08 Organization of a Research Program

National Academy of Sciences Advisory Committee on Research in the National Parks: The Robbins Report

Organization of a Research Program

It is of the utmost importance that a research program in the natural sciences be inaugurated in the National Park Service and integrated smoothly into the continuing functions and activities of the Service in such a way as to insure that the results of such a program will be utilized in the decision-making process of operational management. A research program will provide the parameters and guidelines for operation. Its role in the National Park Service should not be simply an advisory function. It should be a line responsibility in the National Park Service organization.

The research organization within the National Park Service should be distinct from administration and the operational management organization. Management criteria for a research program are not identical with those for operational functions; they differ at headquarters as well as in the field. Research contract review and negotiation are not the same as with construction contracts. Research field personnel cannot fulfill their assignments effectively under the same personnel management policies as are most satisfactory for maintenance personnel.

In the final analysis the success of a research program in the National Park Service will depend upon the capabilities of the individuals who have the responsibility for planning, managing and executing this activity. In order to bring the necessary scientific knowledge and judgment to bear upon the research problems confronting the Park Service, and in order that the research program may achieve rapport with the scientific community at large, the scientific personnel must be of the highest professional quality.

As a line responsibility in the administration of the National Park Service, the research program in natural science will involve a heavy administrative burden. Not only will the development, review, and management of a research program require considerable imaginative and administrative effort but, in order to focus research conclusions upon general park management problems, considerable time and effort will be required on administrative procedures and coordination.

Following the principle that scientific personnel directly involved in research responsibilities should not be distracted with administrative and operational matters, it is suggested that the research program be established under an Assistant Director for Research in the Natural Sciences who will be responsible for the administration of the research programs and for other activities directly related to the research program functions. It is further recommended that a Chief Scientist be appointed to direct the natural history research activities and the natural history research staff. The Chief Scientist would report immediately to the Assistant Director.

The Assistant Director to whom the responsibility for the research program is assigned, should be a scientist, thoroughly conversant with the general concepts of the problems to be encountered. He should have experience in working with other scientists and with research programs, and be knowledgeable in administrative techniques involved in reviewing, developing, and managing scientific programs. He must, particularly, recognize and be sympathetic with the importance of freedom of action which scientific investigation requires.

The Committee recommends that a nucleus of highly competent scientists be assembled in the headquarters of the National Park Service primarily to develop a research program in natural history, and to determine the exact extent and nature of the research problems confronting the parks with an assessment of priorities to be pursued. This nucleus should comprise at least 10 individuals including the present staff. Increases in staff, together with field personnel, should be based on the conclusions of this central group, and be determined by it.

Since the research problems of the National Park Service will involve complex biological and physical situations, emphasis should be placed on selecting scientists for the directing staff who have broad competence in their fields rather than merely specialists in particular areas or problems. Specialists, where necessary, may be sought when the problems of the parks are further defined.

Since the research program will directly relate to operational management policies of the national parks, the research program in natural history in the National Park Service should be mission-oriented; that is, it should be concerned with the problems involved in the preservation of the natural features of a park, their restoration, where necessary and possible; and the development of sound information for the interpretation of the parks to the interested public. The scientific investigators must, however, be free to pursue experiments which are in their judgment the most promising within the defined areas of the mission.

The National Park Service should not attempt to include on its natural history staff competence for every type of problem requiring mission-oriented research. Problems, specialized in nature, the solution for which may be anticipated within a limited period of time (one to five years), lend themselves to contractual arrangements for the needed research.