NSF Fastlane Wins Nationwide Award for Best Use of Internet Technologies
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The National Science Foundation's (NSF) FastLane has been chosen the first federal government project to win a National Information Infrastructure Award (NII). FastLane is an electronic system of administering scientific research grants, educational fellowships, and a host of other interactive functions.
FastLane was a winner in the Government category, one of ten awards in different categories given for programs and organizations nationwide.
Started in 1995, the NII Awards recognize extraordinary achievements on the information superhighway, including innovative uses of the Internet and related communications technologies. The NII awards are supported by a mix of private, public and grass roots organizations.
"I was both surprised and humbled by the news, but extremely gratified as well, because I saw daily the immense effort underway to make FastLane work," NSF Director Neal Lane said. "This is a project which not only is changing how we interact daily with the science and engineering, research and education communities, but it is taking us into the next century when instant access to scientific discovery and learning will be at everyone's fingertips."
FastLane is an interactive, real-time system to conduct a variety of communications and business over the Internet. Its best uses to date involve NSF's complicated proposal and review process for scientific research grants and applications for graduate fellowships.
"We've been extremely gratified with the response we are receiving from those who are using FastLane," Fred Wendling, who directs the FastLane effort, said. "NSF was the innovator of the Internet, but like everything else, innovation is a continuous process, not something that stands on its own. We've worked hard, but the challenges just keep coming and we just have to keep meeting them."
FastLane has met the challenge so far. Since February 1995, organizers have worked to establish and refine a process of totally electronic communication for proposal submissions, updates, reviews, reports and awards for research. Sixteen universities helped to design FastLane in this experimental phase.
While analysis is still being done on many basic FastLane applications, trends are emerging. Recently, NSF's call for nominations in its Recognition Awards for Integration of Research and Education resulted in a 40 percent reduction in processing time for applications and a 51 percent reduction in administrative costs. From an experiment that started with 16 university partners, FastLane is now doing $1 billion worth of business with 400 institutions in an agency which has a budget of slightly over $3 billion.
"There's also a reduction in the number of phone calls asking about the status of proposals," Wendling said. "We have in place 'smart forms' that help us standardize submission information, send updates back and forth, improve data transfer and reduce staff time in performing redundant data entry. This helps us do our reviews faster."
"We felt like a real partner in the process," Pamela Webb, manager of sponsored projects at the University of California in Santa Barbara explained. "There's a better sense of ownership for institutions seeking NSF support because we get real-time acknowledgment of valid proposals, reports and reviews and more timely notification of funding decisions."
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2016, its budget is $7.5 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 48,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funding awards. NSF also awards about $626 million in professional and service contracts yearly.
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