of the BIO Advisory Committee
November 2-3, 1995
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 2 -
Welcome and Introduction of New Members
Dr. Pete Magee, Chair of the Advisory Committee for Biological Sciences (BIOAC)
convened the meeting at 9:00 am with a welcome to members and guests. Dr. Mary
Clutter, Assistant Director for Biological Sciences (BIO), addressed the BIOAC
and noted the period of transition NSF is in, given the probability of reduced
budgets over the next several years. She asked the BIOAC to make recommendations
to BIO in light of this situation. Dr. Clutter introduced Dr. Anne Petersen,
Deputy Director of NSF.
Discussion with the Deputy Director of NSF, Dr. Anne Petersen
Dr. Anne Petersen briefly addressed NSF's current budget situation.
She stated that relative to other agencies, NSF likely will not
suffer as many cuts. However, overall reduction in research funding
throughout the Federal Government is likely to place a bigger
burden on NSF. She then turned her attention to the need for
NSF to champion the importance of basic research in a time of
reduced budgets. She believes that presenting a unified front
to Congress and the public is essential. Divisiveness among scientific
disciplines can send Congress the message that it is appropriate
for them to pick and choose among various fields when providing
funding. This can lead to an overall reduced budget for basic
research. In conclusion, she appealed to the BIOAC to encourage
support for science education and cohesiveness in the scientific
In response to Dr. Petersen's comments, the BIOAC
discussed how NSF and the scientific community can approach
the public on recognizing the importance of scientific research.
Dr. Nina Fedoroff commented that in times of reduced budgets,
priorities will have to be made, and these may favor some disciplines
over others. Dr. Petersen responded that NSF's current budget strategy
is to maintain a balance across all disciplines while allowing
for new opportunities and investigators.
Dr. Petersen and the BIOAC discussed various issues brought up
at the Workshop on Improving the NSF Proposal Review Process (September
15, 1995), particularly:
- NSF's current proposal review process;
- the appropriateness of funding investigators primarily on past
- encouraging investigators to use email to give NSF feedback
on the proposal review process and address their specific proposal
Dr. Petersen concluded her session by briefly discussing the increasing
importance of the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA)
and NSF's response to it. This led to a discussion by the BIOAC
on the general issue of accountability and educating the public
on what NSF does.
Follow-up to Workshop on Improving NSF's Proposal
Review Process and Approval of Minutes- April 1995 Meeting
The minutes for the April 3-4, 1995 meeting were approved, with
a small correction to Dr. Barbara Webster's comments.
Dr. Pete Magee reviewed some of the suggestions considered by
the Workshop on Improving NSF's Proposal Review Process:
- The need for consensus on basic review criteria across NSF.
- A challenge grant fund should be developed to encourage innovative
change at universities.
Dr. Magee wanted the committee to discuss this point in particular.
- Reviews that address a list of distinct criteria (disaggregated)
may be more useful than the current prose method.
Joel Widder gave an overview of NSF's budget process over the last
year. In particular, he mentioned the impact of congressional
change and turbulence on NSF. Mr. Widder then reviewed the authorization
and appropriations bills currently in Congress, particularly
the Civilian Omnibus Science and Technology bill currently in
the Senate. Mr. Widder felt that it is unlikely an authorization
bill will pass this session.
The BIOAC discussed the ramifications of budget balancing measures
on NSF and basic research throughout the Government, as well as
possible future budget cuts.
Report on BIO AC Actions
Dr. Clutter reviewed the changes in the BIOAC. Dr. Nina Fedoroff
is the new Chair-Designate., Dr. Pete Magee is Chair, and Dr.
Judith Ramaley is Past Chair.
Dr. Clutter discussed how the Directorate sets priorities and
the role of the BIOAC. In particular, she commented on the following
- BIO sets priorities through an analysis and assessment process
Dr. Clutter reviewed the charge, recommendations, and outcomes
of the task force that anlayzed the BBS (Biological, Behavioral,
and Social Sciences) Directorate in 1990. This task force led to
the reorganization of the BBS Directorate into BIO and SBE.
Clutter discussed the BIOAC's previous recommendations and
resultant outcomes, including it's response to Drs. Lane and
Petersen's letter to Advisory Committee Chairs. She asked the
BIOAC to carefully consider NSF's role in university institutional
- Dr. Clutter briefly discussed the current role of the Committee
of Visitors (COV) and asked the BIOAC to discuss expanding
the charge of the COVs during the Friday session.
Dr. Clutter finished her presentation by asking the BIOAC if it
is time for another task force or another similar endeavor to analyze
the role of BIO in the new budgetary environment.
Planning for BIO in the New Era: Senior Staff Retreat
Dr. James Edwards, Executive Officer, discussed the current planning
process for BIO, using the most recent Senior Staff Retreat as
First, Dr. Edwards presented BIO's criteria for developing priorities.
In particular, he noted the importance of synergy and partnerships
in an era of declining budgets, and that this is likely to lead
to an increasing number of interagency efforts.
Dr. Edwards also
outlined the process BIO uses to identify and select priority
areas. The BIOAC discussed how this process can help the Directorate
to recognize new areas of understanding, and therefore remain forward
thinking in all aspects of the biological sciences.
Dr. Edwards then reviewed the outcomes of the 1995 Senior Management
Retreat, held in Airlie, Virginia. The retreat was structured around
NSF's four core strategies:
- Integrating education and research
- Developing intellectual capital
- Strengthening physical infrastructure
- Promoting partnerships
Senior staff discussed BIO's priorities within the context of
these core strategies.
In particular, Dr. Edwards asked the BIOAC to think about the
effects of the partnerships BIO is putting together.
Dr. Pete Magee mentioned the benefits of having the BIOAC Chair
participate in the retreat. The BIOAC was in agreement that the
Chair should attend future Senior Staff Retreats.
New Directions in Undergraduate Education
Dr. Mel George, Chair of the Subcommittee on Undergraduate Education
Review of the EHR Advisory Committee, gave an overview of his
report on new directions in undergraduate education.
first discussed the history of systemic thinking about undergraduate
education. He noted the increased need for science, technical
and math skills in the workforce over the past ten years.
Dr. George then outlined the process of his study, which will
be done in cooperation with the National Research Council, and
then gave an overview of the proposed content of the report. He
noted the following outcomes as especially important:
- NSF needs to take a leadership role in undergraduate science
and technology education, which should involve a clear agenda
and mechanism for NSF's activities.
- Education programs should be centered in the process of scientific
inquiry and include direct experiences with scientific methods.
- Undergraduate education should be centered on learning, rather
than teaching, and be more connected to student experiences.
The BIOAC discussed the logistics of engendering support among
the publishing community for module publications. Accessibility
to module publications and textbooks supported by NSF was considered
a particularly important issue.
The BIOAC considered the role of the traditional laboratory setting
in science education and the gradual elimination of labs due to
institutions' increasing budget constraints.
The BIOAC and Dr. George continued their discussion of undergraduate
education over lunch.
The BIOAC addressed NSF's role in promoting change in undergraduate
science and technology education. Should NSF be proactive in initiating
change or praise efforts initiated by institutions?
The BIOAC further explored the importance of making science education
relevant to students' experiences in order to promote greater interest
and understanding. Student accessibility to faculty was also mentioned
as an important factor. This led to a discussion on promoting intellectual
challenge in teaching.
Fact versus problem based learning was considered carefully by
the BIOAC, particularly the following issues:
- level of motivation and ability as a factor in determining
- the need for standardized test preparation
- potential long term benefits of problem-based vs. fact-based
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 2 - Afternoon Session
Changes at Other Agencies
United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)
Dr. Floyd Horn, Acting Under Secretary for Research, Education
and Economics, discussed the potential effects of the budget reconciliation
debate on the USDA. They expect to receive some cuts, but will
probably do well overall. Current projects will be finished, but
it will be difficult to start new ones. The USDA is likely to receive
$1.2 billion for it's mission area, with a $3 million cut to the
Agricultural Research Service.
The BIOAC asked about the National
Research Initiative's competitive grants program, which will
likely receive $97 million in funding and will concentrate on giving
The BIOAC was also concerned about the implications of Congress
targeting specific programs as priorities. They felt that this
could have an adverse effect on the integrity of basic research.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Dr. Robert Huggett, Assistant Administrator for Research and Development,
discussed the implications of the current budget situation for
EPA. So far, the EPA has not received a budget from Congress.
The Senate is concerned that laboratories outside of the Research
and Development Office's purview have not yet reorganized. This
concern is likely to have a negative impact on research and development
labs, since all EPA labs will be funded out of the same budget.
Research and development labs have reorganized around the risk
assessment paradigm. Each lab now has a management deputy and
a science deputy.
Dr. Huggett also discussed cuts in staff at headquarters and the
possibility of lab closures in the future.
For the first time in
its history, the EPA has a strategic planning process. They are
also developing an extramural competitive grants program. Dr.
Huggett discussed the EPA-NSF Water and Watersheds competition
as an example of this. EPA has also instituted a fellowship program,
which hopes to support 200 students in 1996 and 300 in 1997. For
their own scientists, they are developing an internal grants program
to help them be more competitive with academic scientists. EPA
is also exploring ways for their scientists to compete for the
same grants as academics.
Evolving Roles and Responsibilities of Program Officers
Dr. Joann Roskoski, Deputy Division Director for Environmental
Biology (DEB), explained the complex set of tasks that program
officers are responsible for at the NSF, and in BIO in particular.
She outlined five major responsibilities that program officers
- Disciplinary Programs
- Independent Research Activities
- Cross-Directorate Programs
- Partnership Activities
- Outreach to Public/Schools, etc.
Within partnership activities, Dr. Roskoski described five levels
of complexity that may be involved. These include intradivisional,
intradirectorate, interdirectorate, interagency, and NSF/private
sector. A program officer may have one or more responsibilities
within each of these levels of complexity.
Dr. Roskoski pointed
out that increasing demands on program officers' time makes them
very sensitive to the development of new initiatives, with concern
that their disciplinary programs may suffer.
Dr. Roskoski stressed that BIO needs to look at how to best serve
the disciplinary programs while still being involved in these other
The BIOAC discussed the ramifications of BIO's increasing participation
in partnerships and agreed to discuss them further in the breakout
groups. Dr. Clutter stressed the importance of existing and future
Organization of Breakout Groups
Dr. Pete Magee asked the BIOAC to meet in the following breakout
- Partnerships with Universities
- Support for Research
- New Initiatives
He stated that these themes for the groups were chosen because
(1) universities' missions are changing in part because legislators
are much more interested in these issues than before and want change,
(2) NSF's budget is flat but its charge is not changing, therefore
the Foundation needs new ways to fulfill its mission.
requested that the BIOAC provide specific actions that BIO can
undertake in this era of change.
The BIOAC met from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. in their breakout groups.
Committee of Visitors Reports
Special Projects Cluster, BIR- Presented by Dr. Mary--Dell Chilton
Dr. Mary-Dell Chilton summarized the contents of the Special Projects
Cluster, BIR, COV report. She focused on three issues:
- Panel summaries are too vague
- There should be mechanisms to allow postdoctoral fellows that
don't use all of their stipend funds to apply this money towards
starting up their research programs. Dr. James Brown, Division
Director of BIR, commented that starter matching grants are
- Due to the infrastructure orientation of the Computational
Biology and Database Activities program, the standard review
form is not enitrely appropriate and should perhaps be revised
Instrumentation and Instrument Development and Field Stations
and Marine Labs, BIR--Presented by Dr. Nina Fedoroff
Dr. Nina Fedoroff reviewed the major points of the report. In particular,
she noted the following comments presented in the COV report:
should be used more heavily in review process, perhaps replacing
panel discussions in some cases. However, program officers
feel that this is less useful than face to face discussions.
- Site visits are considered important, but the budget doesn't
support very many of them. The BIOAC discussed the adequacy of
the current site visit program.
Dr. Fedoroff summarized by noting that the program is not fundamentally
flawed and its response to the COV was quite adequate.
Ecological Studies Cluster, DEB--Presented Via Letter by Dr. Lynn
Dr. Lynn Riddiford has rotated off the BIOAC, and therefore was
not present to give her report on the Ecological Studies Cluster
COV. However, she submitted a letter. Dr. Riddiford noted the following
COV comments as particularly important:
- Young investigators within the first five years of their Ph.D.
have lower success rates that other groups. Perhaps including
them on panels or targeting this group for workshops will help.
- The division between ecology and ecosystems needs to be bridged
by, for example, putting ecosystem scientists on ecology panels
and visa versa. Dr. Roskoski commented that the cluster is
actively engaged in this through joint panel review of some proposals
and possibly having a combined panel in the future.
- Support for special competitions should continue, for they
provide more money and opportunities for the community. Conversely,
Dr. Roskoski mentioned the lack of lead time and increased work
load as problems often associated with special competitions.
- More input is needed from the research community on the direction
of the cluster.
- There is a lack of proposals submitted by handicapped and minority
scientists. This comment led to a discussion of DEB's minority
REU program (University Mentorships in Environmental Biology)
by the BIOAC and NSF staff.
Neuroscience Cluster, IBN
Dr. Lydia Villa-Komaroff was absent from the BIOAC meeting, and
therefore was unable to present the Neuroscience Cluster COV
Genetics Cluster, MCB- Presented by Dr. George Hill
Dr. George Hill summarized the executive summary to point out
the supportive comments made by the COV, and then discussed
the following issues:
- The concept of integrating research and education was not fully
appreciated by the COV. They felt the best science should be
funded by the best scientists at the best institutions. Dr. Hill
commented that the community needs to be educated that good science
can be integrated with education.
- Like the Ecological Studies Cluster COV, the Genetics Cluster
COV noted a lack of proposals from minority and handicapped
scientists. Dr. Hill felt that the COV should have considered
this issue more fully. The BIOAC and NSF staff continued their
discussion on ways to increase participation of minority and
handicapped scientists in BIO programs.
Discussion of New Roles for Committees of Visitors
The BIOAC discussed the possibility of expanding the role of Committees
of Visitors to include more scientific assessment activities.
Dr. Frank Harris mentioned that the existing charge is a large
enough task. He suggested increasing the size of the COVs or
having the BIOAC take on scientific assessment activities.
Helen Berman suggested that BIOAC members lead each COV in
a small discussion about an assessment area important to the COV's
particular program. BIOAC members could then bring these comments
back to the entire BIOAC. This would tap the expertise of the
COVs without significantly increasing their workload.
Dr. George Langford felt that program officers are doing scientific
assessment already, therefore the COVs may not need to.
Dr. Clutter responded that outside groups must help with assessment
under GPRA. She felt that the COVs can undertake this because they
are very familiar with NSF operations. Dr. Clutter suggested that
perhaps everything the COVs currently do is not necessary. Therefore,
they may be able to take on assessment activities if other responsibilities
are phased out.
The BIOAC agreed that some assessment activities should be taken
on by the BIOAC alone or in conjunction with the COVs.
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 3 - Morning Session
Report on Workshop on Emerging Technologies
Dr. Helen Berman reported on the Workshop on Emerging Technologies,
which met June 26-27, 1995. The meeting represented a large cross
section of biologists, from science and technology center heads
to individual investigators.
Some of the emerging technologies
discussed included protein biosensors, computational database
integration, imaging systems, and nanotechnologies. The importance
of education and training in terms of new technologies was
The BIOAC discussed at length how to effectively cross-train biologists
and computer scientists, given increasing linkages between these
fields. The issues of differing scientific cultures and institutional
barriers to collaboration and cross-training, particularly inflexibility
in faculty award mechanisms, were considered especially problematic.
The BIOAC went on to explore what NSF's role should be in shaping
The BIOAC met in their breakout groups from 9:00-10:00 a.m.
Changes at Other Agencies II
Department of Energy (DoE)
Dr. Aristides Patrinos, Associate Director of Health and Environmental
Research, gave an overview of the Office of Health and Environmental
Research and their budget outlook.
The office's three divisions, health effects and life science,
medical applications and biophysics, and environmental science,
demonstrate its broad research portfolio. One of the office's newest
research initiatives is waste management in relation to Cold War
Dr. Patrinos discussed the office's FY 1996 budget, which will
likely be a $40 million decrease from the request. Like USDA, the
Office of Health and Environmental Research must deal with Congress
earmarking certain projects as priorities, particularly medical
Dr. Patrinos discussed his office's budget priorities, the management
and programmatic challenges associated with them, and the future
directions they are likely to take.
National Institutes of Health (NIH)
Dr. Marvin Cassman, Acting Director, National Institute of General
Medical Sciences, reviewed NIH's budget outlook for FY 1996.
Although they do not yet have a budget, they will likely get
a 5.6% increase over last year and a 1% increase over the request.
Congress has stressed the need for NIH to keep its flexibility,
and therefore is not setting aside certain funds to study specific
diseases. Typically, 2/3-3/4 of their budget goes to continuing
grants and they expect the number of new grants to remain at
the 1995 level.
Dr. Cassman then discussed the future of basic
research funding in the Federal Government given the likelihood
of flat budgets in the foreseeable future. He stressed the
need for investigators to prepare for the effects of these cuts
and for agencies to find innovative ways to deal with them.
Reports from Breakout Groups and Discussion of an Action Agenda
The Breakout Group Chairs reported on the results of their meetings.
Partnerships with Universities- Reported by Dr. George Langford
This group discussed ways that BIO can implement or produce better
partnerships with universities in facilitating the integration
of research and education.
The breakout group felt that BIO and
universities need to develop mechanisms to train students for
careers in industry rather than just academia. They mentioned
Research Training Groups and collaborative research projects
as excellent vehicles for industry-oriented training because
of their interdisciplinary nature.
The breakout group believed that changing institutional culture
to include educational activities, outreach, and community service
as criteria for faculty advancement was essential to the integration
of research and education. To facilitate this, they recommended
a workshop to bring together university administrators, faculty,
students and professional society representatives in a discussion
on faculty advancement criteria.
The BIOAC discussed the suggested workshop extensively and agreed
that its scope should be broadened to address institutional change
in response to collaborations and changing needs in student training.
Dr. Nina Fedoroff, Dr. Helen Berman, Dr. Pete Magee, and Dr. George
Langford will develop suggestions for this workshop and disseminate
them to the BIOAC via email.
This group also addressed ways to attract new rotators. They recommended
recruiting retired individuals who are no longer actively involved
in research, providing incentives such as creativity grants to
help rotators make the transition back into research, and educating
universities on the positive results of the rotator experience.
Support for Research - Reported by Dr. Mary-Dell Chilton
This breakout group discussed maintaining the integrity of the
peer review process in the face of flat or decreasing budgets.
The group recommended (1) increasing the response of ad hoc reviewers
by limiting the number of proposals sent to each reviewer, sending
out fewer ad hoc requests for each proposal and letting reviewers
know this, and asking reviewers if they are willing to review
before sending them the proposal; (2) using preproposals in programs
where a lot of proposals are expected with a relatively small
number of awards; and (3) consider a double blind review system
to reduce bias.
The group also discussed consolidating programs.
They felt that this may result in panels without enough breadth
of expertise to adequately review all proposals.
The BIOAC discussed if there really is bias in the current proposal
review system, especially with regard to young investigators.
New Initiatives and the Portfolio Balance- Reported by Dr. Gregory
This group was charged with recommending ways that BIO can maintain
an appropriate portfolio balance with flat or declining budgets.
The group recommended that fewer formal announcements be developed
and that new initiatives should be channeled into current programmatic
areas whenever possible.
They felt that only about 2-3 new initiatives
should be developed over the next 4-5 years.
of the BIOAC
The next BIOAC meeting will be held April 25-26, 1996.
Dr. Magee stated that BIO needs three BIOAC representatives for
The following individuals volunteered:
Dr. Pete Magee for the Developmental Mechanisms Cluster, IBN COV
(July 22-24, 1996)
Dr. Frank Harris for the Systematics and Population Biology Cluster,
DEB COV (May or June, 1996)
Dr. Helen Berman for the Biochemistry and Molecular Structure and
Function, MCB COV (tentatively July 17-18, 1996)
The BIOAC meeting was adjourned at about 12:45 p.m.
P. T. Magee Nov. 3, 1996
Paul Magee, Chair Date
Back to Meeting Agendas and Minutes