[Federal Register Volume 80, Number 87 (Wednesday, May 6, 2015)]
[Pages 26004-26007]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2015-10453]



National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

NOAA RESTORE Act Science Program Science Plan

AGENCY: National Ocean Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric 
Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce.

ACTION: Response to comments and release of final science plan.


SUMMARY: The National Ocean Service (NOS) of the National Oceanic and 
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) publishes this notice to announce the 
availability of response to comments and release of the final science 
plan for the NOAA RESTORE Act Science Program.

ADDRESSES: The final science plan for the NOAA RESTORE Act Science 
Program will be available at http://restoreactscienceprogram.noaa.gov/science-plan. Inquiries about the plan may be addressed to Becky Allee 
at NOAA Office for Coastal Management, Gulf of Mexico Division, Bldg. 
1100, Rm. 232, Stennis Space Center, MS 39529.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: For further information, contact: 
Becky Allee (becky.allee@noaa.gov, 228-688-1701).

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: NOAA is publishing this Notice to announce 
Response to Comments received on the Draft Science Plan and release of 
the Final Science Plan for the NOAA RESTORE Act Science Program. The 
final plan will be posted on May 6, 2015. The Final Science Plan is 
being issued after careful consideration and adjudication of public 
comments received following a 45-day comment period from October 30, 
2014--December 15, 2014.
    Section 1604 of the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, 
Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States 
Act of 2012 (RESTORE Act) establishes the Gulf Coast Ecosystem 
Restoration Science, Observation, Monitoring, and Technology Program 
(Science Program) to be administered by NOAA and to carry out research, 
observation, and monitoring to support the long-term sustainability of 
the ecosystem, fish stocks, fish habitat, and the recreational, 
commercial, and charter fishing industry in the Gulf of Mexico. The 
Final Science Plan for the NOAA RESTORE Act Science Program lays out 
the path forward for the program. The

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plan provides an overview of the program and its establishing 
legislation, describes our three short-term and 10 long[hyphen]term 
research priorities and the process by which they were determined, and 
summarizes the Program's structure and administration. The plan is 
organized in three sections. Section I includes: background on 
legislative requirements and mission; the vision, goal, and outcomes 
for the program; research scope and priorities; NOAA's roles; 
geographic scope; and approach to engagement. Section II describes each 
of the 10 long-term research priorities identified for the program. For 
each priority we include the management needs that drive the priority, 
desired outcomes, examples of key activities; and examples of potential 
outputs. This section also includes a brief discussion on the 
importance of synthesis and integration of the research conducted under 
these priorities. Section III, which describes the program's structure 
and administration, includes sections on program management, 
consultation and coordination, program parameters, funding 
opportunities and competitive process; environmental compliance, and 
data and information sharing.

Response to Comments

    ``NOAA received 19 sets of comments from organizations and private 
citizens (241 total recommendations). Many of the comments were 
supportive of the science plan as a whole while only offering minor 
editorial suggestions or requesting clarification on elements of the 
plan. The breakdown of the 19 submissions was 7 individuals, 6 non-
governmental organizations or groups (represented 9 organizations), 2 
federal agencies, 1 state agency, 1 academic institution, 1 regional 
ocean observing partnership, and 1 fishery management organization.'' 
Of the comments addressing core components of the plan, the topics most 
frequently raised were NOAA's role in the program; the process for 
translating the long-term research priorities into future funding 
opportunities; prioritization of data synthesis; integration, 
communication, and coordination with other programs; and a process for 
measuring the success of the program and research carried out under the 
program. From the draft version of the plan to this final version of 
the plan, the key changes are a clearer description of NOAA's role in 
the program, additional information on the factors the program will 
consider in translating the long-term research priorities into future 
funding opportunities, and additional information on the geographic 
scope of the program.
    The following section, organized by category (1-9), presents a 
summary of the comments and NOAA's responses. The number of total 
recommendations (of the 241) is listed for each category. Editorial 
corrections will not be extensively addressed in this Notice; however a 
few examples have been provided. For further information on Response to 
Comments, contact: Becky Allee (becky.allee@noaa.gov, 228-688-1701).

1. General Comments
2. NOAA' role
3. Program Scope
4. Research Priorities
5. Clarification of Priorities
6. Performance Measures
7. Coordination and Engagement
8. Funding, Eligibility and Prioritization
9. Editorial

Category 1: General Comments (22 Recommendations)

    (a) Is there a mechanism to include previous research or outside 
    (b) Cite the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority's (CPRA) 
Coastal Master Plan in the references.

Response 1

    Overall, the program received several comments supporting the goals 
and activities of the plan and complimenting the program on developing 
the plan. One comment queried the program's plan for inclusion of 
previous research or outside research. The revised plan highlights the 
immediate responsibility of the program to manage the data requirements 
of projects funded under the program. A comprehensive, integrated 
mechanism to pull all research together is the objective of one of the 
priorities presented in this plan. Other comments ranged from 
recommendations to include missing references (e.g., CPRA's Coastal 
Master Plan, considered a regionally significant accomplishment) or 
requests to update references cited in the plan (e.g., Gulf Councils 
updated list of research and priority needs for 2015-2019). The 
majority of the general comments were supportive of the programs draft 
plan. Many others, while acknowledged, did not warrant changes in the 

Category 2: NOAA's Role (4 Recommendations)

    Commenters asked for clarification on the role NOAA staff and 
scientists have in administering and carrying out the NOAA RESTORE Act 
Science Program, for example, involvement in research activities, 
processes for funding expenditures, participation in research results 
synthesis and integration activities, etc.

Response 2

    The final science plan has a sub-section titled, ``NOAA's Role'' in 
Section I.4. This section restates the specific actions that NOAA will 
(or will not) carry out as authorized by the RESTORE Act [Section 
1604(b)(4)]. Specifically regarding the question on synthesis and 
integration, a paragraph addressing this was added in Section II, 
``Long-term Research Priorities''.

Category 3: Program Scope and Domain (34 Recommendations)

    (a) Include a section on adaptive management.
    (b) What is the geographical scope of the program?
    (c) Include further details and clarification on terms and species 
within plan.
    (d) Recommendations to include research areas.

Response 3

    The Program received several comments on the need for more 
information and clarification on its scope. One comment encouraged the 
inclusion of an adaptive management discussion in the document. The 
Program recognizes the important role of adaptive management in 
addressing resource issues in the Gulf of Mexico; however, since the 
NOAA RESTORE Act Science Program is a research program and not a 
resource management program, we decided this was beyond the scope of 
the plan. The Program will not provide direct financial support to 
management activities, but will support science that intends to inform 
management decisions.
    Many comments inquired about the geographic scope (domain) of the 
program. They expressed concern that the domain extended too far inland 
or that offshore and deepwater environments and their associated 
biological communities were not included. We revised Section I.5, 
``Geographic Scope'' to better define our intent, including extent of 
watershed activities. Further clarification on included species has 
been added throughout the plan. Following these revisions we determined 
that the ``Program Scope'' section was mostly redundant with 
information presented elsewhere in the plan so the section was removed 
in the final version.

Category 4: Research Priorities (14 Recommendations)

    (a) Missing management needs, outcomes, example activities, or 
outputs for some aspects of research priorities.

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    (b) Redundancy among example activities, outputs, and/or outcomes 
across research priorities.
    (c) Requests for expanded discussion on short-term priorities.
    (d) How will priorities be further ``prioritized'' or sequenced?

Response 4

    (a) Management needs, outcomes, example activities, and outputs 
identified under each of the 10 long-term research priorities represent 
the types of activities and outputs that could be undertaken and 
developed in support of research and management needs and do not 
represent an exhaustive list. Rather, we have provided an initial list 
based on review of existing documents from the Gulf of Mexico, 
stakeholder input, conversations with partners, and expertise of 
program staff. Language in the plan that explained this use of examples 
was further clarified.
    (b) We agree with comments about redundancy among example 
activities, outputs, and/or outcomes across research priorities. Upon 
further review, we determined that some activities, outputs, and/or 
outcomes were not appropriate for the research priority under which 
they were listed and so they were removed. In other cases, simple edits 
were sufficient to address any issue(s). However, in some instances, 
redundancy should be expected. It is quite acceptable to expect like 
activities to occur in support of ecosystem research, recognizing that 
ultimately the activities are intended to answer different sets of 
    (c) Several comments requested that the plan elaborate and invest 
more discussion on short-term priorities. Since the short-term 
priorities were originally released in the Program's Framework document 
(December 2013), and subsequently were the focus of a federal funding 
opportunity (FFO), they are not covered in greater depth in this plan. 
The focus of this plan is to establish the long-term research 
priorities that will guide future implementation of this Program.
    (d) A considerable number of comments expressed concern over the 
Program's ability to address all of the long-term research priorities 
and requested information on the Program's plan for further 
prioritizing and sequencing priorities. Refer to Section III.4, 
``Funding Opportunities and Competitive Process'', for a revised list 
of factors that will inform sequencing among the Program's long-term 
research priorities.

Category 5: Priority Clarification (42 Recommendations)

    (a) Provide greater detail.
    (b) Build on existing data/knowledge better.

Response 5

    (a) A number of comments requested that the plan provide greater 
detail on the long-term research priorities, intended actions to be 
carried out under these priorities, and the anticipated outcomes. The 
plan identifies priorities for the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem that will 
add to our understanding of the condition of its living coastal and 
marine resources and wildlife populations, and the human coastal 
communities that are dependent upon this ecosystem. To achieve this 
holistic understanding requires a broad array of multi-disciplinary 
research projects that address both the natural and socioeconomic 
sciences. To address each in fine detail would be an immense 
undertaking, particularly for a new Program such as this one. At this 
early stage of the Program's development, the plan was purposefully 
written at a higher level with less detail to allow space for the 
Program to mature its own niche and fill unmet research needs in the 
region, all within the scope of the Program's authorization. This plan 
will be revised approximately every 5 years and more frequently if 
deemed necessary. As the Program matures, long-term research priorities 
may be refined.
    (b) Several comments requested that the plan recognize certain 
existing data and knowledge and seek to build off this previous work. 
We reviewed the plan and added additional references to previous work 
and mentioned additional opportunities to leverage ongoing or previous 

Category 6: Performance Measures (10 Recommendations)

    (a) What is the process for evaluating success?
    (b) How will performance be measured?
    (c) What are the metrics for success?

Response 6

    There were several comments on performance management, many of 
which were focused on the long-term research priorities. We are 
currently developing our approach to performance management; however, 
it will not be completed in time for inclusion with the Final Science 
Plan. We will vet our approach for performance management with our 
internal and external advisory bodies (refer to Section III.1, 
``Program Management Structure'' for more details on our advisory 

Category 7: Coordination and Engagement (32 Recommendations)

    (a) Elaborate on the coordination and engagement process.
    (b) Coordinate with the Centers of Excellence Research Grants 
    (c) Emphasis placed on interactions with Gulf state agencies.
    (d) Will the science plan be revised to reflect finalized 
coordination plans?

Response 7

    Additional text describing the Program's approach to coordination 
was added to the plan in Section III.2, ``Consultation and 
Coordination.'' That revised section addresses how we will meet 
legislative requirements for consultation and coordination with other 
Gulf of Mexico-focused programs. Avoiding duplication of effort is one 
of the main goals we will work on with our partner programs. The 
inclusion of citizen science was also recommended in several comments 
but did not require revisions to the plan. Refer to Section I.6, 
``Engagement'', for details on the Program's approach to stakeholder 

Category 8: Funding, Eligibility, and Prioritization (20 

    (a) Provide more details on FFOs, the decision process for proposal 
reviews, evaluation, and prioritization.
    (b) Who is eligible for support?
    (c) Explicitly state funding on upstream research.
    (d) Is there a contingency plan for research in response to future 
    (e) Encouragement for the facilitation of student opportunities.

Response 8

    The Program received several comments regarding the process we will 
use to develop FFOs. The Program has added language to clarify our 
approach to FFO development, including a list of factors that will 
inform the selection of topical priorities for specific funding 
opportunities. Refer to Section III.4, ``Funding Opportunities and 
Competitive Process'' for additional information on our approach to FFO 
development. This section also includes subsections that cover 
eligibility requirements for applying for funding, funding mechanisms, 
peer-review process, scientific integrity, and partnerships.

Category 9: Editorial (63 Recommendations)

    (a) Typographical errors;
    (b) Grammatical errors; and

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    (c) Recommendations for rewording or reorganizing.

Response 9

    All typographical and grammatical errors pointed out in comments 
were corrected. In many cases, requests for rewording or reorganizing 
were accepted (e.g., outcomes, outputs, and example activities listed 
under each long-term research priority in Section II were reordered to 
example activities, example outputs, and outcomes); however, some 
requests would have required extensive rewriting of the plan or were 
beyond the scope of this document. In other cases, the requested 
information was already in the plan--this revised version improves the 
organization and alignment of information and section headers 
throughout the plan to make it easier to locate specific information. 
There were several comments regarding some confusion on information 
presented in appendices. Several appendices have been revised and their 
captions have been clarified. Non-essential appendices have been 
removed from the plan.

    Dated: April 27, 2015.
Mary C. Erickson,
Director, National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, National Ocean 
Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
[FR Doc. 2015-10453 Filed 5-5-15; 8:45 am]