Dr. Joseph Bordogna, Acting Deputy Director
General Staff Meeting
November 24, 1997
A special greetings to all of you on this Monday morning. Joe and I are very pleased you could join us. We would of course much prefer to bring the entire Foundation -- the full NSF family -- together and meet as one. The reality of course is that there is no one room within close proximity that can hold all of us -- comfortably that is. I don't mean we are large as individuals but in terms of numbers.
It is very appropriate in my mind that we gathered now, on the eve the holiday season. This is a time of thanks, of celebration, of giving, and of surprises. We are here for all of these reasons today. Joe and I first want to express our thanks for the many reasons you give us to celebrate our success as an agency.
And, we also want to discuss a few topics that, while not total surprises, certainly rate as unprecedented challenges for the Foundation. These include security, the Government Performance and Results Act, the new hurdles placed in the way of our programs that address under-representation, and finally the budget environment.
These four topics will be the focus of our discussion today. It is important that we view them as more than just new requirements and realities. They provide opportunities for us to strengthen the Foundation as an institution, and they give each of us the chance to enjoy more productive and rewarding careers here at NSF. This is one of those times when being stuck with a few lemons isn't all bad, provided you know how to make lemonade.
Throughout our discussion, you'll hear us return time and again to one central focus -- the NSF workforce, or as we like to say, the NSF family. That is what motivates everything we do, and it is what has made us such a vital part of our nation's continued success.
Every day, I become more and more impressed by talent and creativity in our midst here at the Foundation.
This brings me to the first item on our agenda today, because it speaks directly to the working environment that allows us to work creatively and productively.
Following the Oklahoma City bombing, President Clinton required that all Federal agencies upgrade their security to the appropriate level recommended by the Department of Justice. Up to now, we have been fortunate here at NSF to have had very few security problems, be they thefts or uninvited intruders.
With the growth in the surrounding area here at Ballston, the risks we face are increasing -- virtually every day. New construction is proceeding all around us, and pedestrian traffic to the mall and the metro has picked-up steadily. That's good for the local economy, but it's not so good for us from a security standpoint.
To bring our building into compliance with the new security requirements, we are exploring a number of additional measures that should provide real benefits in terms of both peace-of-mind and productivity.
These measures include some mix of controlling access to the building and requiring pre-clearance of visitors to the buildings. The details will be worked out over the next several months, and we will make sure that information is shared and readily available. In the meantime, we will be implementing a holiday security plan again this year that will reflect some of the changes of the permanent plan.
We are well aware of the fact that these changes will cause some disruption and inconvenience. That's a given anytime we alter such basic parts of our daily routines as how we enter the building.
You should know that we will do everything we can to keep any disruptions to a minimum and to retain our important tradition of openness while complying with the new requirements. Joe and I both ask for your patience, your understanding, and your input as we proceed with these plans.
It is now appropriate to turn to another topic where your patience, understanding, and participation are vital, and that is implementation of the Government Performance and Results Act. As Chief Operating Officer, Joe has been leading our efforts to implement the GPRA, and I'd like to ask him to say a few words.
For the past three-plus years, we have been hearing lots about the GPRA -- or as it's often called, The Results Act -- and we have been working to determine the best ways for NSF to comply with its requirements. That has taken lots of time, effort, and experimentation, and it has involved people from every part of the Foundation.
Suffice it to say we are now moving from planning to reality in regard to the GPRA. Beginning next year, in fiscal year 1999, we are required to begin linking our budgetary allocations to various measures of performance and results. We're still not sure how to do this, but we have a good idea of how to get started.
If you have not done so already, the GPRA documents posted on the internal NSF web page are worth a look. They may not make for the most exciting reading, but they are instructive.
The central focus of this process has become our performance plan for FY 1999. This is where rubber meets the road for GPRA. It tells the world what we intend to accomplish in Fiscal Year 1999, and it raises questions that affect all of us.
Perhaps the one key to success is that we invest in ourselves and in each other. As with all the items on our agenda today, the bottom line comes back to the NSF workforce. As the Foundation adopts new ways of doing business through increased use of information technologies, we are also looking at ways to optimize and enhance the skills we bring to our jobs.
Training is the key to all of this. This is why NSF offers a wide array of courses for career development and advancement. I encourage all of you to work with your supervisors to prepare Individual Development Plans -- if you have not already done so -- to determine which of these opportunities are right for you.
I recently came across an article that said "machines can't give us the competitive edge; rather, it's all about people." For all we hear about automation and streamlining, we know in the end it all rests on our shoulders individually and collectively.
This is why training and staff development are a centerpiece of our GPRA plan. That's the only way we can reach our goals and continue to succeed as an agency.
Focusing ever more on NSF's human dimension, let me highlight a key word you'll see throughout our GPRA documents -- diversity. One of our outcome goals is that NSF's investments should foster "a diverse, globally-oriented workforce of scientists and engineers." On the management side, we've also committed ourselves to cultivating "a diverse, capable, and motivated staff."
These are tough goals, and we expect to be held accountable to them. NSF has always been about setting high standards, extending frontiers, and pushing the edge of the envelope. That's what we are trying to do here.
It's all part of a larger strategy that includes efforts like the child development center, the improvements in building security, greater use of alternative dispute resolution in EEO matters, the work of the Labor-Management Partnership, and the work of the Human Resources Development Task Force and Working Group.
Economists would say we have a tremendous competitive advantage here at NSF. It is because of our people and our commitment to cultivating diversity --and it's an advantage we aim to sustain and make even stronger.
Thanks again to all of you for joining us today, and now I'll turn the podium back to Neal for comments on the budget outlook and some closing remarks.
I want to echo the sentiments Joe just expressed. The very first All Hands I hosted was in January of 1994, just three months after my term as Director began (seems like only yesterday). I closed those remarks by calling upon NSF to become the premier Federal agency for promoting diversity and affirmative action in science and engineering. When I set that goal, I had no idea how challenging it would be -- given the legal and political developments that have since overtaken the debate on affirmative action.
Through it all, I am very proud to say, NSF's commitment has been unwavering, and our programs have made a real difference. If you happened to catch the November 21st issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education, you saw a headline that read: "The Number of Minority Ph.D.'s Reached an All Time High in 1996."
Much more progress is needed -- that goes without saying. But, this is clearly a major step in the right direction, and it reflects very positively on the leadership we have provided as an agency.
The final item on our agenda for this morning is the budget outlook -- which also contains many positive reflections on us as an agency. By now, most of you know that the fiscal year 1998 appropriation by the Congress rates as very good news for the Foundation.
The total budget is just over $3.4 billion. This is an increase of 5 percent over the FY 1997 level and, even more significant, it is $62 million above what we requested. This is the first time since the fiscal year 1984 budget that NSF has not only received its full request, but actually saw the Congress provide more than the President's request for our research and education programs.
We did not get everything we wanted, and we got a few things we didn't know we wanted. It is a good budget nevertheless. We received our full request for salaries and expenses, and we are sufficiently below our FTE ceiling that there should be no need for any personnel reductions beyond what we have been achieving through normal attrition.
It is difficult to predict what lies ahead for us on the budget front. On the one hand, the spending caps enacted last April as part of the budget agreement remain very tight. They allow for virtually no growth over current levels.
On the other hand, there is increasing sentiment within the Congress to boost spending for science and engineering. The Speaker of the House has made a number of very positive statements toward this end. In the Senate, a bipartisan coalition led by Senators Phil Gramm and Joe Leiberman has introduced legislation that authorizes a doubling of non-defense R&D. It's too early to tell if this proposal is at all realistic, but it nevertheless sends encouraging signals about the level of support in Congress for research and education.
To close these remarks, I would like to mention two other encouraging signals from recent budget discussions.
The first is that earlier this year, we saw something unprecedented and quite remarkable. All the leading professional societies and disciplinary organizations in science and engineering banded together to speak with one voice for increased public investments in research and education. The Congress reacted very favorably to this unified message, and this cooperative spirit bodes very well for future investments in our programs.
This also bears directly on my final point, because with this increased investment has come an increased level of attention and interest in our work.
You may have noticed an increase in the number of Congressional inquiries and information requests. It certainly has not lightened our workload in any way. I want to express my sincere thanks to so many of you for the special efforts required to respond to these many requests -- on top of the unrelenting proposal pressure and expectations from the science and engineering community.
We can all point to various reasons for this increased interest. The tight budget environment is certainly a factor, as is the GPRA. I believe that some of the most powerful reasons are ones that we often overlook. Members of Congress, like so many others, are taking note of our impact and our contribution. That new visibility offers both challenges and opportunities.
More and more people are realizing the NSF has had a pivotal role in sparking the growth of our information-driven economy.
For these and many other reasons, it is likely that we will be challenged in the future in ways we have not been before. We will be asked to play a larger role in certain priority areas -- plant genome research being one example. There will certainly be others.
These challenges and increasing expectations all relate directly to the different issues we have discussed today. As an agency, we have gained a solid reputation for efficiency, productivity, and high standards of excellence. We have also demonstrated the agility to move into new areas, pursue emerging opportunities, and tackle tough challenges, like the integration of research and education.
We have been able to do this because of our collective strength as an institution, and because of our true partnership with the research and education community. We now have the chance to build on these strengths, in a way that continues to promote progress in science and engineering in the Nation and provides new opportunities for all of us to enrich our careers here at the Foundation.
That makes this a very exciting and rewarding time to work here at NSF. This particular week, I for one feel that I have much to be thankful for -- most of all for the talent that resides in the NSF family. I hope you all feel the same way.
Let me close therefore by wishing all of you and your families a very happy Thanksgiving and an especially joyous holiday season. For those of you for whom the coming holidays are of special religious significance, Joe and I wish spiritual fulfillment to the brim! And for everyone, we wish a safe and joyous holiday season!
Joe and I will now be happy to take a few questions...