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FY 1996 Report on the NSF Merit Review System


  1. This report responds to a long-standing NSB policy requesting that the NSF Director submit an annual report on the NSF merit review system.
  2. During FY 1996, NSF conducted external competitive reviews of 29,953 proposals and funded 8,796 of them.
  3. The number of proposals reviewed annually by NSF has been stable at about 30,000 since 1992. The number of awards has declined by 13 percent during the same period.
  4. The NSF-wide funding rate was 29 percent in FY 1996, representing a steady decline from 34 percent five years ago. Directorate funding rates in FY 1996 ranged from 23 percent to 37 percent.
  5. Proposals from female and minority Principal Investigators (PIs) in FY 1996 were funded at about the same rate as the NSF average.
  6. Proposals from PIs who had received an NSF award in a previous fiscal year (prior PIs) were funded at a higher rate than proposals from new PIs (36 percent and 21 percent, respectively in FY 1996).
  7. The median award amount in FY 1996 was $52 K; the average was $85 K.
  8. The most frequent method of proposal review was a combination of mail and panel methods. Nearly sixty percent of proposals were reviewed in this manner in FY 1996, up from 42 percent in FY 1987.
  9. Proposals reviewed by a combination of mail and panel methods were reviewed by an average of 10.5 persons. Proposals reviewed by the panel-only method involved an average of 6.4 reviewers; the mail-only method involved an average of 4.5 reviewers.
  10. There were 53 requests for formal reconsideration of declinations during FY 1996; one program-level decision was reversed.
  11. NSB and NSF are developing new proposal review criteria to complement more closely the NSF strategic plan.
  12. The merit review system continues to be examined by internal staff and the external community for ways to improve its efficiency and effectiveness.

Dr. Lane's memo     Merit Review Report