National Science Foundation Releases Survey on the Impact of Proposal and Award Management Mechanisms
Data affirm quality of NSF proposal and review processes
The National Science Foundation (NSF)'s Impact of Proposal and Award Management Mechanisms Working Group (IPAMM) today presented its findings to the National Science Board (Board) during its meeting at NSF headquarters in Arlington, Virg. The working group was created in 2006 "to recommend policies and preferred practices to improve NSF's program announcement and solicitation processes in ways that achieve appropriate balances between proposal funding rates, award sizes and award durations."
"The data and recommendations contained in this report will be invaluable as the NSF seeks optimal management mechanisms to maintain the excellence of our merit review process and ensure a vibrant science and engineering enterprise now and in the future," said NSF's Deputy Director Dr. Kathie L. Olsen.
The Board decided to review IPAMM's report and discuss directional implications at its next meeting in October 2007.
• NSF funding rates declined due to a surge in proposals, as NSF was making a concerted effort to increase the average award size (absorbing overall NSF budget growth). The annual number of awards stayed constant. Funding rates dropped between fiscal year (FY) 2000 and FY 2004, and leveled off in FY 2005 and FY 2006.
• Proposals have increased as the applicant pool has increased -- due in part to growth in the research community's capacity, decreases in funding from other sources and increases in targeted solicitations in new areas--and the number of proposals per applicant has increased.
• NSF's peer review system is under stress with great demands on reviewers, posing challenges in order for NSF to maintain scientific integrity and stellar quality.
• The overall decrease in funding rate has affected the entire NSF proposer community proportionately--there has been no disparate effect on any particular group.
• Reduced funding rates and increased proposal submission rates have increased the work for all involved.
• The quality of proposals submitted and awarded has not declined due to increased competition or lowered funding rates.
Because the results of this study do not support a single best or preferred approach to managing proposal submissions and funding rates, or in establishing an appropriate balance between funding rate and award size, IPAMM presented to the Board several recommendations for consideration.
2. Long-term planning for accommodating growth in the communities and infrastructure built by research investments (including both physical infrastructure and human resources) must be incorporated when developing new funding opportunities.
3. The practice of limiting the number of proposals that a principal investigator or institution may submit is appropriate in some situations but should be considered in the context of relevant trade-offs and impacts on the community..
4. Careful consideration should be given to the short-term use of various management practices to increase the number of awards and reduce the need to revise and resubmit highly rated proposals.
5. NSF management should inform the appropriate internal and external communities when implementing new proposal management practices and should monitor their concerns during implementation.
6. NSF should ensure that the community has access to specific and accurate statistical data on funding rates; this will include evaluating the Budget Internet Information System (NSF's public portal to award information) and updating it, as needed.
7. NSF should annually update trend analyses for internal review, and include it in the annual Report on the NSF Merit Review Process to the Board.
About the Survey
1. Identify drivers that increase submissions
2. Assess principal investigators (PI) perceptions regarding funding rates and transformative research
3. Assess impacts of increasing proposal submission rates on the PI and reviewer community
4. Assess customer satisfaction
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2017, its budget is $7.5 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 48,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funding awards.
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