Committee on Programs and Plans (CPP)
Task Force on Unsolicited Mid-Scale Research (MS)


August 26, 2010
Revised: February 16, 20111

Statutory Basis
"The Board shall render to the President and the Congress reports on specific, individual policy matters within the authority of the Foundation (or otherwise as requested by the Congress or the President) related to science and engineering and education in science and engineering, as the Board, the President, or the Congress determines the need for such reports."2

Action Recommended
The National Science Board (Board) Task Force on Unsolicited Mid-Scale3 Research (MS) will be created under the Committee on Programs and Plans (CPP). The Task Force is charged with examining and making recommendations regarding National Science Foundation (NSF) support of unsolicited MS research. This type of research often requires funding that is not obtainable via proposals submitted in response to specific solicitations or that potentially reside within the scope of specific programs.

NSF utilizes a variety of mechanisms to fund research projects across a wide spectrum of topics and size (e.g., standard and continuing grants, cooperative agreements, centers, programs linking industry and academia, and Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC) projects). The agency’s supported projects range from single investigator grants to multi-institutional (and sometimes multi-national), long-term projects.

NSF funds projects in response to unsolicited and solicited proposals. Unsolicited proposals are submitted to core programs in their specific research areas. Solicited proposals are submitted in response to specific requests from the agency to fund specific topics of inquiry and types of projects.

Many directorates have programs that actively solicit and support mid-scale research projects. These programs often set structural and/or topical requirements for proposed projects. Currently, the question exists as to whether there are any gaps in both the opportunity to submit proposals in support of, and the availability of funding to support, unsolicited mid-scale projects that do not fall under the purview of a particular program. There may be a need to ensure that proposers in the research community have the ability to submit a proposal without procedural constraints in structural framework, topic of inquiry, and research methodology.

The definition of a 'mid-scale' budget varies among NSF directorates due to differences in each directorate's average award size. For the purposes of this Task Force, mid-scale research projects are defined broadly as those with an average annual budget ranging from between an amount that is substantially higher than that which is typical for a single-PI research project and an amount that is typical for a center in that field4.

Policy Objectives
The following issues will be analyzed by the Task Force:

  • Examine the effectiveness of previous and current mechanisms at NSF for accommodating unsolicited mid-scale research.

  • Examine the balance of prescription and flexibility in current structures for supporting mid-scale research.

  • Evaluate the appropriateness of reporting requirements for current mid-scale research activities and the extent to which uniformity now exists, or should exist, in the information being provided.

  • Determine whether requirements for education, outreach, broadening participation, and other related activities are appropriately integrated into current mid-scale research activities.

The Task Force will seek to compile data and information on past and current practices at NSF in supporting mid-scale research, and perspectives from NSF staff and the research community. Based upon the work of this Task Force, the Board will provide guidance to NSF on the necessity of action to modify NSF’s support structures for unsolicited mid-scale research, and potential means to achieve such actions.

The outcome of this project will be a report or set of recommendations for internal NSF distribution. These recommendations will be accompanied by an implementation plan from NSF management. The report or set of recommendations will be made available on the Board website for all interested parties.

A variety of methods will be used by the Task Force to gather relevant information: briefings from NSF staff, review of the current NSF research portfolio, review of techniques for supporting unsolicited mid-scale research at NSF and possibly across other Federal Government agencies, a possible survey of the research community, and a workshop to gather stakeholder perspectives. The stakeholders involved in this workshop will include individuals from NSF directorates, Advisory Committees, and NSF PIs.

The review of the current NSF practices in supporting mid-scale research activities will include an analysis of requirements in NSF’s current mid-scale programs (e.g., centers programs), and in other Federal agencies’ solicitations for centers-type programs.

A regular and proactive outreach effort to communicate task force activities will be implemented throughout the duration of the task force life. The task force expects to conclude its activities within 12 months from the date that formation of the task force is approved. The Board Office will serve as the focal point for coordination and implementation of all task force activities.

Task Force Activity Timeline

Summer 2010 Collection of background information on current NSF funding mechanisms for unsolicited mid-scale research
August 12, 2010 Mid-Scale Research Task Force Teleconference
August 26, 2010 Approval of Task Force charge by full Board
Fall 2010 Continue information gathering at NSF
Feb 2011 Mid-Scale Research workshop
Spring 2011 Draft outline of workshop findings and preliminary recommendations submitted to workshop participants for comment
Summer 2011 Preparation of report and recommendations
August 2011 Approval of the report and recommendations by the full Board

1 Revised version approved at the February 16, 2011 Board Meeting
2 Title 42 U.S. Code Section 1863(j)(2)
3 Here, mid-scale refers to the financial size of the project.
4The definition of "mid-scale" represents an operation "ballpark" estimate for the Task Force and is not meant to indicate a rigid threshold.

Task Force Members

Co-Chairmen: Dr. Kelvin K. Droegemeier
Dr. Diane L. Souvaine
Consultants:   Dr. Thomas N. Taylor
NSF Members:   Dr. Thomas W. Peterson
Dr. Joann P. Roskoski
Executive Secretary: Dr. Sohi Rastegar
NSBO Liaison: Dr. Matthew B. Wilson