Shake-up at half billion dollar government ecology project


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Even as the government shutdown continues, the contractor managing a $434 million ecology project has dismissed two project managers and dissolved a 20-member scientific advisory board.

The turmoil is the latest in a long line of woes for NEON, which launched in 2000 and has faced ballooning budgets and allegations of mismanagement by its previous operator. Battelle took over NEON’s operations in 2016 and, in 2018, appointed Collinge, an environmental scientist at the University of Colorado Boulder, as the network’s observatory director and chief scientist. The non-profit also created the 20-member Science, Technology & Education Advisory Committee (STEAC) to advise NEON.

STEAC members credit Battelle with saving NEON, and construction of its observatories is now on schedule. But several see the dismissals and cancellation of the board as a breach of trust with the scientists who hope to use NEON data. “That’s burning bridges, which you just can’t afford to do in a small community,” says Ankur Desai, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

“I understand fully that this is very difficult and emotional for some people,” says Battelle spokesperson Patrick Jarvis. “Our goal remains to develop amazing data products and help the research community understand what’s going on at the broadest ecological level.”

The article includes a lot of whining by scientists about this, but I wonder. I also wonder at this project’s real scientific value. It could be legitimate, with the contractor merely cleaning house to make it run better. Or maybe it’s a boondoggle that is aimed solely at confirming the politically-driven environmental theories of the green activist community. If I had to guess, based on the track record of most big government projects these days, I’d pick the latter.

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