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NSF & Congress

Hearing Summary: Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on General Management and Oversight Issues at NASA and NSF

July 24, 1997

On July 24, 1997, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee held a hearing on general management and oversight issues at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF). Witnesses testifying on NASA management issues included: Daniel Goldin, Administrator, NASA; Roberta Gross, Inspector General, NASA; Thomas Schultz, Associate Director, GAO. Witnesses testifying on NSF management issues included Joe Bordogna, Deputy Director, NSF; Philip Sunshine, Deputy Inspector General, NSF; and Susan Kladiva, Associate Director, GAO.

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) chaired the NASA portion of the hearing, and discussion focused primarily on agency downsizing and privatization of certain functions, the International Space Station (ISS) and Shuttle Mir safety, information technology, and procurement and contract management. The majority of the debate centered on containing costs and ensuring Russian participation in the ISS, as well as preventing the safety problems that have plagued Mir. Throughout the hearing, Administrator Goldin reassured the Committee that NASA has learned a substantial amount from Mir that will help the agency ensure safety on the International Space Station.

Senator Bill Frist acted as the chair during the NSF discussions and asked a series of questions on duplication in the Small Business Research (SBIR) Program, the National Science Foundation's role in the management of Internet domain name registration and the Foundation's implementation of the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA). During their testimony, Philip Sunshine and Susan Kladiva summarized their primary issues with the National Science Foundation. Such issues included the registration of domain names, NSF hiring practices, the SBIR program, GPRA and the Year 2000 Computer problem. Dr. Joe Bordogna highlighted the valuable role that the National Science Foundation plays in supporting merit-based, cutting-edge research and education, demonstrating how this mission drives the Foundation to maintain highly efficient and effective management.

With regard to Senator Frist's concerns about duplication in the SBIR program, all witnesses agreed that preventing duplication in the SBIR program is an interagency problem. Dr. Bordogna pointed out specifically that NSF's recent internal check for duplication revealed a small percentage of duplication.

In response to questions on the NSF's role in domain name registration, Dr. Bordogna relayed the Foundation's belief that its strength and expertise lies in the support of merit-based, cutting-edge research and education in such areas as the Next Generation Internet and Knowledge and Distributed Intelligence, rather than in the management of the commercial operation that domain name registration has become. He described the interagency working group -- of which NSF is a member -- which formed to determine if there should be some continuing form of Federal oversight of Internet addresses. He assured Senator Frist that the working group expects to have a recommendation several months before the NSF's cooperative agreement with NSI expires next March.

Finally, Dr. Bordogna discussed the means by which the National Science Foundation is implementing GPRA. He pointed out that the impacts of research and development investments are difficult, but not impossible, to measure. Nonetheless, he assured the Senator that, while tracking the outcomes of its investments may be difficult, the Foundation is determined to take on such a challenge. One of the means by which it is measuring its impact is by looking retrospectively to determine what previous investments have produced. The development of the Boeing 777, which can be traced back, in part, to a National Science Foundation grant, is only one example of how initial investments can have dramatic and often unpredictable outcomes.

See also: Testimony from Dr. Bordogna .