The dimming of NEON

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Science  07 Aug 2015:
Vol. 349, Issue 6248, pp. 574
DOI: 10.1126/science.349.6248.574

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The National Science Foundation (NSF) has acknowledged that it bit off more than it could chew when the agency agreed in 2010 to build a unique network of dozens of ecological stations across the United States. Facing cost overruns and construction delays, NSF officials have decided to reduce the overall scope of the troubled National Ecological Observatories Network (NEON) and eliminate STREON, a major aquatic research component. NSF recently discovered that the $433 million project, originally intended for completion by next year, was "projected to be approximately $80 million over budget if it stayed on its current trajectory," says James Olds, head of NSF's biology directorate. After consulting with NEON officials and outside scientists, Olds says NSF "identified a descope option that will keep the project scientifically transformational and should bring it in on time and on budget." The move to shrink NEON follows years of complaints from ecologists that NSF and project managers have been inflexible and shut them out of decisions on NEON's capabilities. At the same time, a report this past February from a scientific advisory body reviewing NEON noted that "it is important to remember that the ecological research community has no experience with a project of this scale." NSF remains committed to funding the project's $65-million-a-year operating budget.