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A Handbook of Answers for NOAO Users (1Dec95) (from Director's Office, NOAO Newsletter No. 44, December 1995) I received the following e-mail about a month ago: "xxx is here visiting and tells me, 'Hugh Van Horn wants to take $5 million from the grants program and give it to NOAO.'....What's the story behind this?" There has been considerable community discussion since the Director of the NSF Astronomy Division shared his FY 1996 funding models with various advisory committees. It is important for you as users to understand the factsof the funding debate, so that you can help make the case for continuing support and access to NOAO facilities. Following are some of the statements that we have heard; if you have heard others, send them to us, and we will either confirm or clarify. 1. Funding is increasing for the centers at the expense of the grants program. The following table shows the fraction of the NSF astronomy division budget, exclusive of construction funds, that has gone to the grants program since 1980. % Research % Research Year Projects Year Projects 1980 31% 1988 33% 1981 33% 1989 32% 1982 33% 1990 34% 1983 34% 1991 34% 1984 36% 1992 34% 1985 33% 1993 35% 1986 33% 1994 38% 1987 33% 1995 38% The budgets for FY 1996 are unknown, but in the "level funding" scenario presented by Hugh Van Horn to stimulate debate on priorities, the fraction of the total budget that would go to grants is 34 percent. A significant portion of the funds proposed in that scenario for the national centers is for one-time expenditures on construction ($2M at NOAO, $1M at NRAO, and $600K at NAIC). The operating budgets for the centers, with these construction funds excluded, are then at 64 percent of the total. Therefore, as a percentage of the total NSF budget, the operating budgets of the national centers have been at an all time low for the past three years, and that trend is likely to continue in FY 1996. It is even more interesting to look at the evolution in funding expressed in 1993 dollars of the NOAO operating budget and the grants budget. The numbers look like this: Year Grants(1993$) NOAO(1993$) 1980 $30.8M $28.9M 1981 $30.7M $29.1M 1982 $28.9M $28.3M 1983 $30.4M $28.8M 1984 $37.6M $31.4M 1985 $35.5M $31.1M 1986 $33.5M $29.8M 1987 $34.7M $28.1M 1988 $33.6M $27.6M 1989 $32.6M $27.0M 1990 $33.5M $24.6M 1991 $35.9M $25.1M 1992 $38.9M $27.3M 1993 $36.1M $24.3M 1994 $40.0M $24.2M 1995 $36.4M $22.7M These numbers for NOAO differ from those published by the NSF for two reasons. First, we have subtracted from the NOAO total the funds for two projects, GONG and RISE, and funds channeled through NOAO to the Steward Observatory Mirror Laboratory. Second, we have allowed for inflation in Chile, which has run at a much higher rate than US inflation in recent years. Therefore, over this period of time, the ratio of research project support, which we have termed grants in the table, to support for operations at NOAO has changed from 1.06 to 1.60. We have not done the calculation for 1996, since we do not know either the actual NSF funding levels or the inflation rate in Chile. 2. NOAO is taking money from the grants program to build two 2-m telescopes on Kitt Peak. Given that NOAO has been told to plan for declining budgets, that we are unable to devise a way to reduce the budget and continue to operate all the existing facilities, and that we have an obligation to provide data to the user community, we have worked with the user's committees to develop a plan for restructuring NOAO, both solar and nighttime, that represents an optimization of cost and performance. The solar component of the proposal that we plan to submit to the NSF is available on the network through the NOAO home page. It calls for replacement of the existing synoptic solar telescopes for monitoring both the disk and corona with facilities that would provide for automated observing and archiving while improving the quality of the measurements. The scientific pros and cons of the nighttime proposal are currently open to debate by the community, again on the network. The nighttime plan is to join the SOAR project, which is a partnership involving Brazil and the University of North Carolina to build a 2.4-m telescope for imaging at CTIO that would offer the same wide field as the Sloan survey telescope in the north and keep open the option that the Sloan consortium might extend their survey to the south; and to build a 2.4-m telescope at Kitt Peak that would accommodate a mosaic CCD imager with a field of view of 34' x 34' arcmin. The other instrument proposed for the 2.4-m telescopes is a fiber feed to a bench-mounted spectrograph. The cost of construction of the 2.4-m telescopes would be recovered in operations cost savings in less than eight years. With these telescopes in place, we would close or turn over to universities for private operation nine others (the 2.1-m, 0.9-m, Coude Feed, and the Burrell Schmidt on Kitt Peak; the 1.5-m, 1.0-m, 0.9-m, and Case Schmidt at CTIO; and the solar Vacuum Telescope on Kitt Peak). One of the primary motivations for the proposed nighttime facilities, and particularly the 2.4-m telescopes, is to take advantage of the technologies implemented for WIYN to improve imaging performance. The delivered image quality at WIYN is less than 0.7" about 25 percent of the time, and the median averaged over one year is 0.8". It is highly doubtful that such performance can be achieved even with major modifications to existing 30-year-old telescopes, which were simply not designed with tight imaging specifications in mind. Primary scientific use of these telescopes would be for imaging surveys to select objects for observation with Gemini and other large telescopes, and to study time variable phenomena. This restructuring proposal for nighttime astronomy would leave the community as a whole with facilities in each hemisphere that are approximately comparable to what the large individual astronomy departments will have available. KPNO with three telescopes plus Gemini in the north, and CTIO with three telescopes plus Gemini in the south, offer capabilities similar to those provided by Lick plus Keck; Palomar plus Keck; Texas plus the Hobby-Eberly Telescope; Steward plus the MMT upgrade and the Large Binocular Telescope; and Carnegie plus Magellan. Surely the federal government ought to be able to provide as much support the national community as individual states do for their much smaller communities of users. The alternative to funding the restructuring proposal will be, given the projected operating budgets, the operation of only the 4-m Blanco Telescope and the 1.5-m telescope at CTIO; operation of WIYN and the 4-m Mayall Telescope on Kitt Peak; and limited accessibility to solar synoptic data, with much being in photographic rather than digital form. The philosophy and highlights of the restructuring proposal have been available for public discussion over the network. AURA's advisory structure must approve the proposal for submission to the NSF. The proposal will then undergo a stringent peer review. You as users can increase support for NOAO and all of NSF astronomy by resisting the spread of baseless rumors that distort the content of the proposal and the process of its review and acceptance. 3. KPNO has $2M and they did not even spend it when it could have gone to the grants program. At the end of January 1995, NOAO was told it would be given $2M toward restructuring from a special fund held by the Math and Physical Sciences directorate, not at the astronomy divisional level of the NSF. There is no chance in our view that this $2M would have been available for the grants program given its source. NOAO was told that an additional $2M would be made available in FY 1996 subject to receipt of a suitable proposal; the source of the second $2M was not indicated at the time. NOAO spent approximately $1M in order to deploy GONG one year earlier than would otherwise have been possible (thereby saving $1.7M by shortening the deployment schedule); to provide severance pay; to offer retirement options to tenured staff; and to extend the solar-stellar program for one additional year. By completing outside contracts for WIYN, CHARA, and Gemini, holding down internal spending, and not committing $500K carried over from the previous year, we were able to restore the $1M. How we spend the restructuring money obviously depends on whether or not the $2M in FY 1996 is forthcoming. Therefore, we do not plan to make any major financial commitments until our restructuring proposal is reviewed. 4. Meanwhile, back to the $5M dollar story: The interpretation of the NSF planning for the FY 1996 budget as a transfer of $5M is not grounded in the facts of the case. Not only did the $5M never exist, it certainly did not go to NOAO. The facts are these. The President's budget as submitted to Congress for FY 1996 contained $40M for the grants program. This budget was, of course, even more dead on arrival than usual, given the Republican takeover of Congress. Hugh Van Horn has presented an alternative "flat budget" scenario to stimulate discussion about the budgetary issues we will have to face once the budget for FY 1996 is passed. In this "flat budget" scenario, the grants program is set at $35M, which is $5M below a hypothetical budget that had no chance of becoming a reality. If this is a $5M cut, I could say with equal justification that the NOAO operating budget has been reduced by $2.5M. The request for NOAO in the President's budget was $29.2M. In the "flat budget" scenario, NOAO would have $26.7M for operations and $2M for a onetime investment in projects. There were no restrictions on the use of funds by NOAO in the President's original submission. A more relevant comparison may be with FY 1995. In the "flat scenario," which is not yet a reality, the total budget for all the centers is slated to increase by $3.3M while the grants budget is slated to decrease by $3.3M in going from FY 1995 to FY 1996, with all of the increase in the centers' budgets being earmarked for construction projects. Operations are being level dollar funded. The reverse of this change in balance between grants and centers happened between FY 1993 and FY 1994. The grants budget increased by $4.6M while the centers budget decreased by $1.5M. These percentage changes are reflected in the table given above. It is not clear that a narrow focus on NSF funding alone will allow us to focus resources in the right direction, given the budgetary constraints that we will all face. The support for grants by NASA has increased sharply in the past five years. As just one example, HST funding for general observers, Hubble fellows, and users of the archive is projected to be $25M in FY 1996, up from $5M in FY 1992 and near zero in FY 1990. These numbers do not include the NASA funding for theory or data analysis from missions other than HST. It appears likely that $1-3M will be added to the currently planned HST grants budgets in the years 1996-2001. This increment in just one NASA program is nearly equal to the entire amount being debated on the NSF side, which serves to illustrate the dominant role that NASA plays in awards to individual investigators. The bottom line: Both NOAO and the NSF grants program are under extreme stress because of the increasing demand for resources and the steady loss in purchasing power in recent years. The health of our field requires vitality in both centers and grants. The NOAO restructuring proposal is a positive response to the opportunity for timely reinvestment in the National Observatory infrastructure. It offers the prospect of attracting more money to astronomy from outside the Astronomy Division budget. A community willing to cooperate to increase support for our field is a necessary prerequisite for any prospect of success. If your science is strengthened by competitive access to facilities and data of the National Observatories, you must be prepared for active advocacy, with straight facts. The alternate may be that the attacks of a vocal few undermine the NSF Astronomy Division's ability to advance a balanced astronomy program within the Foundation, to the detriment of our entire discipline. Sidney C. Wolff, Richard F. Green
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