Ad-Hoc Committee to Address the Impact of Budget Reductions on Fleet Operations

Table of Contents

Project Background and Task Statement

Larry Clark, acting director of the Ocean Sciences Division at NSF sent a letter (dated 2/22/05) to UNOLS seeking advice on how best to implement cost reductions in their ship operations budget. They are projecting the need to cut between $5M and $8M from the ship operations budget below what was spent for FY05. The factors that create this problem include division budgets that were reduced in FY05 and are projected to be flat at that reduced level for the next three or four years; a resulting projected reduction in future demand for NSF ship time; an increase in the cost of operating the academic (UNOLS) research fleet; some historical overcapacity within the fleet; and the requirement to fund renewal efforts for mid-sized infrastructure from the division budget. Recommendations from UNOLS are requested prior to the summer scheduling meeting planned for July 20th. 

In response, the UNOLS Council formed an ad-hoc committee to formulate draft recommendations for consideration and finalization by the UNOLS community and Council. They published their task statement to the community that lays out how they intend to proceed. Working with the ship schedulers, ship operators and funding agency representatives the committee planned to make a best estimate of projected fleet utilization and costs for 2006, compare that to projected budgets, get costs and recommendations for lay-ups, retirements and other cost saving measures and then formulate short and long term recommendations. The committee would seek ship operator and science community input on their recommendations and assumptions. Short term recommendations were to be formulated and sent to the UNOLS Council by June 1st and long term recommendations by August 31st, however, more time will be needed to finalize the short term recommendations. 

Task Statement

The ad-hoc committee will work to develop a plan for ship lay-ups or retirements that will fit the budget realities and minimize impact on funded scientific programs. With input from the Ship Scheduling Committee, the UNOLS Office, and Agency representatives, they will:

  1. Determine a best estimate of the UNOLS fleet utilization based on funded science by class, by region/season, by special requirements.

  2. Estimate the ship operation funding from all sources. Evaluate the probability of NOAA funds and additional Navy funds.

  3. To the extent that the funds available do not meet the operational needs, develop a plan for ship lay-ups that will fit the budget realities and minimize impact on funded scientific programs. This plan should take into consideration longer term issues such as the impact of retirements versus lay-ups or the various forms of lay-ups ("ready to go" versus mothballed) and funding prospects in the out years (Observatories). Marine Superintendents and Directors should be asked to recommend a lay-up process. The cost of lay-up scenarios should be provided.

  4. Prior to submittal of the plan (both short-term and long-term), the ad-hoc committee's recommendations shall be circulated to the UNOLS Operator Institutions for review and comment. The ad-hoc committee will consider all comments and revise the recommendations, as they see appropriate.

  5. Submit the plan for approval by the UNOLS Council. The plan should provide the following:

    a. A short-term recommendation to address the 2006 budget shortfall. Recommendations for ship lay-ups should include a 3-year lay-up rotation schedule. The short-term recommendation should be provided to the UNOLS Council by June 1st.

    b. The plan should also provide long-term scenarios (3 years) for ship lay-ups and retirements. Recognizing that future budget projections are unavailable, various scenarios should be developed to address the possibility of level and declining budgets. The costs and operational impacts associated with the various scenarios should be articulated in the plan. 

    c. Lastly, the plan should define a process for annual evaluations to ensure that fleet size and composition is appropriate to meet budget projections and funded ship time demands.

    d. Long-term recommendations and the process for annual evaluations should be provided to the UNOLS Council by August 31st.

Committee Membership

  • Marcia McNutt (Chair)
  • Eileen Hofmann
  • Denis Wiesenburg

Reference Material

Project Updates, Meetings, and Documents




May 20, 2005 Summary Report 2005 Ad-Hoc Committee to Address the Impact of Budget Reductions on Fleet Operations: Summary Report