2001 Wisconsin Avenue, N.W.
Telephone: (202) 334-2934
July 12, 1999Mr. Kenneth R. Wykle
Dear Mr. Wykle:
The Research and Technology Coordinating Committee (FHWA) met on June 8 and 9 at the J. Erik Jonsson Woods Hole Center of the National Academy of Sciences in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. The enclosed meeting roster indicates the members, liaisons, guests, and TRB staff in attendance. On behalf of the committee, I want to thank FHWA for its continuing interest in and support for the work of the RTCC.
This letter report was prepared by the committee as a result of the meeting discussions and deliberations. It is an intentionally brief summary; information about the committee’s future activities and meetings is also provided.
Review of RTCC Recommendations Regarding FHWA’s Motor Carrier Research and Development (R&D) Program
The committee was pleased to have the opportunity to meet with Julie Cirillo, Director of the Office of Motor Carriers and Highway Safety, to review the committee’s findings and recommendations regarding FHWA’s motor carrier R&D program. Those findings and recommendations were prepared in response to a request included in the Senate Committee on Appropriations report on appropriations for the U.S. Department of Transportation (Report 105-249), and were provided to FHWA in a letter report dated April 21, 1999.
Ms. Cirillo was commended on FHWA’s progress toward the committee’s recommendations. In particular, the committee was pleased to learn that FHWA is making arrangements to develop a truck crash causation database that will provide the information required to determine specific research needs. While recognizing that FHWA has requested funds from Congress to support this effort, the committee believes (as noted in the April 21, 1999 letter report) that the need for such a database is a high priority and should be pursued with existing available funds if FHWA’s request for additional funds is not successful.
Determining FHWA Research and Technology (R&T) Priorities
The committee discussed with Ms. Cirillo how FHWA’s new core business units (CBUs) will determine the agency’s future R&T priorities. As a result of the FHWA reorganization, CBU directors are responsible for determining R&T priorities for their units. The directors then develop R&T program plans with the head of the Office of Research, Development, and Technology. In view of the critical role now played by the CBU directors in setting R&T priorities, the committee would like to meet with each director, in turn, to learn how they plan to conduct this activity. Such discussions would provide a broader context for future RTCC activities. The committee will coordinate with FHWA staff to arrange for these discussions at future RTCC meetings.
Review of Efforts to Develop a National Partnership Forum for Highway R&T
Having reviewed progress to date, the committee continues to support FHWA efforts to develop a national partnership forum for highway R&T, as initially described in the agency’s proposal dated October 6, 1998. The committee recognizes that this important initiative is still evolving, and stands ready to assist FHWA and its partners in any way, particularly by reviewing and assessing research priorities and program proposals. The committee cautions the agency and its partners to set reasonable expectations for the forum activity during this formative stage, and also urges FHWA (as it did in its letter report dated October 30, 1998) to adopt the partnership forum as a continuing activity aimed at improving the working relationship between FHWA and its partners for many years to come.
As a result of its discussion with Ms. Cirillo, the committee believes FHWA’s CBU directors are essential to the success of the partnership forum, given their responsibility for developing R&T priorities and program plans for their units. Since the forum activity is aimed at a set of jointly developed R&D priorities, forum participants from the highway industry will be expecting the CBU directors to work closely with them to achieve this goal. This point was reiterated at the roundtable discussion hosted by the committee at the meeting for representatives of the asphalt and concrete pavement construction industry. Roundtable discussants described problems they face in achieving innovation in highway construction, specific R&D needs related to pavement construction, and several recent efforts by industry groups to prepare industry-focused strategic R&T program proposals and carry out industry-sponsored R&D. They agreed that while a coordinated national highway R&T program is a desirable goal, such a program will require close and continuing interaction among all the partners, especially FHWA R&T decision makers such as the CBU directors.
Plans for an RTCC Report on Highway R&T
Recognizing that the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) changed highway R&T in several ways, the committee decided to prepare a new report on highway research and technology. TEA-21 reduced FHWA’s R&T budget flexibility for the next
6 years, gave considerable congressional direction regarding the recipients of FHWA R&T funding and the direction of FHWA R&T activities, emphasized the need to link FHWA R&T to strategic goals, and increased the State Planning and Research program budget. The committee plans to examine these and other changes in a report aimed at providing an overall description of the nation’s highway R&T program and the federal role in that program.
One of the areas the committee plans to address is the impact on the quality and effectiveness of research programs of designating the recipients of earmarked research funds. The committee believes open competition for research funds, merit review, and peer review of research proposals and products are critical elements of successful investment in research and continued innovation (as noted in the committee’s letter report dated August 21, 1998). This view is also echoed in the recent National Research Council study entitled Evaluating Federal Research Programs: Research and the Government Performance and Results Act.
Future Meeting Plans
The committee’s next meeting is scheduled for October 25 and 26, 1999, in Washington, D.C. On behalf of the committee, I would like to invite you to join us at this meeting.
C. Michael Walton
Research and Technology Coordinating Committee (FHWA)
|C. Michael Walton (NAE), Chairman||Larry Goode|
|Allan Abbott||Jack Kay|
|Richard Braun||Joe Mahoney|
|John Breen||Michael Ryan|
|Forrest Council||Thomas Smith|
|Frank Danchetz||David Spivey|
|Henry Dittmar||Dale Stein (NAE)|
|Irwin Feller||David Willis|
|Nancy Fitzroy (NAE)|
LIAISONS AND VISITORS
Julie Cirillo, FHWA
Michael Halladay, FHWA
Robert Alger, Lane Construction Co.
Dale Decker, National Asphalt Pavement Association
Ross Eckert, Pine Hill Materials Co.
Chuck Marek, Vulcan Materials Corporation
Charles Potts, National Stone Association