It has been quite awhile since we have communicated with you. This is largely due to two factors. First, much of the recent work of NEON has involved getting our business systems in place, hiring new staff, writing NSF proposals to keep the funding stream flowing, and getting the new Boulder office up and running. Second, we had to negotiate a new cooperative agreement with NSF, which has required multiple exchanges between NEON and NSF to work out important details. We are pleased to announce that the cooperative agreement is likely to be completed within a week or two. Our cooperative agreement includes items such as reports required, a schedule of deliverables, personnel hires that must be vetted by NSF and so forth.
We thought we would divide the rest of this letter into sections to make it easier for you to track the ongoing developments of NEON Inc.
FUNDING – On December 6 a proposal for about $20 M was submitted to the National Science Board. They voted to authorize the Director of NSF, at his discretion, to award NEON Inc. up to that amount. The award would not include any construction funds. Rather, this award would be to complete the design of NEON and to fund project management. The NSF Director has taken the recommendation of the NSB under advisement and we hope to receive a letter of award in the near future. The Cooperative Agreement, mentioned above, is the award mechanism that will be used to implement the Director’s decision.
The 2009 budget request that NSF has submitted as part of the President’s budget contains a request for $26 M for the NEON Program.
If you look at the NSF budget, you will see that NEON is not in the MREFC portion. No, this does not mean NEON is dead. In fact, it is quite alive. NSF has developed a new sequence of events and tighter standards for large, complex projects such as NEON. Previously, construction funds could be made available after the Preliminary Design Review. Now, construction funds are not available until after the Final Design Review (FDR). Since we are not to the FDR stage yet, those funds were released to other parts of the Foundation’s programs. If we continue on our current path, we will be eligible for MREFC funds after the FDR that likely will occur in 2009.
Clearly, NSF continues to support NEON as we move closer to the project’s construction phase.
PERSONNEL – As you may remember we lost our Project Manager (PM) and more recently our Chief Financial Officer (CFO). Currently we have interim staff in place for both positions. Now we are pleased to announce that on February 8, Tony Beasley, the Project Manager for another NSF MREFC project (ALMA, the Atacama Large Millimeter Array) accepted our offer to join us. This is an absolutely critical hire.
Tony has great experience and he will hit the ground running when he arrives in the US from Chile where ALMA is being constructed. We have also added a Procurement Officer and a Director of Human Resources to the DC office, and filled several positions in the Boulder office, including key science staff.
By now we had expected to advertise for the Chief of Education and the Domain Chief Scientists (DCS). These positions have been put on hold for the time being. We hope to advertise for the Chief of Education soon. The DCS searches will likely be delayed for a few months and perhaps up to a year, partly because of finances and partly because we are not yet in a position to use their talents to the fullest extent at this time. In addition, it will take considerable preparation time and effort to conduct a thorough search for the 20 DCS positions.
BOARD OF DIRECTORS – As you know we have had a program of inviting interested institutions to become contributing members of NEON. This group now has over 50 members. These institutions select a representative to communicate with NEON and to attend our annual meeting (we expect the first annual meeting to be scheduled this fall). Also, from this group of representatives a number are elected to be on the Board of Directors of NEON Inc. There are two categories of Board members: the At Large Directors are elected by the entire Board, while the Membership Directors are voted in by their peers, the NEON representatives. Once elected, there are no distinctions between directors in terms of their rights and duties.
This year’s elections added two new At Large Directors to the Board: Margaret Leinen (Chief Science Officer of Climos Corp. and former NSF Assistant Director for the Geosciences Directorate) and David Douglas (VP of Sun Microsystems). The five Member Directors are: Jim Ehleringer (University of Utah), Nancy Grimm (Arizona State University), Margaret Palmer (Chesapeake Biological Laboratory), Debra Peters (USDA ARS Jornada Experimental Range), and David White (Hancock Biological Station)A consulting firm conducted the election of Member-elected Directors electronically.
CANDIDATE SITES – NEON Chief of Science, Michael Keller, has finished all the preliminary work related to the selection of the candidate sites for both core and relocatable sites within each Domain. In order to develop exact costs for candidate sites, every site must be visited to estimate its infrastructure needs. Michael has set a schedule for these visits. We must now put forward an accurate budget for NEON by late this year and we must assist NSF in conducting an Environmental Assessment of the sites. Without this budget in place, we cannot move forward at a healthy pace to meet stringent requirements for developing a complicated, distributed project like NEON.
As you can see, our lack of communication with you has not been due to lack of hard work by our staff. NEON Inc. is rapidly developing as an organization and we continue to make progress toward our many goals.
We appreciate your forbearance and support, and hope to have much more NEON news to report in the next few months.
Chairman, NEON Inc. Board of Directors Dave Schimel
CEO NEON Inc