The USGCRP was established in 1989, and was included as a Presidential Initiative in the FY 1990 budget as a high-priority research effort, designed to:
"...development and coordination of a comprehensive and integrated United States research program which will assist the Nation and the world to understand, assess, predict, and respond to human-induced and natural processes of global change."
"...increasing the overall effectiveness and productivity of Federal global change research efforts." 2
The Global Change Research Act defines global change as "changes in the global environment (including alterations in climate, land productivity, oceans or other water resources, atmospheric chemistry, and ecological systems) that may alter the capacity of the Earth to sustain life." This mandate for the USGCRP makes it clear that the program is to have a broad scope and consider the full set of issues dealing with actual and potential global environmental change. This approach recognizes the profound economic, social, and ecological implications of global changes and the need to maintain U.S. leadership in this area.
Since its inception, the USGCRP has been directed toward strengthening research on key scientific issues, and has fostered much improved insight into the processes and interactions of the Earth system. The results of research supported by the USGCRP play an important role in international scientific assessments, including assessments of climate change and stratospheric ozone depletion. The USGCRP research results provide the scientific information base that underpins consideration of possible response strategies, but the USGCRP does not recommend policies on global change issues, nor does it include support for research and development of energy technologies, for development of mitigation strategies, or for the Climate Change Action Plan.
Presidents Bush and Clinton, and Congress, have supported the USGCRP as a high priority in the national scientific research agenda.
Program Direction and Agency Research Contributions
The Subcommittee on Global Change Research (SGCR) of the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources (CENR), a component of the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), provides overall direction and executive oversight of the USGCRP. Within this framework, agencies manage and coordinate Federally supported scientific research on global change. In addition to USGCRP review of the overall set of agency research programs, each agency is responsible for the review of individual projects within its programs. These reviews are almost exclusively based on an external peer-review process, which is deemed an important means of ensuring continued program quality.
The Global Change Research Act specifies a minimum of 14 Federal agencies, as well as planning and oversight offices of the Executive Office of the President, to be represented in the oversight of global change research. The SGCR currently includes representation from the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), Defense, Energy, Health and Human Services (National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences), Interior (U.S. Geological Survey), and State; the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Science Foundation, and the Smithsonian Institution; and liaison representation from the Executive Office of the President (Office of Science and Technology Policy and Office of Management and Budget), the National Research Council, the Council on Environmental Quality, and the Office of the Federal Coordinator for Meteorology.
A few of the agencies participating in the USGCRP support research on a broad range of issues, while others have a more specialized focus. Programmatic contributions are closely matched to agency missions and areas of expertise.
Thus, for example, NASA leads the efforts in implementing and interpreting
systematic and experimental global satellite observations of the Earth,
as well as conducting multidisciplinary research aimed at understanding
the physical, chemical, and biological processes that control the state
of the integrated Earth system and their susceptibility to change; NOAA
leads efforts relating to its interests in improving predictions of atmospheric
and oceanic behavior; DOE focuses on research to predict the behavior of
the global climate system on decade to century timescales in response to
changes in atmospheric composition, and to evaluate the contribution of
energy-based emissions to climate change; NSF focuses on broadly based
fundamental research to improve understanding of the Earth system; USDA
focuses on the roles of and consequences for agriculture, food production,
and forests of global-scale environmental change; NIH focuses on potential
health-related impacts; DOI focuses on climate system history and impacts
on water resources and public lands; EPA focuses on ecosystem and societal
impacts of global change; DOD focuses on prediction of seasonal climate
anomalies affecting its national security operations; and the Smithsonian
Institution focuses on improving knowledge of the natural processes involved
in global change.