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Remarks

Photo of Joseph Bordogna

Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Deputy Director
Chief Operating Officer
National Science Foundation
Biography

Remarks at the French-American Foundation/Association Nationale De La Recherche Technique (FAF/ANRT) Seminar

"The Promotion of Excellence in Research: the Experience of the National Science Foundation"

Friday, April 8, 2005
Paris, France

See also slide presentation.

If you're interested in reproducing any of the slides, please contact the Office of Legislative and Public Affairs: (703) 292-8070.

[Slide 1: Title Slide]
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Good morning and thank you. Over the past few years, I have appreciated the visits to the National Science Foundation by my colleagues from the French embassy in Washington. Let me also thank the French-America Foundation and the ANRT for inviting me to speak with you. All of us at NSF are excited about your commitment to science and scientific research, and we benefit greatly by learning from you. I am thus honored to join you today to share the experiences of the National Science Foundation and to learn from your questions and our interactions. In this way, and for my part, I can stay true to the opening statement of NSF's progenitor, Vannevar Bush. In his influential report " Science--The Endless Frontier," published 60 years ago, Dr. Bush wrote that "Science can be effective in the national welfare only as a member of a team. 1" Further, his report admonished, "Science cannot live by and unto itself alone.2"

While considering the experiences I have chosen to discuss, I was reminded that "experience" has two meanings in French. The first is to be actively involved with something over time, yielding an increase in knowledge and skill3. The second meaning is that of a scientific experiment, "the use of tests and trials to make discoveries4." Both of these meanings are equally appropriate to the National Science Foundation. NSF is a combination of the experiences of its people and the trials of experimentation, employing a continuing process of re-design and refinement to accommodate new variables, procedures and technologies.

NSF is an on-going experiment conceived in a tumultuous period of demographic, technological and social changes: the aftermath of World War II. The war illustrated the enormous contribution of science, engineering and technology to national needs. U.S. leaders were anxious to transfer that successful process to the anticipated peace-time.

[Slide 2: Franklin D. Roosevelt]
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In November 1944, near the end of the war, President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent a letter asking Vannevar Bush, head of the Federal government's Office of Scientific Research and Development, as well as an accomplished engineer, to consider the role of the government in the U.S. research and education enterprise. In his letter, Roosevelt emphasized, "There is... no reason why the lessons to be found in this experiment cannot be profitably employed in times of peace.5"

[Slide 3: Science -- The Endless Frontier]
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In response to Roosevelt's letter, Bush assembled four committees of experts to consider the government's role in supporting scientific research. The resulting report, "Science--The Endless Frontier," laid out the blueprint for an organization that eventually became the National Science Foundation. The report begins by stating a simple goal: to achieve full employment of the American people after the war6. An estimated 15 million servicemen and women returned from the war, many finding that their jobs were obsolete, or had been given to others. Dr. Bush observed that creating these critical new jobs required the development of new industry. New industry required new products and processes, built upon new discoveries made by educated people through basic scientific research. The report asserts, "...in the last analysis, the future of science in this country will be determined by our basic educational policy7," and also that, "Basic scientific research is scientific capital8."

[Slide 4: Two-tiered Approach]
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To generate this capital, the report recommended a two-tiered approach. First, the nation must create a workforce that is highly trained in science. Secondly, to develop the workforce, the government must strengthen the centers of basic research, namely, the nation's colleges and universities. Bush wrote, "...it is only the colleges, universities and a few research institutions that devote most of their time to expanding the frontiers of knowledge9."

"Science--The Endless Frontier" also expanded the notion of how to operate a government agency. The report boldly suggested that the new agency be operated, not by government bureaucrats, but by scientists. Dr. Bush envisioned a national research organization operated by a board of nine members, "persons of broad interests and experience, having an understanding of ... scientific research and scientific education10," with no other ties to the government. Bush hoped to keep the new agency free of political influence. He advocated freedom of scientific inquiry, "the free play of free intellects," as the best source for new knowledge.

While Bush's report was seminal and instrumental in the development of the National Science Foundation, a new president didn't agree with all of Bush's recommendations. By the time the report was released, Roosevelt had died, and Harry S Truman was President. Truman balked at the idea of a government agency operated by scientists who were not accountable to the Administration, the elected officials of the government's executive branch. Conversely, Congress moved forward on legislation to create the agency as it was envisioned. President Truman vetoed the first bill in 1947.

The struggle over control of the agency persisted for three years. In addition to control, the Truman Administration wanted the new agency to make national science policy, a responsibility not addressed by Congress or by Vannevar Bush. Finally, a compromise was reached between the President and Congress.

[Slide 5: NSF Act of 1950]
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The NSF Act of 1950 stated that "the Foundation shall consist of a National Science Board...and a Director," both appointed by the President to six-year terms. The Director's six-year term was designed to arch over the four-year presidential term, in a nod to Vannevar Bush's desire to keep the agency free from political influence. The National Science Board would consist of twenty-four-members "eminent in the fields of the basic sciences"...and "selected solely on the basis of established records of distinguished service."

In addition, the National Science Foundation was empowered to "develop and encourage the pursuit of a national policy for the promotion of basic research and education in the sciences."

[Slide 6: Truman Signs Law]
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On May 10, 1950, aboard a train in the town of Pocatello, in the state of Idaho, President Truman announced he had signed the new law. The Foundation was created as an independent agency, on par with the National Institutes of Health, which had been formally established twenty years earlier11.

[Slide 7: NSF Vision and Mission]
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This brief history of NSF provides valuable insight into our operations today. The Foundation began as, and remains, an evolving, fluid organization built upon unwavering values. Our values are defined by the Foundation's vision, which is, "to enable America's future through discovery, learning and innovation." Our continuing mission is recorded in the preamble of the NSF Act of 1950: "to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense; and for other purposes." NSF's management structure is designed to realize our vision through pursuing our mission with organizational excellence.

[Slide 8: NSF Organization Chart]
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The Foundation has a Director and a Deputy Director appointed by the President, and confirmed by the Senate. The Director is also a member of the National Science Board, the Foundation's policy-setting body. With input from NSF management and the research and education community, the National Science Board establishes policies that shape NSF's investments in research and education. The Director and Deputy Director are responsible for implementing the policies set forth by the Board. The Director is the Foundation's Chief Executive Officer, and reports directly to the President. The Deputy Director is the Chief Operating Officer.

Under the Office of the Director, NSF is organized into eight program sub-units: seven directorates, covering the contemporary core disciplines of science and engineering: biology, mathematics, geosciences and so forth, and the Office of Polar Programs, which oversees NSF's presence in Earth's Polar Regions. The directorates are organized into divisions, like departments at a university. There are a total of forty divisions, each managed by a division director. Program officers report to a division director. The Foundation employs on the order of 400 program officers, who manage the individual research and education programs within the divisions, and also participate in teams to manage large scale efforts that span the entire agency.

The heads of the directorates, known as Assistant Directors of NSF, or ADs, have two jobs: they serve as stewards of their portion of the frontier; and they manage part of NSF's cross-boundary investments. The Director, Deputy Director, the Assistant Directors, the Chief Financial Officer, the head of the Office of Integrative Activities, and a few other key staff, comprise the senior management team.

[Slide 9: NSF Priority Areas & Boundary-Crossing Programs]
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While necessity dictates some type of hierarchical organizational structure, we are not constrained by an organizational chart. When the Foundation was established in 1950, scientific research was divided into strict, clear-cut disciplinary areas: biology, mathematics, physics and so forth. Time, technology and critical thinking have blurred those lines.

To capitalize on this new thinking, the Director and Deputy Director encourage continual dialogue and debate to further enrich the cross-disciplinary interaction. For example, the Assistant Directors meet weekly to discuss high-level issues with the Director. The complete senior management team also meets weekly to develop strategies, build the budget, conduct operations, and develop policies for recommendation to the National Science Board. It's important to note that any member of our senior management team can be called to testify before Congress to explain policy decisions, reasons for program investments, or argue a position. That's why we seek managers with the highest expertise in both administration and science or engineering, even in the "business" side of the agency. Our Chief Financial Officer, for example, has a degree in biology.

The dual responsibilities of the Assistant Directors--shepherding their core discipline while maintaining support for cross-disciplinary activities--puts them into conflict with themselves and with one another. The ADs are torn between arguing for budgetary support for their respective directorates, and ensuring sustained investment in the agency's cross-disciplinary projects. This conflict is by design, and frequently results in impassioned debate during our weekly staff meetings. The debate is constructive. It prods our managers to not only think through their own positions more carefully, but to consider the opinions of their colleagues as well. This creates a holistic atmosphere, with each manager able to see where he or she fits into the larger scheme of achieving NSF's mission. We've found that these weekly staff meetings and the resulting debate yield more innovative policy and funding decisions.

Argument is important at NSF. Differences of opinion are a natural component of life at the frontier. We argue with one another inside the agency, and we want our community--the scientists and educators we support--to argue among themselves and with us. The input from our community is essential to the NSF process. Community participation helps us to be as well-informed as possible when making judgments about next steps and new directions. The frontier is chaotic, and requires effective teamwork, scholarship and commitment to effectively realize rational investments amidst the chaos.

[Slide 10: Integrative Strategies]
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The NSF process--how we select and support research at the frontier--is based on three integrative strategies: develop intellectual capital; integrate research and education; and promote partnerships. The first strategy, develop intellectual capital, reflects Vannevar Bush's assertion that basic research is tantamount to scientific capital.

The second strategy, to integrate research and education, comes from Dr. Bush's observation that colleges and universities are the source of a scientifically literate workforce. The knowledge and skills gained through research at higher education institutions flows outward into society and the marketplace as the graduates take jobs or launch their own businesses. Dr. Bush hoped that the nascent science agency would provide a "reasonable number of undergraduate scholarships and graduate fellowships... to develop scientific talent12." Over the years, NSF has increasingly concentrated on education, far beyond a handful of fellowships.

The third strategy, promote partnerships, is at the core of the NSF process. "Science--The Endless Frontier" stressed the importance of partnership from the onset by declaring, "Science can be effective... only as a member of a team13." This concept of teamwork, of partnership and collaboration, underpins all of NSF's operations today.

Like any good experiment, the Foundation's core processes undergo constant evaluation and refinement. Strategic thinking is interwoven with our daily operations. Our formal strategic plan, which, by law, is submitted to Congress along with the President's annual budget request, looks five years into the agency's future. The plan is developed with input from blue-ribbon panels, composed of respected scholars from the realm of science and engineering. It is continually discussed and is formally revised every three years, and, based on the three integrative strategies I shared earlier, the strategic plan directs our daily operational efforts.

[Slide 11: Strategic Outcome Goals]
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The strategic plan cites four strategic outcome goals: People, Ideas, Tools, and Organizational Excellence. NSF's People goal is derived from Vannevar Bush's objective of developing the workforce through participation in federally funded research. Our objective is to create a diverse, competitive and globally-engaged workforce of scientists, engineers, technologists and well-prepared citizens. In particular, a statement in " Science--The Endless Frontier" compels NSF to invest in broadening participation: "If ability, and not the circumstance of family fortune, is made to determine who shall receive higher education in science, then we shall be assured of constantly improving quality at every level of scientific activity14."

The Ideas goal stems from NSF's mission to support research at the frontier. We strive for discovery across the entire frontier of science and engineering, and we connect that discovery to learning, innovation and service to society. Making this connection provides a holistic context to research that enables NSF's grantees to consider the broader impacts of the projects we support.

The Tools goal is becoming increasingly important. Tools, ranging from modest laboratory instruments to large facilities, are a driver for how research is conducted. Tools are increasingly more expensive, more exotic and used more collaboratively. About one-quarter of our budget, nearly $1.2 billion dollars, is invested in tools. The decisions on large facility support are made jointly by our senior management team. We seek to develop broadly accessible, state-of-the-art facilities, tools and other infrastructure that enable discovery, learning and innovation.

[Slide 12: Gemini Observatory]
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It is important to stress that, with the exception of our operations in the Polar Regions, NSF does not operate its own laboratories or research facilities. Instead, we directly support scientists, engineers and educators through their home institutions, usually colleges and universities. The large facilities we sponsor--such as the Gemini Observatory shown here--are administered through cooperative agreements with competitively selected research consortia. Consortium members are typically universities, colleges and non-profit, private-sector laboratories. In the case of Gemini, its construction and use is shared among seven nations: the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Chile, Australia, Argentina and Brazil.

The Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, AURA, operates the Gemini Observatory for NSF. Gemini consists of two optical/infrared telescopes spaced thousands of miles apart, one in the state of Hawaii, and the other in the Andes Mountains of Chile. Working together, the two telescopes scan the entire sky. The video shows Gemini South, in Chile, silhouetted against the night sky, as the southern circumpolar stars put on a beautiful display. As the video ends, you'll see the moon illuminate the observatory dome.

Gemini is opening new research opportunities in astronomy and astrophysics. For example, the superior imaging qualities of the two telescopes, as demonstrated by the two still images, are giving researchers new study methods and insight into the birth of massive stars.

Providing tools like Gemini is an increasingly critical component of NSF's mission. In evaluating prospective projects, we frequently encounter bold, novel proposals, with a qualified staff of investigators willing to conduct the work. However, we find that this promising research may be hampered by a lack of sophisticated tools at the grantee's institution. We thus try to ensure that the boldest ideas, properly vetted by our merit review process, are not limited because of a lack of the tool needed to pursue the idea. Federal support of broadly accessible state-of-the art facilities and equipment enables researchers to pursue potentially transformative investigations unhindered.

[Slide 13: Cyberinfrastructure]
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Cyberinfrastructure is a contemporary example of a large, expensive, but vital, enabling platform for research at the frontier. Cyberinfrastructure is the term we use to encompass the entire realm of computing, networking and communication. As this collage illustrates, cyberinfrastructure includes networks, high-performance computing platforms, middleware, applications and people. Our vision is simple: 100 percent of the research and education community needs access to robust, reliable computer-communication resources. Of that 100 percent, about 10 percent need dedicated, highest-end computational power.

Recent feedback from the community indicates that the overarching issue in cyberinfrastructure is "big data." Sophisticated instruments like Gemini generate huge amounts of data. Our current computer-communications resources simply cannot keep up. We are faced with a tetrad of challenges: storing, sharing, mining and analyzing the data. Thus, we need greater storage capacities, higher bandwidth, and improved search and analysis algorithms to manage the vast amounts of data that our sophisticated instruments produce.

[Slide 14: Strategic Outcome Goals]
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Our fourth strategic goal, Organizational Excellence, reflects our commitment to building an agile, innovative organization that fulfills its mission through leadership in state-of-the-art business practices. NSF is widely recognized in government for its financial management and electronic business acumen.

As an agency of the U.S. government, NSF doesn't operate in a vacuum. We are accountable to the President, Congress, and ultimately, to the American people. We see these entities as partners in the NSF mission of funding research and education at the frontier.

[Slide 15: Current NSTC Structure April 2005]
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One of our closest government partners is the National Science and Technology Council, known as the NSTC. The Council, which is managed by the Director of the President's Office of Science and Technology Policy, or OSTP, coordinates cross-agency research for the entire federal R&D enterprise. The Council establishes clear national goals for Federal science, engineering and technology investments, with an aim toward meeting national needs.

[Slide 16: OMB/OSTP FY 2006 R&D Guidance]
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Over time, OSTP and the President's Office of Management and Budget identify specific national needs as budget priorities for all government R&D agencies. Examples for the current year include: Homeland Security Research and Development; Networking and Information Technology Research and Development; Priorities of the Physical Sciences; Biology of Complex Systems; Climate, Water, and Hydrogen Research and Development; and the National Nanotechnology Initiative.

Since the National Science Foundation has the charge to fund basic research at the frontier, we work closely, through the NSTC, with other federal agencies on the application of NSF-funded discoveries toward national needs. This is another example of the strength of argument and debate in the NSF process. The result of this process makes the Foundation well-prepared to make the argument to OMB and Congress that basic research is the groundwork that leads to innovation and prosperity.

[Slide 17: Government Performance and Results Act]
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In addition to demonstrating the importance of basic research, NSF must show itself as a good steward of taxpayer money. Over the past 50 years of NSF's life, Americans have asked some tough questions about the use of their money in government. They demand efficiency and accountability. Both Congress and the administration have performance measurements that evaluate the return on the taxpayer's investment. In 1993, Congress instituted the Government Performance and Results Act, which we abbreviate as GPRA, pronounced "gipra."

GPRA strives to increase the government's performance and capability, thereby increasing the public's confidence in government. The law focuses on strategic planning, and requires all agencies to develop long-range plans, which include specific program goals. Agencies must submit annual performance plans that measure program performance against the performance goals. The performance plans document whether or not goals were reached, and provide explanations and next steps in reaching any unmet goals.

GPRA poses special challenges to the National Science Foundation. In any scientific investigation, the outcomes are unpredictable. A research project in one field may generate discoveries in an unrelated area, and it may take years to recognize those discoveries and their impact. So it is with NSF research and education investments. Since NSF's thousands of funded activities take time to reach fruition, our measure of success is judged retrospectively. And at the overall NSF level.

[Slide 18: President's Management Agenda]
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In addition to the reporting requirements of GPRA, NSF must answer directly to the President on matters of management. The President's Management Agenda, or the PMA, was launched in 2001. It features five elements designed to make agencies operate more efficiently: strategic management of personnel; competitive sourcing of work processes; improved financial performance; increased use of technology to aid business operations, known as e-government; and integrating budget with operating performance. Each agency's progress is tracked and rated using a scorecard of "green, yellow and red lights." A "red light" signifies unsatisfactory results, while a "green light" indicates success. "Yellow" indicates promising progress. After the first year of this exercise, NSF received a "green light" for improving financial performance and another for e-government, the only agency to receive any "green lights" to that point in the implementation of the PMA. Success in this Presidential activity builds the Administration's confidence in NSF's investment in bold research at the frontier.

[Slide 19: R&D Investment Criteria]
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The Administration is also developing investment criteria for evaluating the quality, relevance and performance of Federal research and development. Research programs must justify how funds will be allocated, explain why the investment is important and relevant, and finally, researchers must monitor and document their project performance. The R&D investment standards are consistent with NSF's merit review criteria, and are reflected in our long-range goals and strategies.

The intent behind GPRA, the President's Management Agenda, and the R&D investment criteria is to create a federal government that is responsive and accountable to its citizens. By exemplary compliance with these mandates from elected officials, NSF garners support for its attempt to fund the most challenging ideas at the farthest frontier.

[Slide 20: Advisory Committees]
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The Foundation's effectiveness at implementing GPRA, the PMA and other management directives is determined by independent, external evaluators, providing another illustration of the rich partnerships we employ. The agency relies on the judgment of external experts to maintain high standards of program management, to provide advice for continuous improvement of NSF performance, and to ensure openness to the research and education community we serve. Each of the directorates I mentioned earlier has an Advisory Committee, composed of respected volunteers from academe and industry. These committees work with NSF management to define the frontier, choose which research investments to pursue, assess the quality and integrity of our program operations, and evaluate the outcomes, namely the discoveries from NSF-supported research. The committees also provide context on how the results contribute to the agency's mission and strategic goals.

The agency's mission and strategic goals come to fruition in NSF's selection and support of basic research projects. Participation, cooperation, and collaboration with the research community are paramount. NSF uses a system of merit review to identify the most promising, ground-breaking, projects to support.

[Slide 21: Merit Review]
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Here you can see one of our review panels hard at work. The Foundation receives over 40,000 proposals a year, through formal solicitations and from unsolicited sources. We make 10,000 new grants, and renew about 20,000 grants annually. The NSF process relies on a pool of over 50,000 voluntary reviewers to evaluate the proposals we receive. These dedicated people conduct 250,000 reviews each year. Stringent conflict-of-interest rules ensure the impartiality of the reviews. NSF selects reviewers from pools of national and international experts in each field. The reviewers' identities remain confidential throughout the process.

[Slide 22: NSF Merit Review Process]
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This diagram shows the Foundation's merit review process. First, the proposal is submitted and the program staff reviews it for compliance with NSF proposal submission guidelines. The actual merit review comes next. Merit review is accomplished by electronic mail, by on-site panels, or a combination of both methods. The divisions select the methods that work best in their respective communities. In mail review, which we also call ad hoc review, proposals are sent to reviewers by electronic mail. The reviewers evaluate the proposals, and submit their reviews by return mail. The mail review approach is inexpensive, and is considered to have more spontaneity.

In panel review, the Foundation hosts a group of reviewers to evaluate proposals. The reviewers judge the proposals individually, and as a group. The reviewers usually travel to NSF's headquarters just outside of Washington, D.C., but advances in video teleconferencing have allowed us to conduct an increasing number of panels remotely. Panel reviews require a lot of planning and expense, but usually result in more robust debate on the merit of the proposal.

Reviewers recommend funding proposals that they believe, based on their expert opinions, warrant the highest priority. The process is competitive, ensuring that many voices and points of view are heard. An enormous amount of research, deliberation, thought and discussion goes into the final recommendations of the independent reviewers.

[Slide 23: Merit Review Criteria]
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Reviewers weigh proposals against established merit review criteria. Like other components of the NSF process, these criteria are regularly examined and refined. Prospective investigators are encouraged to address the criteria as thoroughly as possible so that reviewers will have enough information to evaluate proposals in the context of the criteria.

The first criterion asks, "What is the intellectual merit of the proposed activity?" Reviewers judge the proposal on its ability to advance knowledge and understanding within and across the interfaces of science and engineering. The reviewers also consider whether or not the investigator is qualified to conduct the research. Other facets of the first criterion include the conception and organization of the project, as well as the novelty and creativity underlying the proposed research.

The second review criterion asks, "What are the broader impacts of the proposed activity?" Reviewers must consider the effectiveness of the project to both advance discovery and promote teaching, training and learning. This criterion also stresses the participation of underrepresented groups, based on factors such as gender, ethnicity, disability and geographic location. As one of our managers said recently, "If there is an Einstein in Nebraska, let's not ignore him15." Methods to disseminate the results of the research, and the possible benefits of the project to society, are other factors the reviewers consider under the second review criterion. Proposers must address at least one of these factors related to broader impacts.

Though separated, the two merit review criteria are inextricably intertwined. The second criterion, addressing broader impacts, encourages investigators to take a more holistic view of their proposal.

The merit review process provides a rich environment for collaboration and development. Most of the reviewers, at some point in their careers, are also NSF-sponsored investigators. Many of the investigators find that their experience as a reviewer helps them to better plan their own research projects and to prepare more competitive proposals. In addition, by serving on the review panels, reviewers keep abreast of new developments in their field, connect with their peers, and often return to their home institutions with new ideas and perspectives of the frontier.

[Slide 24: NSF Merit Review Process]
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Once the reviews are completed, the program officer evaluates the reviews and decides which proposals to support. The program officer is the lynchpin of the NSF process. Program officers have autonomy. They have the ultimate responsibility for choosing the proposals in which to invest. Although a rare event, if a review recommends against funding a proposal, the program officer can override the recommendation and elect to support that project. This is done when the program officer believes the research is particularly innovative, transformative, or otherwise deserving of support. We rely on the expertise of our program officers to make these decisions. Because the program officer is so important, we take great pains in selecting them. It is critical that program officers maintain a good rapport with, and be respected by, the research community. A healthy relationship with the research community fosters trust and confidence.

Many of our program officers serve as so-called rotators, "on loan" from the research community. The rotation of program officers ensures a fresh influx of ideas and perspectives for NSF. In addition, as a program officer leaves NSF to return to his or her institution, they take away a better understanding of the Foundation's mission and process, which forges stronger ties between NSF and the community it serves.

[Slide 25: NSF Merit Review Process]
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The division director is the next link in the chain for funding decisions. After the program officers make their decisions on which proposals to support, the division director must give formal concurrence with the decisions. Division directors are required to record their assent in our electronic proposal management system. This formal concurrence serves two purposes. First, it ensures that the division director develops an in-depth understanding of the intellectual investment funded by his or her division. Second, the concurrence gives support for the program officer's decisions on which proposals to award, especially those which may be controversial.

[Slide 26: Costs Covered by NSF Awards]
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It is important to know exactly what an NSF award entails. In a typical award, we provide for salaries for the principal investigator, post-doctoral, graduate and undergraduate students. We pay domestic and international travel expenses, materials and supplies; instrumentation and equipment; and indirect costs associated with the research project. We want to give researchers as much as we can to support their work. Just as we don't want innovative research stymied from a lack of tools, so we don't want researchers limited by a dearth of travel or personnel resources.

[Slide 27: Moving the Frontier]
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The Foundation accepts both solicited and unsolicited proposals. The solicited proposals are just that--NSF management asking for proposed research in a particular field of discovery. The unsolicited proposals come from researchers who are curious about some aspect of research that may not necessarily be in the Foundation's current portfolio. For this reason, unsolicited proposals are critical to our process. They show us what the community is thinking--where they see the frontier moving.

We develop our investment portfolio over time, deploying many experiments, to judge--in partnership with our community--where the next breakthroughs may originate. We must remain knowledgeable about developments in the community to make well-informed judgments about the advancement of the frontier. Once again, interaction and feedback from the research community is paramount.

To explore new expansion along the frontier, we invite researchers to meet with us periodically, to discuss their ideas about new realms of research. If those meetings are fruitful, we might sponsor a workshop, and invite relevant people across the world to attend. If the workshops are successful--if there is demonstrated community interest in the workshop--we may launch a small solicitation as an experiment. Often, we will make three or four modest solicitations over the course of a few years before deciding to invest more substantial resources.

The process takes several years--patience is a necessity. The new research opportunity may stabilize itself and fold into the regular programs. The endeavor may lose momentum and interest in the research community, or it may grow into a high priority among the community.

In these latter cases, we may establish a priority area--a cross-cutting NSF-wide investment. These priority areas are funded for a limited time--on the order of five years. A priority area illustrates an expansion of the frontier, which NSF may feel obliged to move along. If a priority area is successful, it is folded into the regular programs to make room for new growth at the frontier. In any case, all priority area investments end.

[Slide 28: NSF Priority Areas]
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Currently, NSF has four priority areas: Nanoscale Science and Engineering, Biocomplexity in the Environment; Human and Social Dynamics; and Mathematical Sciences. Nanoscale Science and Engineering intends to enable development of revolutionary nanoscale technologies that will contribute to improved human health, material and energy conservation and other prevalent issues. Biocomplexity in the Environment is designed to investigate the complex linkages between biota and the physical, chemical, and human processes of the environment. The Human and Social Dynamics priority area studies the nature of change, with an eye toward preparing individuals and organizations for the inevitable changes that occur through life. Finally, the Mathematical Sciences priority area focuses on advancing the frontier in three areas: fundamental mathematical and statistical sciences; interdisciplinary research involving mathematics, science and engineering; and critical investments in mathematical sciences education.

While we increasingly fund more research across disciplinary and organizational boundaries, the Foundation continues its investment in the core disciplines. We believe that maintaining a strong set of core disciplines strengthens inter-disciplinary research. However, we do not invest in versions of disciplines that may be mined out; the fields must be contemporary. For example, although there is still much to learn in traditional biology, NSF's eye toward the frontier compels us to fund the riskiest, highest-payback research in newer approaches to research in the biological sciences, as determined by the community.

To ensure that the Foundation's limited funds are always directed toward the frontier, we have a policy of recompetition. We set limits on the amount and duration of our investments. Regular recompetition of our awards challenges proposers to stay at the frontier as it moves forward. It also enables the Foundation to be fully informed of nascent elements of new knowledge.

[Slide 29: Nanostructures]
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The burgeoning field of nanotechnology is a good example of the transition of the frontier. The Foundation supported nanoscale research years before most people had heard of nanotechnology. The carbon nanotubes shown in the foreground illustrate just one of the nanoscale structures that researchers can create today.

More importantly, however, is that, developments in nanotechnology manufacturing are leading to breakthroughs in quantum computing. Appearing in the background of this slide, at the edge of the frontier, we see a model of one of the first quantum computers. Quantum computing involves manipulating the unique properties of sub-atomic particles--protons, electrons and neutrons--to perform computing operations. Theoretically, quantum computing devices can manipulate huge volumes of data an order of magnitude faster than conventional computers. This transition beautifully illustrates both the value of basic research and the changing, exciting life at the frontier of science and engineering.

[Slide 30: Fulfilling the Promise - NSB 03-151 Response to Doubling-the-Budget Legislation]
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In 2002, Congress passed an act which authorized the doubling of the NSF budget. Although current budget constraints have delayed this expansion, the National Science Board has issued guidance on how the additional money will be spent. Those new investments are shown in this slide.

[Slide 31: NSF Collage]
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All of the things I've discussed today--teamwork among our management, the research community and our government counterparts; our goals of supporting people and ideas, while providing the right tools; combined with our stewardship of taxpayer money and our close working relationship with other government agencies--all of these factors contribute toward an operating process that is adaptable and transparent to our community. This transparency begets trust, and trust builds confidence--trust and confidence, from the research community, Congress, the administration and the public. This is the hallmark of NSF's operation. These factors have coalesced to give the National Science Foundation "brand-name" recognition.

The "NSF brand" represents merit-reviewed excellence; openness and inclusiveness; inspiring, pace-setting research at the constantly-changing frontier; and a commitment to a free marketplace of ideas that spans ethnic, social, economic and geographic boundaries. The Foundation strives to be influential and agile, serving as a creative catalyst for change. Finally, the "NSF brand" represents accountability, building and maintaining the public trust.

We take this brand seriously, recognizing that it was built over 50 years, but can be sullied with one ill-conceived decision. Foundation employees, all of us, are stewards of the NSF process--the merit review process and the open exchange of ideas and knowledge. We do not represent a particular field of discovery. We stand for an overarching process of excellence in research and education in science and engineering.

Thank you again for allowing me to share these experiences. I'll be happy to take your questions.


1 Bush, p. 5.
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2 Bush, p. 23.
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3 Microsoft Encarta dictionary of English, North America
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4 Microsoft Encarta dictionary of English, North America
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5 Bush, p.3.
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6 Bush, p.6.
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7 Bush, p.23.
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8 Bush, p.6.
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9 Bush, p.6.
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10 Bush, p.9.
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11 NIH established as "National Institute of Health" (singular) by the Randell Act in 1930.
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12 Bush, p.8.
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13 Bush, p.5.
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14 Bush, p.25.
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15 Sherry Farwell, Head, NSF EPSCoR office, quoted from an interview on 3/2/05.
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Return to a list of Dr. Bordogna's speeches.

 

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