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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 science and basic research in all fields of science and engineering. 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. During the period December 2013 – May 2014, NSF took the following steps:

  • Clarified and reemphasized policy on award abstracts and titles (March 20, 2014) as follows:
    • The significance of the funded activity, that is what justifies the expenditure of public funds, has been moved to the beginning of the abstract with the technical description to follow. This reverses the order in the current policy.

    • Award abstracts and titles belong to NSF, and program directors are responsible for ensuring that both are clearly articulated and meaningful to the general public.

  • Developed resources for program directors to improve the clarity of award abstracts and conducted seminars throughout the Foundation with these resources (March – May 2014). Virtually all program directors have been exposed to these materials via training conducted throughout the Foundation.

  • Communicated with the community via Important Notice 135 (December 11, 2013) (http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2014/in135/in135.pdf) and Important Notice 136 (March 28, 2014) (http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2014/in136/in136.pdf) 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. Several recommendations have been implemented (e.g., on award abstracts and titles) and several others are in the process of being implemented.

  • Implemented discussion of directorates’ research portfolios and effective practices that ensure alignment of programs, divisions and directorates with the national interests as defined by NSF’s mission (May 1, 2014).

  • 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 quarterly progress updates to the NSF Director and the National Science Board.

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 contact:

Dr. Peter Arzberger
National Science Foundation
Phone: 703-292-8002
E-mail: parzberg@nsf.gov

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