-scale projects by advocating divestment rather than closure of
lower-ranked facilities, by explicitly recognizing the importance of
co-tenants and work in progress, and by recommending some
restructuring of grant programs.

The operation of new and existing world-class facilities, coupled with
robust support for the individual scientists and engineers --
including those in training -- who will use these facilities in
charting the future of our science, will impose hard choices of the
kind the Review Committee has recommended. The AAS stands ready to
help support the transitions required, while working to promote
continued US leadership in the exploration of the Universe and the
understanding of our place in it.

Adopted 24 September 2012
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