«Medium-Range Weather Prediction Austin Woods Medium-Range Weather Prediction The European Approach The story of the European Centre for Medium-Range ...»
In 1978 the Council opened discussion on the length of contracts given to staff of the Centre, and “in particular to the ‘A’ grade (i.e. professional) staff seconded from the National Meteorological Services”. The discussions continued off and on both in Council and between Director and staff until Council approved a Staff Contract policy in November 1985.
The sensible proposals for “a limited number of long-term appointments at the Centre, and a steady flow of scientific staff into the Centre, since the Centre needed a constant supply of new talent, and the National Meteorological Services needed some feedback from the Centre,” have set the contract policy of the Centre ever since. Initial appointment is usually for four years, with second and subsequent appointments for five years. All vacancies are widely advertised, including on the web. Proposals to fill a post are submitted to a Selection Board, which gives advice to the Director.
Similarly, recommendations to renew a contract, with the exception of the Head of Department posts, are submitted to a Contracts Board. A representative of the Staff Committee participates as observer at the meetings of the Selection and Contracts Boards. Council approves the appointment of the three Heads of Department and of the Financial Controller on proposal by the Director. For all other posts, Council has left the implementation of the policy to the discretion of the Director. Over the years, there has been a regular turnover of about eight to ten scientific staff each year, enough to ensure a continuing inflow of fresh ideas, while at the same time ensuring continuity.
In June 1979, noting that the Centre had come to the end of its “buildup” phase, the Director suggested to Council that the “continuing responsibilities of the Administration Department should now be reviewed”. A Board of Review composed of delegates from Belgium, France and Switzerland carried out the review, and submitted its report on 1 October. The Report aimed to rationalise the work of the Department. It analysed the working of the Department, and proposed regrouping functions, in effect reducing the number of sections from five to three. In all, four posts would be eliminated.
After brief consideration, the Council in December decided to invite the Staff Committee and the Finance Committee to comment, and to consider The Staff 233 the Report at its session in April 1980. At this session, the Chairman of the Board of Review noted inter alia that the “problems of the Administration Department had been increased by the tension existing between the previous Director and the Head of Administration”. Council decided that the Chairman of the Staff Association, Dr Jean-Francois Louis, would be invited to make a statement on the Report and answer questions. He would then be requested to withdraw prior to the Council discussion. This procedure was not found acceptable; the Staff Association had repeatedly asked to be present during Council debate on staff matters. After a statement explaining his objection to the “secrecy”, the Chairman of the Staff Association informed Council that the Staff Committee had decided to resign.
Council then had a lengthy discussion on the Report and in response to a proposal from Director Jean Labrousse, decided to suppress four posts in the Administration Department, and to advertise the post of Head of Administration.
It is fair to say that with this single exception, the contract policy has been applied over the years with little friction between staff, Director and Council. Relations between staff and management have been co-operative rather than confrontational. The Staff Regulations provide for an Appeals Board, to allow staff to appeal against a decision of the Director. In the early years there were nine appeals. However since 1990 there has been only one appeal, and that was to settle a technical point, requiring a correcting decision by Council to a Rule in the Pension Scheme.
In recruiting staff, the Director is bound by the Convention:
The recruitment of staff shall be based on personal qualifications, account being taken of the international character of the Centre. No post may be reserved for nationals of a particular Member State.
Throughout the Centre’s history, the Member States have on the whole respected the independent authority of the Director in appointing staff, although it is perhaps inevitable that the London embassies of one or two Member States have at times sent letters supporting applications from their nationals. It has been recognised that, given the scientific and technical nature of the Centre, appropriate staff have been appointed based on their scientific and technical qualifications and experience, and that the international character of the Centre has been taken into account in appointing staff. Perhaps unusually for an international organisation, an apolitical approach has been taken to recruitment. The success of the Centre, as well as the level of remuneration, has attracted many talented scientists to work there.
234 Chapter 19Participation of staff in the Centre’s medical and pension schemes is compulsory. In 1975, the Council continued payment into a Provident Fund that had been established during the interim period leading up to the Centre’s establishment. The Fund was financed by staff (7% of their salaries) and the Centre (14%). The following year the Council decided, in accordance with the practise of the Coordinated Organisations, to liquidate the Fund and transfer the funds to the ECMWF budget. Thereafter all contributions to the Pension Scheme were considered simply as revenue to the budget, and payments would be made “pay-as-you-go” from the budget.
The Member States guaranteed to pay the pensions, as they would become due. In 2002, the Council decided that the Pension Scheme adopted in 1976 should be progressively phased out, and a fully funded Pension Scheme be introduced for staff recruited from January 2003.
The British school system is quite different to those in the other Member States. Fortunately for ECMWF staff coming from other Member States, a European school opened in Culham in Oxfordshire, about 35 km from the Centre, in 1978. It was required for the children of the 1,000 or so staff of the Joint European Torus project. It had five language sections: English, French, German, Dutch and Italian, which happened to coincide with the five official languages of the Centre. The final examination was the European Baccalaureate, which gave entry to European universities. The Centre concluded an agreement with the School in 1989, allowing the children of ECMWF staff to enrol in the school at favourable fees. As the staff were mostly on temporary contracts, enrolment of their children in the European School facilitated re-integration into their national curricula more easily when they returned home. Children of many UK staff also attended the school. They welcomed the opportunity to have their children educated with the children of their expatriate colleagues.
Contributions to the budget of the Centre are based on a scale fixed every three years on a Gross National Income formula approved by Council based on statistical data received from OECD. We have seen in Chapter 5 that the biggest contributor to the budget has always been Germany, which in recent years has contributed about one-quarter of the total budget. It is then within the spirit of the convention that the Director has appointed successive Heads of Administration from that State. This is not a requirement, and may change in the future.
From the beginning, Council recognised the need for short-term employment of scientists with specialised skills, for example in some particular aspect of modelling. While staff recruited to positions in the approved Table of Posts come from the Member States, and in recent years The Staff 235 from Co-operating States, scientists employed as “Consultants” can and do come from the USA, Australia or other countries as well as from the Member States. Council initially decided that their appointment should be limited to two years, and that the Staff Regulations should not apply but that they should be employed under guidelines laid down by the Director.
Over the years, there has been an increase of activities in such fields as satellite data research, seasonal forecasting, re-analysis of atmospheric data, Regional Meteorological Data Communications Network (RMDCN) and the introduction of two Optional Programmes: “Prediction of Ocean Waves” and “Boundary Conditions for Limited Area Modelling”. Increasingly consultants have been developing and maintaining “core” activities, such as Computer User Support, Archives and Graphics. Some have been funded from the ECMWF budget, with some other funded from participation in external “special projects”. Council recognised the important contribution of consultants to the success of the Centre. Consequently it approved over the years the conversion of some consultancy positions into staff posts, thus increasing the number of posts in the Table of Posts to 163 in 2005. With the steady increase in the number of externally funded special projects in particular, the number of consultants had increased to over 50 by 2005.
It is perhaps a sign of good planning, or maybe simply due to the rather small size of the Centre, that the structure of the organisation has remained virtually unchanged over the years. The Operations Department has had a Computer Division and Meteorological Division from the beginning. The Administration Department has made no major changes since 1980. With effect from 1 January 2002, the Research Department added a “Probabilistic Forecasting and Diagnostics Division” to the two existing divisions: Model Division and Data Division.
And the outlook is...
At the beginning, some said that the abbreviation “ECMWF” was unmemorable. If the Centre was to achieve recognition, they said, a recognisable and pronounceable acronym should be chosen. It perhaps is a measure of the Centre’s success that “ECMWF” is instantly and widely recognised today worldwide in the field of meteorology.
The Centre was created with specific objectives: to make good mediumrange weather forecasts, and to keep making the forecasts better. Success was not inevitable. We have seen the many decisions made by the Directors and Council, and the interconnections between the staff at the Centre and scientists throughout Europe and indeed the world, which led to this success.
There have been no overnight wonders. Results have come from incremental improvements. Planning and long-term commitment have paid off. The environment of the Centre has encouraged the change and evolution required to make progress. Innovation has been promoted. New ideas have evolved.
Michel Jarraud had been at the Centre as research scientist from 1978 until 1985. On his return in 1990 as Head of the Operations Department he noticed “a big difference: before, the Centre had been in its development phase, it was now in a mature operational phase — equally exciting, but different”. Later, as Secretary-General of WMO, he often used the Centre as an example of the benefit of combining different scientific cultures. The different theoretical and practical approaches throughout Europe to physics and mathematics were a contribution to the “creative tension” of the Centre in its early days. The Research Department was not only tolerant to different ideas, it positively welcomed them. New approaches: spectral modelling, the adjoint technique, variational assimilation, better ways to use satellite data, development of new convection schemes, and more, all resulted. No single approach was regarded as automatically superior to others.
236 And the outlook is... 237 Unlike a usual research institution, there was little or no pressure to publish articles. The goal was not to achieve recognition by having one’s work being referenced or quoted. The goal rather was to improve the operational forecasts. Results of research programmes were at times, especially in the early years, simply in the form of hand-written notes. Over the years, of course, the Centre’s scientists contributed a substantial body of work to the scientific journals. Jarraud noted the continuing importance of the Centre’s restaurant in exchanging ideas and solving problems! Most staff used the lunch and coffee facilities. A researcher who was becoming bogged down in a problem, becoming frustrated or discouraged, could air it informally, and often get new ideas or new approaches to his problem.
The Centre has developed the largest and most comprehensive NWP archive in the world. This major asset for research in seasonal prediction, climates, observing systems and other areas is made freely available to the world’s research community. The Centre has led the way in prediction of ocean waves, and in seasonal forecasting, ensemble prediction, data assimilation, data monitoring and more.
The Centre has recognised its responsibility to the wider meteorological community. On 1 July 1988, the Centre became a Regional Specialised Meteorological Centre (RSMC) of WMO, specialising in medium-range forecasting. The Centre gives global medium-range warnings of severe weather — winds, rain, severe extra-tropical storms, floods, drought and hurricanes — to National Meteorological Services worldwide. Although not of highest priority for Europe, the Centre has developed prediction products for tropical cyclones and made them available to the RSMCs with responsibility for such predictions.