NSF & Congress
Dr. Christine C. Boesz
National Science Foundation
Before the House Committee on Science
Subcommittee on Research
September 6, 2001
Chairman Smith, Ranking Member Johnson, and distinguished members
of the Subcommittee, I appreciate the invitation to appear before
you today. As the National Science Foundation continues to increase
its investments in large infrastructure projects, its oversight
of timely and cost effective construction and management, while
achieving the intended science, becomes ever more important. I
am pleased to inform you that NSF and my office are working together
on this challenge.
Following an audit of Gemini Telescopes last year, my office recommended
that NSF develop clearer policies and procedures for managing all
aspects of large facility projects, emphasizing fund control and
effective project management. In developing these recommendations,
my staff interviewed NSF employees and reviewed its current written
policies and procedures. We also looked at the guidance used in
other Federal agencies.
In addition, the President mandated in his budget Blueprint that
NSF develop a plan to enhance its capability to estimate costs
and to provide oversight of large facility project development
and construction to ensure that NSF is able to adhere to cost and
In response to both the President's mandate and our audit recommendations,
NSF has been developing a Large Facility Project Management and
Oversight Plan. This Plan covers both pre-award and implementation
phases. My comments are focused on the implementation phase. I
believe that the most constructive role for my office is to ensure
that sound business and management practices are in place in order
to advance NSF's scientific goals. NSF's Plan clearly represents
progress, particularly in raising the profile of project construction
and management within the agency. However, key areas of implementation
still need to be addressed.
First, NSF should clarify who will have responsibility for final
oversight and accountability for each large facility project. The
Plan envisions two distinct organizational structures: one for
scientific project management and the other for administrative
oversight. There may be times when there will be differences on
how to proceed, so clarity is needed on how any differences will
Second, the Plan specifies that an awardee institution will manage
all aspects of project implementation and report to NSF on its
progress. Clarification is needed on how NSF will ensure that an
awardee has the necessary project implementation capabilities.
I believe that project implementation capability could even become
a decision criterion for funding. Because NSF relies heavily on
the project management skills of its awardees, we recommend that
NSF evaluate the required awardee management plans as an integral
part of the selection process.
Third, the Plan should include information on a comprehensive
training program on all aspects of large facility construction
and management. Training should address basic project and financial
management skills as well as NSF's new guidelines and procedures
as they are developed and implemented.
Fourth, once NSF makes an award, it will need to ensure that the
management plan is implemented and that its results are monitored.
A management plan is a focal point that could and should be used
as a benchmark in an ongoing oversight process. While a thorough
and effective planning process is critical, active and ongoing
project oversight is equally important. The Plan indicates that
oversight teams will conduct progress reviews, and I look forward
to seeing the details on how the results will be used to ensure
the successful and timely completion of the projects.
Finally, I am mindful that NSF has set for itself ambitious and
challenging milestones for implementation of the Plan. Because
of the importance of this effort, NSF should continue to use the
necessary expertise to develop guidelines and build project management
capabilities while it recruits for a Deputy for Large Facility
As NSF moves forward with implementation of its Plan and the corresponding
guidelines and procedures, my office will continue to have a role.
First, because the Plan was partially developed in response to
an audit recommendation, we will conduct a follow-up review to
ensure that it has been fully implemented.
Second, my office will periodically review NSF's oversight process
and, if necessary, make recommendations for improved efficiency
and effectiveness. I believe that it is NSF's responsibility to
manage and oversee its awards, including 1) assessing whether proposed
project funds are adequate to achieve scientific goals, 2) ensuring
that awardees are exercising proper project management, 3) determining
whether an entity has proper accounting systems in place, and 4)
ensuring that the scientific goals of the project are achieved.
NSF should conduct regular reviews to make certain that the management
plans submitted to and approved by NSF are being followed, or that
variances are justified. Because management of large scientific
facilities is one of the agency's top ten management challenges,
we will continue to make these projects priorities in formulating
future audit work.
In addition, my office will remain available to assist in specific
areas for which we have expertise, such as pre-award reviews of
budgets and indirect cost rates.
In conclusion, I want to emphasize that NSF's Large Facility Projects
Management and Oversight Plan is an important first step to ensuring
that these projects provide their intended research benefits while
also providing appropriate stewardship over public funds. I recognize
that balancing these two objectives may sometimes be difficult.
This Plan lays the groundwork for NSF's efforts to strike this
balance and thereby meet one of its management challenges.
Mister Chair, that concludes my statement. Thank you for the opportunity
to share this information with you. I would be pleased to answer
any questions that you may have.