|Table of Contents | Preface | Acknowledgements | Former Members | Exec Secretaries/Officers | Timeline|
The Debate Over Centers
Doubling the Foundation's size was among the options discussed at the Board's first long-range planning meeting with Bloch, in June 1985. Schmitt recalls, "Erich came in with the view that the Foundation had to become a central player in the Nation." Two years later, Bloch strategically chose not to attend a meeting between the Board, members of industry (including David Packard, founder of Hewlett Packard Co., and John Young, the company's chairman), and the White House at which Schmitt argued for doubling NSF's budget to $3.2 billion within five years. That active leaders of industry, and not just Bloch, wanted the Foundation to move to center stage on R & D was evidently not lost on the Reagan officials. They agreed to the plan.
But even a larger Foundation could not fund all the work that was needed. As Bloch said, "Science and engineering are just entering a long period of accelerating progress. We have never seen anything like it." A Board committee under Annelise Anderson of the Hoover Institution studied ways the Foundation could leverage federal funds so that industry, states, and other interested parties would invest in long-term basic science and engineering research-the kind of R & D that many companies found too costly and risky to conduct on their own.
An NSF initiative launched by Bloch, and encouraged by a National Academy of Engineering committee chaired by Dale Compton, made Engineering Research Centers (ERCs) the Foundation's major new initiative for leveraging NSF funds. ERCs operate as stand-alone entities on campus with long-term NSF funding matched by industry and state funds. Multidisciplinary teams conduct basic research and educate students in a real-world context, changing focus and approaches as needed to address emerging scientific issues. The first six ERC contracts were awarded in FY1985. At the same time, NSF awarded five five-year contracts for supercomputing centers modeled along similar lines. Based on these experiences Bloch also wanted NSF to sponsor a large number of Science and Technology Centers (STCs) on campuses across the country. This plan was encouraged by a National Academy of Sciences study chaired by Richard N. Zare. The first eleven STCs were selected in 1988 and funded for $25 million, ranging in focus from storm prediction to cosmology.
Some Board members questioned whether centers would take funds away from individual investigators. As a result, centers have firm time limits and cannot be renewed without recompetition.
Board member Mary Good, senior vice president of Allied Signal Corporation and eventual Board Chair in 1988, regarded the Board's status as the Foundation's legally responsible authority-and not mere advisors-as instrumental in shaping Bloch's plans for the greatest chance of success. "Erich learned a lot about how universities work from the Board," says Good, and so was better able to build his agenda around the needs of the academic community. If the Board had been only advisory, says Good, the fast-moving Bloch might not have taken this vital NSF constituency into sufficient consideration.