Dr. Christine C. Boesz
Chairman Smith, Ranking Member Johnson, and distinguished members of the Subcommittee, I appreciate the invitation to appear before you today. As the National Science Foundation continues to increase its investments in large infrastructure projects, its oversight of timely and cost effective construction and management, while achieving the intended science, becomes ever more important. I am pleased to inform you that NSF and my office are working together on this challenge.
Following an audit of Gemini Telescopes last year, my office recommended that NSF develop clearer policies and procedures for managing all aspects of large facility projects, emphasizing fund control and effective project management. In developing these recommendations, my staff interviewed NSF employees and reviewed its current written policies and procedures. We also looked at the guidance used in other Federal agencies.
In addition, the President mandated in his budget Blueprint that NSF develop a plan to enhance its capability to estimate costs and to provide oversight of large facility project development and construction to ensure that NSF is able to adhere to cost and schedule commitments.
In response to both the President's mandate and our audit recommendations, NSF has been developing a Large Facility Project Management and Oversight Plan. This Plan covers both pre-award and implementation phases. My comments are focused on the implementation phase. I believe that the most constructive role for my office is to ensure that sound business and management practices are in place in order to advance NSF's scientific goals. NSF's Plan clearly represents progress, particularly in raising the profile of project construction and management within the agency. However, key areas of implementation still need to be addressed.
First, NSF should clarify who will have responsibility for final oversight and accountability for each large facility project. The Plan envisions two distinct organizational structures: one for scientific project management and the other for administrative oversight. There may be times when there will be differences on how to proceed, so clarity is needed on how any differences will be resolved.
Second, the Plan specifies that an awardee institution will manage all aspects of project implementation and report to NSF on its progress. Clarification is needed on how NSF will ensure that an awardee has the necessary project implementation capabilities. I believe that project implementation capability could even become a decision criterion for funding. Because NSF relies heavily on the project management skills of its awardees, we recommend that NSF evaluate the required awardee management plans as an integral part of the selection process.
Third, the Plan should include information on a comprehensive training program on all aspects of large facility construction and management. Training should address basic project and financial management skills as well as NSF's new guidelines and procedures as they are developed and implemented.
Fourth, once NSF makes an award, it will need to ensure that the management plan is implemented and that its results are monitored. A management plan is a focal point that could and should be used as a benchmark in an ongoing oversight process. While a thorough and effective planning process is critical, active and ongoing project oversight is equally important. The Plan indicates that oversight teams will conduct progress reviews, and I look forward to seeing the details on how the results will be used to ensure the successful and timely completion of the projects.
Finally, I am mindful that NSF has set for itself ambitious and challenging milestones for implementation of the Plan. Because of the importance of this effort, NSF should continue to use the necessary expertise to develop guidelines and build project management capabilities while it recruits for a Deputy for Large Facility Projects.
As NSF moves forward with implementation of its Plan and the corresponding guidelines and procedures, my office will continue to have a role. First, because the Plan was partially developed in response to an audit recommendation, we will conduct a follow-up review to ensure that it has been fully implemented.
Second, my office will periodically review NSF's oversight process and, if necessary, make recommendations for improved efficiency and effectiveness. I believe that it is NSF's responsibility to manage and oversee its awards, including 1) assessing whether proposed project funds are adequate to achieve scientific goals, 2) ensuring that awardees are exercising proper project management, 3) determining whether an entity has proper accounting systems in place, and 4) ensuring that the scientific goals of the project are achieved. NSF should conduct regular reviews to make certain that the management plans submitted to and approved by NSF are being followed, or that variances are justified. Because management of large scientific facilities is one of the agency's top ten management challenges, we will continue to make these projects priorities in formulating future audit work.
In addition, my office will remain available to assist in specific areas for which we have expertise, such as pre-award reviews of budgets and indirect cost rates.
In conclusion, I want to emphasize that NSF's Large Facility Projects Management and Oversight Plan is an important first step to ensuring that these projects provide their intended research benefits while also providing appropriate stewardship over public funds. I recognize that balancing these two objectives may sometimes be difficult. This Plan lays the groundwork for NSF's efforts to strike this balance and thereby meet one of its management challenges.
Mister Chair, that concludes my statement. Thank you for the opportunity to share this information with you. I would be pleased to answer any questions that you may have.