Section III. Proposal Processing and Review


Proposals received by the Proposal Processing Unit are assigned to the appropriate NSF program for acknowledgment and review. All proposals are reviewed carefully by a scientist, engineer or science educator serving as an NSF Program Officer, and usually by 3 to 10 other individuals who are experts in the particular field represented by the proposal. Proposers are invited to suggest names of persons they believe are especially well qualified to review the proposal or persons they would prefer not review the proposal. These suggestions may serve as one source in the reviewer selection process at the Program Officer's discretion. Some Program Officers obtain comments from assembled review panels or from site visits before recommending final action on proposals. Recommendations for awards are further reviewed by senior NSF staff for conformance with Foundation policy.

In the event of a significant development that might materially affect the outcome of the review of a pending proposal, the proposer should contact the program officer to whom the proposal is assigned to discuss the finding or changed circumstances. The possibility of submitting the additional information must not be used as a means of circumventing page limitations or stated deadlines, but is intended to provide an opportunity to communicate unexpected and significant breakthroughs or other developments.

When a decision has been made, verbatim copies of reviews, excluding the names of the reviewers, and summaries of review panel deliberations, if any, are mailed to the Principal Investigator/Project Director. Proposers may also request and obtain any other releasable material in NSF's file on their proposal. Everything in the file except information that directly identifies either reviewers or other pending or declined proposals is usually releasable.

Proposers are cautioned that only an appointed Grants Officer may make commitments or obligations on behalf of the Government or authorize the expenditure of funds. No commitment on the part of the Government to fund preparation of a proposal or to support research or education should be inferred from technical or budgetary discussions with an NSF program officer. A Principal Investigator or institution that makes financial or personnel commitments in the absence of a grant or cooperative agreement signed by the NSF Grants Officer does so at its own risk.

The National Science Board established the following criteria for the selection of research (including projects to improve the teaching and learning of science and engineering) projects by the National Science Foundation:

"In order to provide for the fair and equitable selection of the most meritorious research projects for support, the Foundation has established criteria for their review and evaluation. These criteria are intended to be applied to all research proposals in a balanced and judicious manner, in accordance with the objectives and content of each proposal. Four criteria for the selection of research projects by the National Science Foundation are listed below, together with the elements that constitute each criterion.

"(1) Research performance competence -- This criterion relates to the capability of the investigator(s), the technical soundness of the proposed approach, and the adequacy of the institutional resources available."

"(2) Intrinsic merit of the research -- This criterion is used to assess the likelihood that the research will lead to new discoveries or fundamental advances within its field of science or engineering, or have substantial impact on progress in that field or in other scientific and engineering fields."

"(3) Utility or relevance of the research -- This criterion is used to assess the likelihood that the research can contribute to the achievement of a goal that is extrinsic or in addition to that of the research field itself, and thereby serve as the basis for new or improved technology or assist in the solution of societal problems."

"(4) Effect of the research on the infrastructure of science and engineering -- This criterion relates to the potential of the proposed research to contribute to better understanding or improvement of the quality, distribution or effectiveness of the Nation's scientific and engineering research, education, and manpower base."

"Criteria (1), (2) and (3) constitute an integral set and are applied in a balanced way to all research and science education proposals in accordance with the objectives and content of each proposal. Criterion (1), performance competence, is essential to the evaluation of the quality of every proposal. It covers the investigator's record of past research accomplishments, including, where significant, communication of findings and sharing of data and other research products. The relative weight given Criteria (2) and (3) depends on the nature of the proposed work; Criterion (2), intrinsic merit, is emphasized in the review of basic research proposals, while Criterion (3), utility or relevance, is emphasized in the review of applied research proposals. Criterion (3) also relates to major goal-oriented activities that the Foundation carries out, such as those directed at improving the knowledge base underlying science and technology policy, furthering international cooperation in science and engineering, and addressing areas of national need."

"Criterion (4), effect on the infrastructure of science and engineering, permits the evaluation of proposals in terms of their potential for improving the scientific and engineering enterprise and its education activities in ways other than those encompassed in the first three criteria. Included under this criterion are questions relating to scientific, engineering and education personnel, including participation of women, minorities and individuals with disabilities; the distribution of resources with respect to institutions and geographical area; stimulation of high-quality activities in important but underdeveloped fields; support of research initiation for investigators without previous Federal research support as a Principal Investigator or Co-Principal Investigator; and interdisciplinary approaches to research or education in appropriate areas. Criterion (4) does not apply to commercial organizations."

Any specific criteria that apply to individual programs, while falling within the general criteria presented in this section, are contained in relevant program announcements or solicitations.

Proposals that involve cooperative activities with former Warsaw Pact countries may also be subject to internal U.S. Government review for potential national security concerns.