Jack Fellows

1997 Edward A. Flinn III Award Winner

Jack Fellows was awarded the Edward A. Flinn III Award at the AGU Spring Meeting Honor Ceremony on May 28, 1997, in Baltimore, Md. The Flinn Award is given to those individuals who personify the Union’s motto “unselfish cooperation in research” through their facilitating, coordinating, and implementing activities. The award citation and Fellows’ response are given here.


“A few years ago, I received an e-mail from Jack Fellows describing Jack and his children throwing bottles (with notes inside) into the Atlantic Ocean in hopes of them reaching France. It was an experiment he was doing with his children to get them to understand the importance of science. One of these bottles did indeed make it to France. It was his daughter’s Science Fair project and resulted in an engaging letter exchange with the French couple who found the bottle. I tell you this because I believe it reflects Jack’s keen interest in science, natural systems, learning, and discovery.

“Jack began his career by completing a doctorate from the University of Maryland in 1983. His research focused on how the sampling size of remotely sensed data can impact estimates of water runoff in large-scale hydrologic models. This research involved many different disciplines, including hydrology, economics, soils, remote sensing, geography, statistical modeling, and computer science and began his interest in the type of global-scale, interdisciplinary research that he has continued to work on throughout his career.

“At the conclusion of his doctorate and while interviewing for university research positions, Jack was selected for the 1983 & 1984 AGU Congressional Science Fellowship. He spent the next year with Representative George Brown on science and space policy issues, including codrafting a bill to commercialize land remote sensing satellites. It was at this time I believe he began to realize that the investment in Federal Earth science research was significant and would benefit from further coordination between the involved agencies. This AGU fellowship had a major impact on Jack’s life—resulting in a significant detour into public service —because toward the end of his congressional fellowship, Jack accepted an invitation to join the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). In addition to the career potential of an OMB science position, it gave him a chance to further examine our Nation’s Earth science research portfolio before he headed back to a university research career. In early 1986, he used the research framework outlined in the Bretherton Committee’s Earth System Science Report to do an informal inventory of what the Federal government was spending on Earth science research. Many things happened after that, but probably one of the most significant was the creation of the Committee on Earth Sciences within the Federal Coordinating Council for Science, Engineering, and Technology. This committee was an interagency forum that could provide policy guidance on these science investments. Jack was also the critical keystone in the Executive Offices of the President that led to the establishment of the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), a Presidential initiative under Presidents Reagan, Bush, and Clinton.

“I can still remember Jack and Bob Watson putting the finishing touches on the very first USGCRP budget brochure in 1989, with Jack ferrying the various drafts back and forth between NASA and OMB late at night by bicycle. Jack even loaded them on the truck for delivery to the Congress with President Reagan’s 1990 budget. To the best of my knowledge, no one had ever sent such a budget brochure with a President’s budget, but Jack kept pushing us along and we never found anyone to say `no.’

“Those were exciting times for us. It was very important to have such a strong partnership with OMB during this process. It was not always easy, but always constructive and professional. Jack forced us to be disciplined in integrating the program goals and the resources we might expect. He demanded that we have clear goals, well-identified objectives along the way, and ways to measure progress toward achieving those goals and objectives. It wasn’t perfect, and you can imagine how challenging it was having to develop such a specific `roadmap’ in the basic research area, including prioritizing between research areas. As challenging as it was at times, it was unquestionably the right thing to do.

“We had many years of this important partnership. We always knew we could count on Jack. He also played a similar role in several other interagency research efforts, including high-performance computing, math and science education, biotechnology, and materials science. Further, I know that he was not hired by OMB to work on something like the USGCRP. He made it an issue, got the backing of White House policy officials, and helped sustain the focus on this important activity for years. Most of these efforts were done well past the normal 8-hour working day.

“For Jack, this `short-term’ assignment turned into 13 years at OMB. During this time, Jack also oversaw NASA’s and NSF’s budgets and programs at OMB and was OMB’s overall coordinator for the Federal government’s roughly $75 billion research and development portfolio. He has been OMB’s representative for years on the Federal Coordinating Council for Science, Engineering, and Technology and its successor, the National Science and Technology Council. It has been incredibly important to have a person with Jack’s experience and personality on these important Federal interagency coordinating bodies.

“The OMB is a demanding place to work, and Jack has done extremely well there, as demonstrated by his positions of increased responsibility and authority. I think this reflects his capability. What has been accomplished with him reflects his commitment to excellence and to expanding the boundaries of organizations to enable cutting-edge research that seeks to understand the complexity of planet Earth. Jack continues to maintain this delicate balance—dedication to research and the meshing of that research with the dynamic political environment. I would like to thank the Flinn Award Committee for their selection of Jack D. Fellows for this award.

“Congratulations to Jack for that accomplishment and for his many years of service to the community.”

—ROBERT W. CORELL, National Science Foundation, Arlington, Va.


“Thank you, Bob, for your very kind citation. I’m extremely honored to receive the 1997 Edward A. Flinn III award. I came to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in 1984 after a year in the Congress as AGU’s Science Fellow. I had accepted a position in the OMB with the hopes of trying to further coordinate our nation’s Earth science investments. I thought that might take about a year to complete. That was more than 14 years ago! I didn’t stay because coordinating Earth science research took that long, but because OMB was such a fascinating place to work. The OMB does many things, but most simplistically it helps the President implement his priorities and oversees the running of the Federal government. It is probably fair to say that OMB’s work ends up being problems that can’t be solved elsewhere. It is a humbling place to work, where substance and politics blur together at a frenetic pace.

“Although I had always intended to return to the university research environment, I kept finding engaging issues to work on, including global change research, redesigning space stations, math and science education, and much more. Each year, I continued to faithfully renew my AGU membership and wondered whether this would be the year of my return. My guess is that it will be a surprise to many that this year’s Flinn award went to someone in OMB. Frankly, it surprised me too. However, a lot of coordinating, facilitating, and implementing of research programs important to the AGU research community goes on in Washington. I clearly consider it my great fortune to have been a part of this important process for many years.

“I have continued to work primarily on issues related to our nation’s research and development investments, but probably one of the most interesting projects I worked on was the early years of the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP). I think it was so interesting because, like most of the things I work on, it took a significant amount of trust building and cooperation to produce an effective outcome.

“I think the many successes of the USGCRP laid the foundation for many subsequent Federal interagency research efforts. I was very fortunate to have been a part of the USGCRP initiative. I’m aware of at least two scholarly studies and two doctoral theses that have been written about the creation and evolution of the USGCRP. When asked by the authors of these studies why I thought the USGCRP had happened, I have always responded that in 1988 our nation had (1) a very hot summer, (2) a research community ready to engage in research on global change (e.g., the Bretherton report, technologies to make global satellite observations, etc.), (3) a policy community beginning to awaken to the issues of global warming, and (4) a group of dedicated and creative researchers that happened to be in key Federal positions in Washington. I’m not sure that the USGCRP would have happened without all four of these components, but I am sure that it would not have happened without several key people being here in Washington and the many gifted researchers that contributed from around the nation.

“Early on in my OMB career, Francis Bretherton had an enormous impact on my thinking about Earth science research. With this knowledge, I did some poking around on what investments our nation was making in the Earth sciences. Even as early as 1985, it was looking like well over $1 billion annually. At the same time, I started meeting people like Bob Corell at National Science Foundation, Mike Hall at NOAA, Ari Patrinos at the Department of Energy, Dick Johnson at Office of Science and Technology Policy, Shelby Tilford and Bob Watson at NASA, Gary Evans at U.S. Department of Agriculture, Dallas Peck at U.S. Geological Survey, and many, many others. They were ready to pour a lot of energy into improving the coordination of the Federal Earth science investments. All of these people (and many others that I have probably failed to name) deserve a piece of this award. By the time of the Bush Administration, this team was operating very effectively and it was not hard to convince senior policy officials of the USGCRP’s merits in the effort to address global warming policy issues. Today, the USGCRP is funded at roughly $2 billion annually and is an important Clinton Administration research priority.

“I have gone on to work on many things since those “heady” days working on the USGCRP, but there was one very important lesson I learned from this experience. It is difficult to make things happen in the political world unless you have a simple story of where you are headed and how you plan to get there. To me, that translates into having well-articulated goals and objectives and milestones to show progress toward achieving them. Without this, it is very difficult to move a program through the arduous Federal budget process. Make it an interagency research program, and you have a challenge of epic proportion on your hands. You must convince policy officials who are under tremendous pressure to balance the budget and to fund other important policy priorities that somehow all these agency contributions contribute to an overall goal and cutting any one of them can undermine the effort’s progress. The simple story is the glue. I’m not sure I ever saw this done perfectly, but the USGCRP was the best example I have seen in my tenure. My hat is still off to all those involved in the USGCRP.

“I do think the AGU and its membership can play a dramatic role in this process by helping to contribute to this integrated view of the Earth sciences. The current era of balancing the budget will continue to put significant stress on research funding. Not all things can be funded. However, staying engaged in the political process and helping decision makers make the tough tradeoffs can build an important trust between the AGU research community and Washington. Building relationships with organizations like OMB and the Office of Science and Technology Policy are important steps in this process. It was useful in the past for the AGU to review and comment on things like the USGCRP and agency decision making, although it could have happened much more routinely. The government has significant legal restrictions that prevent it from directly soliciting information from specific groups. Fortunately, we can clearly take note of any offered information.

“In closing, I want to thank Bob Corell, Mike Hall, and Ari Patrinos for their nomination and the Flinn selection committee, the Officers of AGU, and the entire AGU membership for this award. I also want to thank Sarah Horrigan, the many people who wrote letters on my behalf, and, of course, the many people with whom I have had the great pleasure of working side-by-side over the last 14 years. I believe I was told by Sarah that Francis Bretherton said something like “`in his wildest ideas he could have never imagined writing a letter of support for someone in OMB.’” Francis, I don’t know how OMB might take that, but it clearly means a great deal to me. I also want to thank my family. They paid a price for those years I worked so closely on the USGCRP and for OMB’s generally insane work schedule. Whatever, I contributed to these interagency efforts had a lot to do with their continued support and the anchor they provided me.

“This is a particularly important time for me and my family. This spring I made a decision to leave OMB and will be joining the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) in Boulder, Colorado in mid-August. I look forward to continued interactions with the global change community but in a totally new capacity as the Vice President for Corporate Affairs and Director of UCAR’s Office of Programs.

“Lastly, I want to honor a dear friend of the community. Ned Ostenso died recently. He gave many years of his life to this community. I had the great fortune of speaking with him just a month before his death. He had spent so many productive years in the DOD’s Office of Naval Research and NOAA’s Office of Atmospheric Research (OAR) and he was reflecting on his choice to retire from OAR to have some fun and spend more time with his lovely wife Grace. In fact, he was giving me advice about what I might want to do in the future. His passing is a great loss to the community, and a reminder of how fragile life can be. In his honor, let us all do some good science, make a contribution to our nation, and make sure we have fun along the way.”

—JACK D. FELLOWS, Science and Space Programs, Office of Management and Budget, Washington, D.C.