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Report to the National Science Board on the National Science Foundation's Merit Review Process, Fiscal Year 2007
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nsb0847 Document Number: nsb0847
Author: National Science Board
Published: June 11, 2008
Keywords: Annual Report, Merit Review Process, Funding review, National Science Board, Award, Grant, 2007, Exploratory Research, Budget
Available Formats: PDF
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Abstract
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This annual report to the National Science Board includes data on proposals and awards and other pertinent information, as well as descriptions of special activities that NSF has undertaken in support of the merit review process. Longitudinal data are given to provide a long-term perspective. The current funding rate is a significant decrease from the FY 2000 funding rate of 33 percent, but the current rate has been approximately unchanged over the last five years. The Foundation continues to exceed its "time to decision" goal of informing at least 70 percent of Principal Investigators (PIs) of funding decisions within six months of receipt of the proposal. The National Science Board conducted a review of the NSF merit review process and concluded that the NSF merit review process is fair and effective. It "remains an international 'gold standard' for review of science and engineering research proposals."


Executive Summary
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This annual report to the National Science Board includes data on proposals and awards and other pertinent information, as well as descriptions of special activities that NSF has undertaken in support of the merit review process. Longitudinal data are given to provide a long-term perspective.

In FY 2007, NSF received a total of 44,577 proposals, the highest number of proposals to date. This is a 5 percent increase over the number of proposals received in FY 2006 and a 50 percent increase from the 29,508 received in FY 2000.

The Foundation made 11,463 awards in FY 2007 resulting in a 26 percent proposal funding rate. The current funding rate is a significant decrease from the FY 2000 funding rate of 33 percent, but the current rate has been approximately unchanged over the last five years. However, as indicated by data in Appendix 1, the average funding rate varies by NSF Directorate. Although not included in this report, there is an even greater variation of funding rate by program.

The average annualized research award size was $146,270 in FY 2007, which continues the gradual annual increase in award size that was interrupted in FY 2006 with a drop to $134,565. The average award duration remains approximately three years.

The Foundation continues to exceed its "time to decision" goal of informing at least 70 percent of Principal Investigators (PIs) of funding decisions within six months of receipt of the proposal. In FY 2007, 77 percent of all proposals were processed within six months.

In FY 2007, NSF completed the Impact of Proposal and Award Management Mechanisms (IPAMM) study of the trends, impacts, and causal factors associated with the recent declines in proposal funding rates and the simultaneous increases in proposal submissions. An update on this study is included in Section V. Also, as a result of the study several graphs have been added to this report to provide longitudinal information relative to PI submissions. These data, which are provided in Section III-E, show that about 14 percent of investigators submit four or more proposals during a three year period and on average, an investigator submits 2.2 proposals before receiving an award. The funding rates for PIs (number of awards received by an investigator divided by the number of submissions from that investigator) have decreased from 43 percent in FY 2000-02 to 36 percent in FY 2005-07.

In March 2007, the National Science Board released its report Enhancing Support of Transformative Research at the National Science Foundation (NSB-07-32), which provided recommendations to the Foundation for promoting transformative research. On September 24, 2007, NSF released an Important Notice regarding the support of potentially transformative research. The notice was sent to presidents of universities, colleges, and heads of other NSF awardee organizations. It announced a change in the Intellectual Merit review criteria to include specific reference to potentially transformative research. Furthermore, NSF formed a working group responsible for developing a framework and implementation plan for new funding mechanisms to facilitate potentially transformative research. The working group is also charged to recommend policies and best practices that will facilitate potentially transformative and interdisciplinary research. Additional information on these activities is provided in Section V.

The National Science Board also conducted a review of the NSF merit review process. In the resulting September 2005 report to Congress, the Board concluded that the NSF merit review process is fair and effective, and "remains an international 'gold standard' for review of science and engineering research proposals." The Board did provide several recommendations to improve the quality and transparency of the process. Section V provides an update on the activities the Foundation has undertaken in response to the Board recommendations.


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