The OFAP Process

The term OFAP stands for Observing Facilities Assessment Panel and refers to the independent advisory board that provides objective input and recommendations on issues associated with operational and technical challenges linked to facility support requirements. However, the term is also routinely used to describe the process of requesting NSF Lower Atmosphere Observing Facilities, which can take up to a year depending on the size of the requested campaign. The information below provides an overview of the OFAP process once the request documentation has been received from the principal investigator. 


LAOF Partner Organization Responsibilities

Feasibilities and EDO Assessments: Once a request or Experiment Design Overview (EDO) has been received, representatives of each requested facility work on their portion of a feasibility analysis study. While EDO assessments focus primarily on high-level issues such as potential show stoppers and high risks, feasibilities are more detailed and focus on aspects such as instrumentation and payload issues, project scope, operational constraints, scheduling conflicts, project risks, and any other issues that may arise. While preparing these documents, the project manager of a facility may call the PI to clarify aspects of the request, provide suggestions to improve the experiment design or raise any issues s/he may see. Once the individual portions of the EDO assessments and feasibilities have been created, the documents will be merged and reviewed by the appropriate Facility Managers and the LAOF Request Coordinator. The ultimate goal of each EDO assessment and feasibility analysis is to declare a project “feasible.”

Feasibility Summary Presentation: Once the feasibilities and EDO assessments are completed, one or two staff from the relevant LAOF Partner Organization will be assigned as “Project Facilitator.” The Project Facilitator is usually a scientist, engineer, or project manager who is familiar with the technical characteristics of the requested instrument and the scientific objectives to be accomplished. This person will be responsible for summarizing the outcome of the feasibility analysis study in a short presentation that will be used to introduce the operational and technical aspects of the request to the entire OFAP before the project is discussed (see below).

Cost Estimates: At the same time, facility administrators will work with facility staff to prepare a cost estimate for the proposed project. Costs for deploying LAOF will be charged to the NSF Deployment Pool, a fund that is dedicated to the exclusive support of expenses directly associated with the deployment of the LAOF for NSF-supported research.

Global Feasibility: Once the feasibilities and cost estimates are completed, the LAOF Request Coordinator, in consultation with the other LAOF Partner Organizations, produces a Global Feasibility that lays out all possible project combinations. In addition to assessing obvious scheduling conflicts, the Global Feasibility also looks at needed staffing and facility resources, potential funding shortfalls, and planned development and maintenance efforts to provide as complete a picture as possible.

The Global Feasibility, together with the individual EDO assessments, feasibilities, and cost estimates, are forwarded for review to NSF approximately one month before the OFAP meeting. At the same time, the LAOF Request Coordinator provides electronic copies of the request material and facility-prepared documentation to each assigned OFAP members.

OFAP Responsibilities

Review Preferences and Conflicts-of-Interest: Once all requests and EDOs are received by the LAOF Partner Organizations, the LAOF Request Coordinator will query for their review preferences and Conflicts-of-Interest before they are assigned as “Resource Persons” for requests in their area of expertise. EOL management assigns at least three and preferably four Resource Persons from the OFAP for each major request. One of the assigned Resource Persons will be declared the “Lead Project Reviewer,” who will be responsible for introducing the scientific objectives of the project to the entire Panel by using the PI-provided Science Overview Presentation.

Project Reviews: Once panel members receive copies of their assigned review material, each Resource Person is asked to evaluate their assigned request on the basis of a set of predetermined criteria. The review material provided includes the facility request or EDO, portions of the science proposal, the facility prepared feasibilities and cost estimates, and other information that may be relevant to each assigned facility request. The review criteria to be covered include the importance and uniqueness of the project, experiment design, proposed operations, platforms and instruments requested, project planning, management, and implementation, data management and dissemination, safety and security, resources, and cost and qualifications of the proposer. Each Resource Person must provide a short summary of his/her comments electronically to EOL a few days ahead of the OFAP meeting. These comments are shared at the start of the executive session to the Panel, NSF representatives, and LAOF Partner Organization representatives.

NSF Responsibilities

Scientific Grant Proposals and SPOs: NSF is responsible for conducting the review of the scientific grant proposal through the NSF merit review process once the individual science proposals or SPOs are submitted to NSF. In the case of NCAR-led field campaigns, a similar process is handled by the EOL Director.



The OFAP meets twice per year at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado. Meetings are held every year in spring (April/May) and fall (October/November) over a two- to three-day period. The primary purpose of the meeting is to evaluate all facility requests and Experiment Design Overviews received for a given deployment time frame. As time allows, meetings may also include information items from NSF, the LAOF Partner Organizations as well as technical/scientific briefings on past field programs and new observing system developments and upgrades.

Preparation for Meeting

NCAR/EOL is responsible for handling all organizational, logistical, and clerical support for the meeting. In this capacity, EOL coordinates and distributes all materials, maintains the OFAP web site, develops the meeting agenda, maintains and updates longterm facility request schedules, and assists the OFAP Chairs in conducting the meeting. All responsibilities are carried out in consultation and close coordination with the NSF LAOF Program Director, NSF Program Officers, the OFAP Chairs, Facility Managers, and others as appropriate.

OFAP Meeting

Request Evaluation Process: All requests and EDOs are evaluated in closed session. Participants in the deliberations usually include OFAP members, the NSF LAOF Program Director, NSF Program Officers, Facility Managers, and selected LAOF Partner Organization staff.

If necessary, the OFAP Chairs make adjustments to the order in which the requests are introduced, considering such factors as Conflicts-of-Interest, availability of Resource Persons, and effective use of the Panel's time.

The science of each request/EDO is introduced by the Lead Project Reviewer in a neutral and unbiased manner, using the presentation slides provided by the PI. The science overview is followed by a summary of the feasibility/EDO assessment prepared by the Project Facilitator(s). Each assigned Resource Person then presents his/her evaluations using the criteria listed above before the discussions are opened to all attendees (including facility managers, project facilitators, and project managers). If a question arises that requires clarification, the Project Facilitator contacts the PI for details.

In situations where major scheduling or funding conflicts exist among the requests under consideration, NSF provides priority guidance to the LAOF Partner Organizations. If NSF has decided not to support a project or if a project has failed to receive the endorsement of an NCAR Associate Director or Science Division Director, it will be removed from formal consideration by the OFAP, although suggestions for improvement or other helpful comments from the OFAP are still appropriate.

OFAP Assessment: The OFAP considers all NSF pending requests before finalizing its findings. For each request, the OFAP provides a written summary to the LAOF Partner Organization management regarding the deployment of a requested facility. Summaries will focus on, but are not limited to, a specific allocation of facility usage (e.g., days in the field and/or number of flight hours), the amount of deployment funds, suggested adjustments to the experiment design (e.g., alternate flight plans, scan strategies, increases/decreases of flight hours) and possible schedule modifications, if necessary.



Requestor Review and Comments: Immediately following the meeting, the OFAP-provided assessments and feasibilities/EDO assessments are shared with the requesting PIs. The requestors are invited to review the documentation provided and have three weeks to comment on any issues raised in written form. 

Facility Manager Summary Documentation: Within one month of the OFAP meeting and once the PI feedback is received, EOL will provide "Facility Manager Summary Documents" containing all documentation provided by the PIs and Facilities to the NSF LAOF Program Director and relevant NSF Program Officers. 

Funding Decision: While the OFAP assessment is an important part of the facility allocation decision, the funding decision for a field deployment is solely the responsibility of the individual NSF Program Officer and is dependent on the successful review of the supporting science proposals. Once a decision has been reached, NSF will first inform the PIs about the outcome of their request status before informing the facility providers. The LAOF Program Director will then inform the LAOF Partner Organizations about the NSF’s decision to either decline or support a campaign. If a research proposal has been declined by NSF, then the deployment pool funding request is also automatically declined. 

Allocation Email: Once the LAOF Partner Organizations receive positive notice from NSF about a funding decision, an email is sent to the requesting PI informing him/her about the project allocation. The email includes details about the amount of resources allocated, the time frame for the project, the name of the responsible facilities project manager, and any other pertinent information.