In May of 1998, Owen Bricker and his co-author Michael Ruggiero introduced a conceptual design for integrating the Nation’s environmental research and monitoring programs. The Framework for Integrated Monitoring and Related Research was an organizing strategy for relating data collected by various programs, at multiple spatial and temporal scales, and by multiple science disciplines to solve complex ecological issues that individual research or monitoring programs were not designed to address. The concept nested existing intensive monitoring and research stations within national and regional surveys, remotely sensed data, and inventories to produce a collaborative program for multi-scale, multi-network integrated environmental monitoring and research. Analyses of gaps in data needed for specific issues would drive decisions on network improvements or enhancements. Data contributions to the Framework from existing networks would help indicate critical research and monitoring programs to protect during budget reductions. Significant progress has been made since 1998 on refining the Framework strategy. Methods and models for projecting scientific information across spatial and temporal scales have been improved, and a few regional pilots of multi-scale data-integration concepts have been attempted. The links between science and decision-making are also slowly improving and being incorporated into science practice. Experiments with the Framework strategy since 1998 have revealed the foundational elements essential to its successful implementation, such as defining core measurements, establishing standards of data collection and management, integrating research and long-term monitoring, and describing baseline ecological conditions. They have also shown us the remaining challenges to establishing the Framework concept: protecting and enhancing critical long-term monitoring, filling gaps in measurement methods, improving science for decision support, and integrating the disparate integrated science efforts now underway. In the 15 years since the Bricker and Ruggiero (Ecol Appl 8(2):326–329, 1998) paper challenged us with a new paradigm for bringing sound and comprehensive science to environmental decisions, the scientific community can take pride in the progress that has been made, while also taking stock of the challenges ahead for completing the Framework vision.