I am honored and humbled to chair the National Science Board, an extraordinary group of esteemed and dedicated scientists, technologists and educators; I am grateful for the trust my colleagues have placed in me. I am fortunate to be joined by my wise and experienced vice chair Diane Souvaine, and the outstanding National Science Board Office staff. This Board starts with a strong foundation, thanks to the extraordinary work of Dan Arvizu and Kelvin Droegemeier and the continuing leadership of Director France Córdova, who is now one of our longest-serving Board members.
The National Science Foundation is strongest when the Director and the Board work in partnership. France’s understanding of the Board and the premium she puts on open communication have helped build a highly productive collaboration that, with her help, I will continue.
We are here to help the Director and her talented team fulfill NSF’s mission of discovery science. NSF must continue to support the very best ideas in science and engineering based on merit review. The basic research and people that NSF supports advance the U.S. economy, enhance our national security, and keep our country a global leader. The recent LIGO discovery, which captured everyone’s imagination as Einstein’s 100-year old theory was proven correct, showcases beautifully the value of the high risk, long-term research endeavors that only the federal government supports, and the role that NSF uniquely fulfills.
Our Board is unique in government, an apolitical entity charged with safeguarding the long-term health of science and engineering in our country. The National Science Board does this through a dual mission: acting as the governing body for the NSF and by serving as advisors to the President and Congress on matters related to science and education. My goal as chair is simple: to ensure that the Board optimally executes both aspects of its charter.
The Board must be organized to address the current greatest challenges to the Foundation, and to be able to make informed and timely decisions. While on matters of import, we should speak with one voice, I hope that we will continue to approach all discussions as a collegial body.
The NSB needs to be independent from NSF, and to clearly distinguish governance, which is our role, from management, which is the job of the Director. We expect NSF’s management practices to be of the same world-class quality as the science it supports. In its oversight role the Board takes seriously its job to assure that precious taxpayer resources enable the very best science, that the mechanisms for the selection of projects of large and small scale, are clear and fair, and that the process of merit review undergoes continual improvement. The Board has a keen interest in the development and management of major facilities and projects, with a particular eye towards efficient operation, since those funds compete with research grants. Through our data-driven resource of Science and Engineering Indicators, we will analyze ways to enable more segments of the population to become STEM-capable or to pursue STEM careers, and to strengthen linkages to and enhance the private sector.
In our role as advisors, this Board is going to play offense, increasing its focus on strategy and outreach. Building on the actions of our predecessors and complementing those of the Director and her staff, we are already reaching out to the Executive Branch, Congress, and the public to provide clear, understandable explanations of the Foundation’s essential function, and the achievements of the scientists it supports. With very real pressures on the federal budget, all expenditures must be well justified. Discoveries and careers developed with support from NSF represent some of the best success stories in this great nation, and we need to tell these stories.
We are offering our expertise to inform decision-making that would benefit from objective scientific input. In reaching out we need to clearly explain facts, theories and uncertainty. In doing this, we must be unafraid and unambiguous that science is non-partisan: scientific facts don’t change with election cycles, a scientific story changes when new evidence demands it.
NSF also needs to look to the future, laying the ground work for discoveries not yet imagined. The Board is tremendously excited about the “big ideas” that the Director shared at our May meeting. These ideas hold great promise and are exactly the kind of exciting, emerging opportunities – many at the intersection of disciplines – that NSF should pursue. The Board is here to support these and other NSF priorities.