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Transparency and Accountability

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is the only federal agency whose mission is to promote the progress of basic research in all fields of science and engineering. For over 60 years, NSF’s investments have had a profound impact on our nation’s innovation ecosystem by funding transformative research that has explored – and extended – the frontiers of scientific knowledge, promoted new industries, and addressed societal challenges. NSF makes decisions to fulfill this mission using the merit review process.

As a public agency, NSF is responsible for building and sustaining the public trust through the transparency of our processes and the accountability of our organization. The Foundation remains committed to being sound stewards of federal investments while responding to rapid changes in science and society. NSF regularly examines our processes and procedures, reaffirming a core principle of continuous improvement.

In late 2013, NSF launched the Transparency and Accountability Initiative to strengthen our efforts in transparency and accountability around the merit review process. Since that time, NSF has taken the following steps:

  • Policy Changes on Award Abstracts and Titles:
    • Clarified to all staff and the broader scientific community the need to communicate clearly (in non-technical terms), and emphasized that the title and abstract serve as the public justification for NSF funding by articulating how the project serves the national interest, as stated by NSF’s mission: “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity and welfare; or to secure the national defense”;

    • Highlighted and clarified staff guidance that NSF is responsible for appropriate award abstracts and titles, and Program Directors are responsible for ensuring that both are clearly articulated and meaningful to a broad audience;

    • Emphasized the significance of the funded activity, which justifies the expenditure of public funds, by moving it to the beginning of the abstract with the technical description to follow (this reversed the order in the previous policy);

    • Revised and enhanced the guidance to proposers contained in the next release of the Grants Proposal Guide, regarding NSF policy about effective communications with external audiences through award abstracts; and

    • Provided explicit clarification in policy of roles and responsibilities of Division Directors in merit review.

  • Training and Ongoing Activities:
    • Developed resources for Program Directors to improve the clarity of award abstracts;

    • With these resources, conducted training seminars for virtually all Program Directors throughout the Foundation;

    • Developed and implemented a module for similar training on the development of clear and articulate titles and abstracts for on-boarding new Program Directors; and

    • Developing an interactive training resource about the merit review process for on-boarding new Division Directors, including roles and responsibilities in merit review.

  • Additional Actions and Outreach:
    • Communicated with the community via Important Notice 135 (December 11, 2013) ( and Important Notice 136 (March 28, 2014) ( about NSF’s commitment to transparency of our processes and accountability of our organization, and about NSF’s responsibility to clearly describe the project and justify the expenditure of public funds;

    • Completed a review on policy and practices to strengthening transparency and accountability at NSF (May 12, 2014) by an NSF-wide working group;

    • Incorporated into policy recommended changes to ensure NSF staff is aware and practicing appropriate accountability for responsibility of final funding decisions;

    • Appointed a member of the NSF Office of the Director (May 26, 2014), Dr. Peter Arzberger, to ensure continued focus on this topic and ongoing improvements to NSF practices and policy, and to provide updates about these efforts to the NSF Director and the National Science Board; and

    • Maintained an NSF-wide working group that continues to examine the means of improving both transparency and accountability at NSF. Potential areas for continued improvements include evaluating changes undertaken; bolstering evaluation of portfolios and their alignment with national priorities; and expanding training for staff in these areas.

    • Communicated with the community via Important Notice 137 (January 13, 2015) ( about NSF’s new steps to enhance transparency and accountability, including an update to the Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide ( effective December 26, 2014, and an emphasis that NSF award abstracts must

      • explain the project’s significance and importance; and

      • serve as a public justification for NSF funding by articulating how the project serves the national interest, as embodied in stated by NSF's mission: to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity and welfare; or to secure the national defense.

This website will be updated as progress is made and as activities can involve or affect NSF community and stakeholders.


For further information concerning NSF's Transparency and Accountability initiative, please send e-mail to

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