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Executive Summary

As the world marks the closing of the 20th century and the beginning of a new millennium, the National Science Foundation (NSF) celebrates its 50th year as the only federal agency to support basic scientific and engineering research, and science and education programs at all levels and in all fields of science and engineering.

NSF does not conduct research or operate laboratories. Instead, NSF’s role is to seek out and fund the best ideas and most capable people to pursue new knowledge, discoveries and innovation. In FY 1999:

  • From Congressional appropriations, NSF invested $2.8 billion in research and $614.7 million in education activities. Given the integrative nature of research—with students at all levels directly participating in the process—research activities often include a strong educational component.
  • NSF received over 28,000 proposals and funded about one in three. Awards were selected through a rigorous external peer evaluation and merit review process.
  • There were nearly 200,000 people directly engaged in NSF-supported activities, with millions more indirectly involved through NSF-supported activities such as science museums and television programs.

Performance Goals and Results
FY 1999 was NSF’s first year to report on its achievements under the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA). The Foundation developed performance goals and measures for research and education outcomes, investment processes and management.

It is difficult to link research outcomes, that may take years to achieve, to a specific fiscal year. Also, research outcomes do not lend themselves to quantitative reporting; therefore, NSF developed an alternative approach. External expert review panels assessed research results and reported research outcomes using a qualitative scale. In FY1999:

  • External reviews found that NSF’s Outcome Goals were achieved.
    • Discoveries were made at and across the frontier of science and engineering, and connections were made between discoveries and their use in service to society.
    • NSF activities helped develop a diverse, globally oriented workforce of scientists and engineers, and enabled improvement of mathematics and science skills for all Americans.
  • A more quantitative review of NSF’s investment process looked at various aspects of awards policies and procedures.
    • 7 of 10 Investment Process Goals were achieved, addressing such areas as use of merit review, identifying emerging opportunities, and increasing award duration.
    • Timeliness of proposal solicitations and proposal processing, and increasing the percentage of awards going to new investigators were identified as areas for increased attention in the coming year.
  • NSF’s Management Goals addressed administrative, operations and policy issues:
    • 3 of 5 Management Goals were achieved, addressing Y2K compliance, electronic receipt of proposals, and staff diversity.
    • Electronic receipt of project reports and staff training in the Foundation’s electronic FastLane systems were identified as areas for improvement in FY 2000.

Operating Highlights
NSF is committed to pursuing quality financial management, and is a strong proponent of streamlined business and management practices. NSF, with about four percent of its budget used for administration and management, is one of the federal government’s most cost-effective agencies. In FY 1999:

  • NSF received another unqualified "clean" financial opinion from independent auditors on the consolidated financial statements.
  • NSF management took additional steps to correct one reportable condition, repeated from last year’s audit, related to equipment records in the NSF’s U.S. Antarctic Program.
  • There were no material weaknesses as defined by OMB guidance.
  • NSF made significant progress toward its goal of achieving a paperless environment by the end of FY 2001. In FY 1999, more than 90 percent of NSF’s grantees used NSF’s electronic systems to conduct business and exchange information via the Internet.
  • FinanceNet (, the federal government’s website for public financial management information, received nearly 30 million hits—an increase of 45 percent over the prior year. NSF operates FinanceNet under the sponsorship of the U.S. Chief Financial Officers Council.

NSF’s Investments: Results and Their Impact
In the last 50 years, we have seen significant returns on NSF investments. Grantees and their students have made major contributions not only to the creation of new science and engineering disciplines, but of new tools and industries as well – including Doppler radar, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), the Internet, biotechnology, agriculture, and information technology. New areas of research have been fostered, such as plant genomics; nanoscale science and engineering; and biocomplexity. In FY 1999:

  • Antarctic Research. Fossil bones of hadrosaur and mosasaur dinosaurs were discovered on the Antarctic Peninsula. This finding was awarded "Discovery of the Year" by the Royal Geographic Society of London. The findings are important because the presence of these animals implies a robust and productive vegetation component of the ecosystem.
  • Math Abilities of Young Children. NSF-supported research is making discoveries in the foundations of algebraic reasoning among young children. Findings suggest that youngsters are capable of mathematics and science learning that greatly exceeds traditional expectations.
  • Practical Application of Digital Library. Research in digital libraries led to practical technology exploited in many different areas. The FBI applied digital library technology to establish an "electronic reading room" to comply with the Freedom of Information Act. The California Department of Transportation applied it to roadside vegetation, quasi-real-time tracking of road conditions, and flood-related emergency services.

These brief examples are just a hint of the vast array of outstanding research results and education efforts reported as a result of recent NSF support. But if the past is prologue, look for more exciting breakthroughs from NSF-sponsored activities.

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