Input to NSF Portfolio Review

As you know, Bob, the NSF Portfolio Review is under way.

The NSF is urgently requesting community input for the process.

AST Portfolio Review

Community Input Invited

This is important.
It is highly desirable that a significant number of people provide concise and explicit input to the committee before christmas, in order to give the members a sense of the priorities of the community.

This is the only formal input process.


Send your comments to Please do not contact committee members individually.
The input window will be open from October 26, 2011, through January 31, 2012.


If your comments can be expressed succinctly using text alone, then compose your input in the body of a plain-text Email message …
With any method of submitting input, please be brief and to the point. No input longer than 5 pages will be accepted. …
Try to make it as easy as possible for the Committee to read and understand your input. Summarize the focus of your input on the subject line of the email (e.g., “midscale projects,” “AAG program,” etc.), and be more descriptive than just “comments for portfolio review.”


  • Comments in plain text Email or a single Word or PDF attachment?
  • If sending an attachment, executive summary in the Email body?
  • Comments directly connected to the Charge to the Committee?
  • As concise as possible?
  • Helpful few-word description in the subject line?
  • No more than 5 pages in length?


Community input will be made available, in original form, only to the Portfolio Review Committee and to NSF staff. AST Division staff will sort and categorize submitted comments for better organization and access, and may produce synthesized summary documents, combining the views of many individual submitters, as needed by the Committee.


Useful community input will directly address the Charge to the Committee and its context, which are discussed more fully above.

The Astro2010 Decadal Survey recommendations laid out in “New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics” (NWNH) were made under the assumption of an AST budget that, with inflation, would approximately double to nearly $500M by 2020. However, current projections predict a 2020 AST budget of between $250M and $350M. Thus, future budgets will be insufficient to fully maintain the portfolio of existing and upcoming facilities, projects, and programs as well as to implement the Astro2010 recommendations for new facilities and program enhancements.

The Committee is being asked to determine (1) the capabilities needed to optimize progress on the Science Program articulated by Astro2010 (Chapter 2 of NWNH), and (2) the combination of new, upcoming, and existing-but-evolved facilities, projects, and programs that will best deliver these capabilities given the budgetary constraints. It may help to think of this process as interleaving the Astro2010 recommendations with the existing portfolio.

Examples of helpful input would include: priority orderings of key capabilities needed for particular science goals; alternative ways to achieve desired capabilities; suggested evolution or combination of public, private, and university resources to achieve high-priority capabilities; or discussions of the effects of changes to the portfolio on the status of the profession.

Examples of unhelpful input would include: advocating for a new project not endorsed by Astro2010; recommending re-ordering of Astro2010 priorities from the main Astro2010 report; arguing for increased support for some set of activities without a viable suggestion for offsetting costs; suggesting that AST ask, hope, or lobby for more funding; or any comments sent anonymously.

In my ever so helpful personal opinion, barring a political miracle, my sense is that this review is less about a wishlist for the future, and more about what to protect at all costs from the high probability of significant cuts.

In particular, with a flat budget, the already committed new projects like ALMA and AST will take up all resources, forcing cuts in operations or PI research; if ANY new projects are to ramp up, then either significant additional new funding must appear, or major existing facilities must close.

I would particularly advise astronomers in smaller subfields, ie anyone not doing optical or near-IR extragalactic astronomy, to provide input and make the case for their priorities.

Go to it.