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U.S. Federal Agency Responsibilities



Part of the Interagency Policy Coordinating Committee, the Antarctic Working Group (AWG) provides policy guidance for all U.S. activities under the Antarctic Treaty. Its members represent the Department of State (chair), the National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense, and other agencies as appropriate.


Responsible for overall funding and management of U.S. activities in Antarctica, NSF

  • annually prepares plans and a budget for consideration within the Executive Branch and for review and appropriation by the Congress.
  • develops scientific goals for Antarctica, obtaining advice as needed from the scientific community and communicating these goals to the scientific community.
  • receives proposals for research projects from U.S. universities, other research institutions, and federal agencies; evaluates these proposals for relevance to program goals, scientific merit, and logistics feasibility; provides funds to these institutions for performance of the projects in Antarctica and completion of analysis upon return; and arranges cooperative scientific and logistics programs with other Antarctic Treaty nations.
  • plans the logistics requirements and transmits these requirements and necessary funds to the U.S. Naval Support Force Antarctica, the Air National Guard, and the United States Coast Guard (functions are described below).
  • manages, designs, plans, engineers, constructs, and maintains U.S. Antarctic facilities.
  • manages a contract with a commercial firm for operation of McMurdo, South Pole, and Palmer Stations, the research vessels Laurence M. Gould and Nathaniel B. Palmer, construction, and other services.
  • develops and implements a comprehensive safety, environment, and health program for U.S. activities in Antarctica.
  • serves as a clearinghouse and source of information regarding Antarctic records, files, documents, and maps maintained within agencies and nongovernmental organizations.


With funds provided by NSF, the Department of Defense (DOD) assists in planning and carries out requested logistics. This function is presently performed by the Air National Guard and units of the Air Force. The units of the U.S. Navy, which previously provided logistic support, was phased out of the program by 1999, and the Air National Guard assumed the flight operations and some of the Navy’s support functions. Other support operations were assumed by civilian contractors. DOD functions include:

  • operating a squadron of LC-130 Hercules airplanes to support science projects and supply McMurdo Station and inland stations
  • arranging annually for a ship and a fuel tanker to supply McMurdo Station through the Military Sealift Command
  • conducting Military Airlift Command flights between Antarctica and New Zealand
  • operating portions of a staging facility in Christchurch, New Zealand

SCAR meets every 2 years in a SCAR country to consider various scientific and logistics objectives and accomplishments. It also sponsors or associates with major symposia on Antarctic subjects. Sometimes SCAR establishes working groups to develop information or reports in response to Antarctic Treaty recommendations.


The United States Coast Guard (Department of Transportation) has the following responsibilities:

  • channel-breaking in McMurdo Sound to enable the supply ship to reach McMurdo Station
  • escorting supply ships into and out of McMurdo Station


Besides chairing the Antarctic Working Group(AWG), the Department of State formulates and directs foreign policy relating to the development and implementation of an integrated U.S. program for Antarctica; the conduct of foreign relations regarding Antarctica; and legal matters relating to the interpretation and implementation of the Antarctic Treaty.


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