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NSF & Congress


Dr. Jones

Dr. Anita Jones
Vice Chair
National Science Board

Before the House Committee on Science
Subcommittee on Research
September 6, 2001

Chairman Smith, Ranking Minority Member Johnson, members of the Committee, I appreciate the opportunity to testify today. My name is Anita Jones. I am Vice Chair of the National Science Board and Chair of the Board's Committee on Strategy and Budget. I am also the Quarles Professor of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Virginia. From 1993 to 1997 I served as Director of Defense Research and Engineering at the U.S. Department of Defense. In that position I was responsible for the science and technology program of the Department of Defense, including the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and oversight of the Department's laboratories.

On behalf of the National Science Board, I thank the Committee for its long-term support for science and engineering research and education activities, which have contributed so substantially to our Nation's well being.

The National Science Board has two statutory roles: to serve as the governing board of the National Science Foundation, and to advise the Congress and the President on national policy issues for science and engineering research and education.

Today, my comments will focus on the Board's role as governing board of the Foundation, specifically on our oversight and approval of the Foundation's support for large-scale research facilities.

First, I would like to emphasize that the Foundation has an excellent record -- spanning 50 years -- of supporting such facilities, in terms of both the quality of their research and their management. Today, NSF invests over $1 Billion annually in facilities and other infrastructure projects. With the exception of U.S. research facilities in the Antarctic, which are directly operated by the National Science Foundation, NSF typically makes awards to other organizations for the construction and operation of facilities.

The following are examples of major facilities:

  • The Large Hadron Collider is a superconducting particle accelerator. Its purpose is to help scientists advance the fundamental understanding of matter. The Collider's construction and operations are funded through an international collaboration.

  • The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, or LIGO, will allow physicists and engineers to collaborate to test the dynamic features of Einstein's theory of gravity and to study the properties of intense gravitational fields.

  • The National Astronomy Center in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, supports observations in radio and radar astronomy and atmospheric sciences.

  • Research facilities at the South Pole Station, currently under renovation, support a variety of diverse but important research activities that can only be conducted in the unique cold and pristine environment at the South Pole.

  • The Ocean Drilling Program, involving 20 countries, supports research in areas including deep ocean structures, hydrology and geochemical cycles.

These five examples are all major research facilities. For the most part, they are the research instruments that make possible research advances that can be accomplished in no other way. They are all large; each one opens new research frontiers that could not be entered without these tools. They are complex; each one involves challenging engineering tasks in its design, construction and operation. Hence, each is very costly. As I have illustrated, the U.S. frequently teams with international collaborators, not just to assure that the best research is pursued, but also to help make the facilities more affordable. And, very importantly, each facility has a very broad base of researchers who are the users; they frequently come from multiple disciplines.

Many scientific fields are on the edge of exciting discoveries that require such facilities. I anticipate that in the 21st century, the need for such large, complex research facilities will grow. In recent years, the Foundation's portfolio of facilities has grown and diversified to include distributed projects and complex multidisciplinary projects like terascale computing systems and ocean observatories that challenge traditional management and oversight approaches.

National Science Board's Oversight of Large Facility Projects

The National Science Board plays a critical role in the oversight and approval of large NSF-supported facilities. The NSB is well constituted to exercise its oversight and approval responsibilities. Members of the Board include executives from industry and presidents of universities, individuals who have extensive experience in managing large, cutting-edge research facilities and instrumentation. Of course, the Board includes members who have used such facilities.

The Board conducts two activities that focus on the approval and oversight of facilities. They are the approval of large awards and the approval of candidates for the Major Research Equipment account. Typically, the Board hears briefings from NSF management at almost every NSB meeting on the subject of large facilities -- existing and candidate.

NSB Approval for Major Awards:

The Board approves all major projects, including facilities, whose costs exceed one percent of the budget of the sponsoring directorate or office budget. The Board also approves new major programs whose budget exceeds three percent of the budget of the sponsoring directorate or office.

The Board's Committee on Programs and Plans (CPP) reviews large projects at various stages of their development and makes recommendations to the full Board for the initiation of new awards and programs. In addition, the CPP reviews projects for adherence to the NSB approved criteria for merit review and the Board's policy regarding the competition, recompetition and renewal of NSF awards. Throughout the implementation phase of a project, the CPP reviews its progress and informs the Board of its status and any issues that arise.

The Board's Committee on Audit and Oversight (A&O) reviews specific financial and business management issues raised by the Inspector General and by Foundation management. Like the CPP, A&O informs the Board of any issues that arise.

The Major Research Equipment Account:

The Major Research Equipment (MRE) account is an agency-wide capital asset account used to fund major science and engineering infrastructure projects that cost far more than one program's budget could support. The costs of MRE facilities range from several tens to hundreds of millions of dollars. The Board sees these projects multiple times over their lifetime. The Board takes two kinds of actions. First, it authorizes a candidate project for possible inclusion by the Foundation in a future budget. Later, the Board approves specific funding for an organization or consortium to design and construct the facility.

Let me briefly outline how the Board oversees MRE projects. The Director selects candidates for the NSB to review during one of its five meetings throughout the year. The Board receives, for approval, candidate projects that may be included in a future budget request, subject to availability of funding. Board authorization signifies that the projects are meritorious and that planning is sufficiently advanced to justify funding. In giving its approval, the Board considers the intellectual merit, societal impacts of the projects, their importance to science and engineering, balance across disciplines, readiness to be implemented, and cost-benefit and risk analyses.

The Board authorizes the MRE projects for possible inclusion in future budgets, but does not rank-order them to preserve the Foundation's flexibility in a given budget year. We believe that all projects authorized by the Board are of unquestioned excellence and worthy of Foundation support. When the Board approves the Foundation's budget submission to the Office of Management and Budget, it reaffirms its support for any MRE projects included for funding.

After NSF has run a competition and detailed plans are in place for design, construction and operations, the project comes back to the Board for the award of funding at a specific level. Board oversight of MRE projects continues after an award is made. The Board's CPP reviews a project's progress at the midpoint of construction and whenever significant issues arise. If it appears that a project will exceed the Board's approved dollar amount by over 20 percent or $10 million, whichever is less, the Director must return to the Board to request approval for a higher level of funding. CPP also receives periodic reports on the status of all major projects.

NSF Large Facility Projects Management and Oversight Plan

As part of its oversight responsibilities, the Board began a dialogue with Foundation management about large facility issues more than a year and a half ago. Together, we have been discussing the improvement of the process for identifying candidate projects and for Foundation oversight of the management of construction and operation of such facilities.

The Foundation has created a new Large Facility Projects Management and Oversight Plan. That Plan, which was requested by the Administration, does two things. It incorporates and builds upon an existing facility management process. In addition, it strengthens financial oversight.

I would like to comment briefly on the Board's participation in the development of the Plan. The full Board received a draft Plan for comment this summer. At the August 8-9 Board meeting, our Committee on Programs and Plans, which has the responsibility to review major projects and facilities, received a briefing on the Plan from the Deputy Director. Members of our Audit and Oversight Committee participated in those discussions. Board members were pleased with the direction, framework, and elements set forth in the briefing and encouraged Foundation management to proceed with the Plan's development. The Board will continue to assess the Foundation's progress in refining and implementing the Plan.

The Plan institutionalizes and builds on long-standing management practices.

    1. It codifies sound practices already in use, augments the existing MRE process, and documents principles of management.

    2. It ensures that project management will stay with the scientists and engineers, from planning through operation. The overall NSF Program Manager for a particular facility project is an individual in one of the research directorates of the Foundation.

    3. It strengthens Foundation oversight of financial and business functions. This requires organizational and managerial changes within the Foundation. In particular, it calls for the creation of a Deputy for Large Facility Projects who reports directly to the Chief Financial Officer and is responsible for "developing, implementing and managing, with NSF-wide input and concurrence, management oversight policies, guidelines and procedures".

In summary, Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee:

  • The National Science Board supports the general direction laid out in NSF's Large Facility Projects Management and Oversight Plan. The Board will assess the Foundation's progress in refining and implementing the elements of the Plan, particularly to ensure the integrity of the evaluation and oversight of the financial and business aspects of the facility project throughout its life.

  • The implementation of the Plan will ensure that the Foundation, with Board oversight, has the policies and organization required for sound management of unique, complex, world-class research facilities.

Thank you for the opportunity to present these remarks. I would be glad to answer any questions you may have.