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NEWS | Sept. 12, 2010

Dr. Ruth Preller Receives Presidential Rank Award for Meritorious Executive

By Daniel Parry

Each year, the President of the United States recognizes a select group of career Senior Executive Service members who have provided exceptional service to the American people over an extended period of time. Recipients of this prestigious and unique award are strong leaders, professionals, and scientists who achieve results and consistently demonstrate strength, integrity, industry and a relentless commitment to excellence in public service.

This year, President Barack Obama confers upon Dr. Ruth Preller, Superintendent of the Naval Research Laboratory Oceanography Division, the award of Meritorious Executive, an award bestowed only among the top five percent of career SES members in the nation.

Appointed to Senior Executive Service September, 2004, Preller has the distinction of being the first female senior executive at NRL, managing a research program that provides today's warfighter with reliable predictions (nowcasts and forecasts) of ocean currents, temperature, salinity, optics, tides, waves, hurricane surge, and surf zone conditions.

Naval operations require precise knowledge of how the environment will impact operations in order to exploit that knowledge for tactical advantage against adversaries who are intimately familiar with their home environments, said Dr. Edward Franchi, Associate Director of Research, Ocean and Atmospheric Science and Technology. Dr. Preller's team performs basic and applied research in ocean sciences providing real-time ocean analysis and predictions valuable to the Navy warfighter and Department of Defense operations around the globe.

Ocean models must provide Naval forces accurate predictions for open-ocean, shallow water, near-shore, and riverine environments. Therefore, predictions of ocean conditions on global, regional, and local scales are required. Accurate ocean forecasts are essential to optimize mission planning, execution, and safety of Naval and Joint Forces. The Naval Oceanographic Office (NAVO) runs 10 to 12 operational ocean analysis and prediction systems daily, disseminating ocean environment products to the Fleet.

Dr. Preller demonstrates extraordinary leadership, maintaining sound scientific quality and productivity with a focus on meeting the customer's research needs, added Franchi. Every one of these products is based on the research and technology developed by Preller's Division.

Joining NRL in 1983 as a research oceanographer, Preller became head of the Coastal and Semi-Enclosed Seas Section in 1996 as a supervisory oceanographer. Contributing impactful personal research to ocean analysis and forecasting, she received the prestigious NRL Awards for Innovation in 1998 at NRL's 'First 75 Years Celebration' recognizing her for the development of the Polar Ice Prediction System that forecasts ice thickness, ice drift, ice concentrations, location of ice edges and high-latitude ice conditions used by U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, commercial shipping, and civilian operations.

In her four years as superintendent of the NRL Oceanography Division, Preller has expanded the division's business base, grown and diversified the workforce, and established the division as a vibrant, attractive place to work. Faced with management changes, retirements, and personnel losses after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, she led a division reorganization to achieve better leadership for future directions and to improve communications and mentoring. She initiated an aggressive recruitment effort, emphasizing the recruitment of females and minorities and has increased permanent additions to the scientific staff by nearly 20 percent. Her strategic replenishment of the workforce has been noted as 'well balanced' among areas of expertise and represents a healthy spectrum of experience levels from recent Post Doctoral Fellows to tenure-track faculty members.

Reflecting the President's Management Agenda for fiscal responsibility, Preller successfully increased her division's level of income in the face of reduced Navy funding through aggressive marketing of NRL science and technology to other sponsors, including National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Department of Transportation (DoT), and National Geospatial Information Agency (NGA).

Relying heavily on computational resources to perform research, Preller developed a Capital Investment Strategic Plan that secured NRL funding for significant additional computational storage capacity, a new consolidated computer room, backup generator and air climate control units to protect major division servers and other critical research assets.

Preller is a key participant in several interagency and international efforts focused on improving collaboration and reducing duplication in ocean-related research, development, and operations, demonstrating great skill in achieving the delicate balance needed to develop effective collaborative relationships while satisfying Navy requirements, and in nominating and placing division personnel in key positions on various multi-agency management and scientific committees to increase the Navy's standing while enhancing the science for the betterment of all concerned.

As a result, the division has remained on the cutting edge of ocean remote sensing, working closely with the NASA, NOAA, European Space Agency, National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS), and other Department of Defense (DoD) partners to improve real-time processing systems that are recognized nationally and internationally for theoretical, numerical, and experimental approaches to oceanographic problems.

In addition to her division management responsibility, Preller is the coordinator for all NRL basic and applied research programs related to the environment. She directs overall goals of this $27 million portfolio, recommends the funding of new projects, and integrates the NRL research with the Office of Naval Research (ONR) contract research program. Her role is critical to achieving the vision and objectives of the Department of the Navy Science and Technology Strategic Plan.

Preller received a bachelor of science in physics and German from Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pa., and a master's and doctorate in meteorology from Florida State University in Tallahassee. As a practicing scientist and research manager she is well respected within the scientific and military communities and is a member of the American Geophysical Union (AGU), American Meteorological Society (AMS), The Oceanography Society, European Geophysical Union (EGU), Sigma Xi, and member of the editor search committee for the Journal of Geophysical Research Oceans and an editor of Surveys in Geophysics.

She served on the US-Canadian Joint Ice Working Group from 1989-1999, AMS Committee on Polar Meteorology and Oceanography from 1990-1993, AMS Committee on Coastal Environments from 1999 -2005, and is presently the EGU Secretary for Operational Oceanography and head of the Battlespace Environment Institute (BEI) — an Army, Navy, Air Force and civilian collaboration funded by the DoD High Performance Computing Modernization Office (HPCMO) to develop a common framework for coupled earth system modeling. Her leadership has made NRL a recognized international leader in the development of such coupled prediction systems, and has ensured the BEI project met all goals over the three-year period.

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