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AFOSR Adds Features, Influences Future in Annual Review

March 15, 2012
By Rita Boland, SIGNAL Online Exclusive
E-mail About the Author

The Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) wrapped up its annual review earlier this month, during which the organization's program managers had a chance to showcase their work to authorities from defense, government, academia and the general public. Already personnel have identified areas where research will adjust to meet identified needs with more detailed plans expected soon. This year's event included a new interactive feature as well as the continuance of a unique effort that began in 2011.

Unlike the regular internal reviews throughout the year, this annual event allows members of the larger scientific community to evaluate and provide feedback on AFOSR programs. One of the most important groups involved is the U.S. Air Force Scientific Advisory Board, a group of experts from within and outside the Air Force who report to the secretary of the Air Force and the service's chief of staff about whether the Air Force is spending its science and technology dollars wisely. Its pending input will have an effect on what changes the office will make to its research. Other key attendees include a team of senior science and technology leaders representing the defense community, NASA and the National Science Foundation.

For the first time this year, the board's review coincided with the annual review. Members were able to attend via the online streaming option available for only the second year. By carrying out both reviews at once, the Air Force saved time and money, factors that continue to grow in importance as budgets tighten. Dr. Thomas W. Hussey, chief scientist, AFOSR, says even as personnel await word from the board to work out the details of the path forward, they plan to make changes to the mathematics and computer sciences portfolios.

The annual review does not aim to elicit responses to specific scientific achievement as much as to assess where there are holes in research. One way officials are trying to close those gaps is by opening the event to universities—a practice it initiated last year. "I think that's a fundamentally new approach to this among government 6.1 organizations," Hussey states. Groups with a 6.1 designation perform basic research.

AFOSR leadership wanted to reach out to academia because of expertise that resides there but not within the military. Hussey explains that as more knowledgeable people provide input on AFOSR's research, scientists have better opportunities to pursue the right areas. So far, the office has received helpful feedback from university members. "Getting those people to care about what the Air Force and Defense Department might need in the intermediate- and far-term is good for everybody," Hussey states.

The online streaming option used by members of the Scientific Advisory Board and industry was available to anyone with Internet access. Hussey explains that the service provided through the annual review is to inform people outside of AFOSR about how the organization spends its money. Open presentations, whether in person or on the Web, allow groups to coordinate their investments.

Another feature new this year was an invitation for virtual attendees to submit questions via Twitter. Hussey says that "the jury is out" on the success of the experiment because few questions were received. However, the presentations are designed for members of the scientific community and unlikely to be well understood by the layperson. Also, contact information for each program manager is posted, so scientists may reach out directly to personnel involved with projects rather than through more general options.