Based on a recommendation by the Bush Administration, the
National Research Council has formed a new committee to look into
the possibility of transferring to NASA the astronomy
responsibilities currently managed by NSF. The Committee on
Organization and Management of Research in Astronomy and
Astrophysics (COMRAA) will consider this and other options, and
is expected to release its report by September 1, 2001.

As described in FYI #24, the President’s March 1 budget blueprint
suggested that “now is the time to assess the Federal
Government’s management and organization of astronomical
research.” The document called for NSF and NASA to establish “a
Blue Ribbon Panel to assess the organizational effectiveness of
Federal support of astronomical sciences and, specifically, the
pros and cons of transferring NSF’s astronomy responsibilities to
NASA. The panel may also develop alternative options.”

A provisional membership list for the committee is now available.
It would be chaired by the former head of Lockheed Martin, Norman
Augustine. The other provisional members of COMRAA are: Lewis
Branscomb, Harvard University; D. Allan Bromley, Yale University;
Claude Canizares, MIT; Sandra Faber, U.C. Santa Cruz; Robert
Gehrz, University of Minnesota; Philip Goode, New Jersey
Institute of Technology; Burton Richter, Stanford University;
Anneila Sargent, Caltech; Frank Shu, U.C. Berkeley; Maxine
Singer, Carnegie Institute of Washington; and Robert Williams,
Space Telescope Science Institute. The committee’s mission will
be to “assess the organizational effectiveness of Federal support
of astronomical sciences; discuss the advantages and
disadvantages of transferring NSF’s astronomy responsibilities to
NASA; [and] consider other options for addressing the management
and organizational issues identified by the committee and by
recent NRC reports.”

The committee’s web site identifies two recent NRC documents
addressing the status of U.S. astronomy: Federal Funding for
Research in Astronomy (the FFAR report), and Astronomy and
Astrophysics in the New Millennium (the AASC report). According
to the web site, “the FFAR report found that over the last
decade, the balance of support has shifted toward NASA. NSF’s
share of support for grants has fallen from 60 percent at the
beginning of the 1980s to 30 percent at the end of the 1990s.”
Both reports raised concerns that a large portion of total
astronomy funding supports a small number of NASA space missions,
and that NSF has a tendency to underinvest in research and
analysis that would capitalize on the capabilities of new

The committee plans to hold four meetings before its final report
is due on September 1. Public comment will be accepted at the
second meeting, scheduled for June 13-14 at the National Research
Council (NRC) in Washington, D.C.

The web site for COMRAA is: . Additional
information is available on the American Astronomical Society web
site at: .


Audrey T. Leath

Public Information Division

The American Institute of Physics

(301) 209-3094