As the world marks the closing of the 20th century and the beginning
of a new millennium, the National Science Foundation (NSF) celebrates
its 50th year as the only federal agency to support basic scientific
and engineering research, and science and education programs at all
levels and in all fields of science and engineering.
NSF does not conduct research or operate laboratories. Instead, NSF’s
role is to seek out and fund the best ideas and most capable people
to pursue new knowledge, discoveries and innovation. In FY 1999:
- From Congressional appropriations, NSF invested $2.8 billion in
research and $614.7 million in education activities. Given the integrative
nature of research—with students at all levels directly participating
in the process—research activities often include a strong educational
- NSF received over 28,000 proposals and funded about one in three.
Awards were selected through a rigorous external peer evaluation
and merit review process.
- There were nearly 200,000 people directly engaged in NSF-supported
activities, with millions more indirectly involved through NSF-supported
activities such as science museums and television programs.
Performance Goals and Results
FY 1999 was NSF’s first year to report on its achievements
under the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA). The Foundation
developed performance goals and measures for research and education
outcomes, investment processes and management.
It is difficult to link research outcomes, that may take years to
achieve, to a specific fiscal year. Also, research outcomes do not
lend themselves to quantitative reporting; therefore, NSF developed
an alternative approach. External expert review panels assessed research
results and reported research outcomes using a qualitative scale.
- External reviews found that NSF’s Outcome Goals were achieved.
- Discoveries were made at and across the frontier of science
and engineering, and connections were made between discoveries
and their use in service to society.
- NSF activities helped develop a diverse, globally oriented workforce
of scientists and engineers, and enabled improvement of mathematics
and science skills for all Americans.
- A more quantitative review of NSF’s investment process looked
at various aspects of awards policies and procedures.
- 7 of 10 Investment Process Goals were achieved, addressing such
areas as use of merit review, identifying emerging opportunities,
and increasing award duration.
- Timeliness of proposal solicitations and proposal processing,
and increasing the percentage of awards going to new investigators
were identified as areas for increased attention in the coming year.
- NSF’s Management Goals addressed administrative, operations
and policy issues:
- 3 of 5 Management Goals were achieved, addressing Y2K compliance,
electronic receipt of proposals, and staff diversity.
- Electronic receipt of project reports and staff training in
the Foundation’s electronic FastLane systems were identified as areas
for improvement in FY 2000.
NSF is committed to pursuing quality financial management,
and is a strong proponent of streamlined business and management practices.
NSF, with about four percent of its budget used for administration
and management, is one of the federal government’s most cost-effective
agencies. In FY 1999:
- NSF received another unqualified "clean" financial opinion
from independent auditors on the consolidated financial statements.
- NSF management took additional steps to correct one reportable
condition, repeated from last year’s audit, related to equipment
records in the NSF’s U.S. Antarctic Program.
- There were no material weaknesses as defined by OMB guidance.
- NSF made significant progress toward its goal of achieving a paperless
environment by the end of FY 2001. In FY 1999, more than 90 percent
of NSF’s grantees used NSF’s electronic systems to conduct business
and exchange information via the Internet.
- FinanceNet (www.financenet.gov), the federal government’s website
for public financial management information, received nearly 30
million hits—an increase of 45 percent over the prior year. NSF
operates FinanceNet under the sponsorship of the U.S. Chief Financial
NSF’s Investments: Results and Their Impact
In the last 50 years, we have seen significant returns
on NSF investments. Grantees and their students have made major contributions
not only to the creation of new science and engineering disciplines,
but of new tools and industries as well – including Doppler radar,
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), the Internet, biotechnology, agriculture,
and information technology. New areas of research have been fostered,
such as plant genomics; nanoscale science and engineering; and biocomplexity.
In FY 1999:
- Antarctic Research. Fossil bones of hadrosaur and mosasaur dinosaurs
were discovered on the Antarctic Peninsula. This finding was awarded
"Discovery of the Year" by the Royal Geographic Society
of London. The findings are important because the presence of these
animals implies a robust and productive vegetation component of
- Math Abilities of Young Children. NSF-supported research is making
discoveries in the foundations of algebraic reasoning among young
children. Findings suggest that youngsters are capable of mathematics
and science learning that greatly exceeds traditional expectations.
- Practical Application of Digital Library. Research in digital
libraries led to practical technology exploited in many different
areas. The FBI applied digital library technology to establish an
"electronic reading room" to comply with the Freedom of
Information Act. The California Department of Transportation applied
it to roadside vegetation, quasi-real-time tracking of road conditions,
and flood-related emergency services.
These brief examples are just a hint of the vast array of outstanding
research results and education efforts reported as a result of recent
NSF support. But if the past is prologue, look for more exciting breakthroughs
from NSF-sponsored activities.