Thread: IRIS and UNAVCO response to the NSF Dear Colleague Letter on the timeline for SAGE and GAGE re-competition

Started: 2021-06-11 13:03:34
Last activity: 2021-06-11 13:03:34
Dear Community:

As many of you have noted from the Dear Colleague Letter (NSF 21-097) released today, NSF has issued a major change in plans for its Future Geophysical Facilities. In particular, based on the Dear Colleague Letter, we understand that, instead of being the focus of an immediate recompetition, the ongoing scope and programs of SAGE and GAGE will be extended under the current community governance structure until September 30, 2025.

The staff and Boards of IRIS and UNAVCO are inspired by the National Science Foundation’s vision of a transformed facility for geophysics support and its decision to pursue an extended process for the next geophysical facility. The news of the extension of the SAGE and GAGE awards is, significantly, an endorsement of the engagement and hard work on the part of our community facilities, and presents an exciting challenge for our community to continue to innovatively guide and deliver research infrastructure, data services, and broad stakeholder engagement.

During this two-year extension, we will seek to expand and evolve cross-disciplinary and institutional partnerships to deliver new capabilities and serve new communities. As part of this evolution, we will proceed with the planned and community-approved merger of IRIS and UNAVCO into the EarthScope Consortium. In this, we will retain our commitment to the guiding principles that we have developed through our negotiation process. We include these principles below.

We all believe that extending the SAGE and GAGE awards will give IRIS, UNAVCO, and all of our stakeholders and partners valuable additional time to fully realize a comprehensive vision for sustainable, world-class science support through a community governed geophysical facility. The joint UNAVCO and IRIS Steering Committee is already revising the merger timeline in light of this welcome change.

Please join us in acknowledging NSF’s bold decision to substantially revise their planning. We look forward to continuing our work in operating and governing world-class geophysical facilities as we work towards realizing the new EarthScope Consortium!


The UNAVCO and IRIS Steering Committee:

Rick Aster, Colorado State University, Chair of IRIS Board of Directors

Becks Bendick, UNAVCO President

Jerry Carter, Director of Data Services, IRIS

Donna Charlevoix, Director of Education and Community Engagement, UNAVCO

Ronni Grapenthin, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, Chair of UNAVCO Board of Directors

Brandon Schmandt, University of New Mexico, member of the IRIS Board of Directors

Bob Woodward, IRIS President

Tonie van Dam, University of Utah, member of the UNAVCO Board of Directors

IRIS-UNAVCO guiding principles for the EarthScope Consortium, Incorporated


The Steering Committee reaffirms equality as the foundation upon which our merger is executed, as stated in the Agreement and Plan of Merger. All aspects of the creation and inception of the EarthScope Consortium will be developed based on parity of IRIS and UNAVCO.

The perspectives, history, and culture of both organizations will inform the structure and vision for EarthScope and equitable representation of both organizations and their stakeholder communities will be incorporated in all Consortium planning and proposal development activities.


The Steering Committee prefers that core EarthScope activities be performed by EarthScope employees. Subawards will be restricted to cases with specialized, unique, or high-risk capabilities.

A focus on in-house labor will allow the EarthScope Consortium to realize benefits of flexibility, reduced overhead, matrix management, and efficiencies of an agile, cross-trained workforce, making it rapidly adaptable to the community’s changing needs. Integrated labor will help the EarthScope Consortium to make award dollars go as far as possible in delivering services to the research and academic community. This change is also highly responsive to the charge from the NSF to design the future geophysical facility from first principles.


The Steering Committee prefers that the EarthScope Consortium operate with direct staffing models (although subcontracting is not ruled out) that allow flexibility and remote work to the extent possible and optimal. Staffing models will recognize the unique capabilities of current staff to the extent possible.

COVID-19 operations have demonstrated that the EarthScope Consortium mission can be accomplished with flexible staffing, and there are cost and operational efficiencies realized by having a smaller physical footprint and allowing diverse employees to work in ways that are best for them. The future hiring plan of the EarthScope Consortium will be implemented in a way that retains the key capabilities and honors the expertise and commitment of the current staff of the merging organizations.


The Steering Committee prefers that the EarthScope Consortium operate with a small number of primary facilities. We envision largely office space plus an instrumentation facility.

The location of consortium facilities will be determined by optimizing key strategic values such as accessibility, partnership leverage, operational and cost effectiveness, and attractiveness for staff. Site selection will be made through a transparent process as facility needs evolve through the proposal and award sequence.


The Steering Committee prefers that the EarthScope Consortium pursue its mission through diverse activities and funding, consistent with the guidance of its community governance model. To this end, the organization shall maintain an agile and responsive structure capable of interacting with multiple funding entities and structures.

The broad mission of the EarthScope Consortium can best be realized by pursuing multiple activities through multiple funding sources. It is recognized that the National Science Foundation has been, and likely will continue to be, a significant funder of EarthScope via the future geophysical facility agreement. However, a range of awards, contracts, agreements, and partnerships should be leveraged to advance the mission of the organization and serve multiple stakeholders at the federal, state, local, and private sector level. In particular, such arrangements can be leveraged to advance capabilities or technologies that may fall outside the interests or purview of NSF. Finally, a diverse funding portfolio creates a more resilient organization, strengthening its long-term sustainability and increasing its effectiveness in realizing the organization's mission.

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