It is with great pleasure that I forward NSF’s
first annual performance report, as required by the Government Performance
and Results Act of 1993 (GPRA).
The last fifty years have been a remarkable
journey for NSF and for science and engineering in the United States.
Our investments -- in creative people, in innovative ideas, and in cutting-edge
research and education tools -- have led to science and engineering achievements
that have literally transformed society. NSF-supported activities have
played a key role in advancing the microelectronics industry, in leading
to a better understanding of the structure and properties of DNA, in developing
information-communications technologies, such as the Internet, and in
revolutionizing our knowledge of the cosmos and humanity’s place in it.
NSF-supported researchers have been awarded over one hundred Nobel Prizes
in physics, chemistry, physiology, economics, and other fields. These
are just a few of the many excellent examples of NSF-supported research
and education activities that have had a profound effect on society. In
commemoration of our 50 th anniversary,
we are compiling examples of societal achievements that were made possible
by NSF support. This compilation, which will be published and placed on
our website later this year, together with this and future GPRA performance
reports, will bring into sharper focus the value of NSF investments in
science and engineering research and education to society.
This first full year of GPRA implementation
has been a learning process for NSF and other federal agencies whose missions
involve fundamental research and education activities. The substance and
timing of the outcomes of these activities are unpredictable and not easily
quantified. In addition, there is the critical issue of timing. Attribution
of the societal impacts of NSF awards is often difficult to report on
an annual basis because such impacts often occur decades after the initial
investments were made. In order to provide an accurate and reliable depiction
of the effectiveness of NSF’s activities, we developed and obtained approval
from the Office of Management and Budget for an alternative GPRA format
that takes into account the special challenges inherent in assessing research
and education results.
This alternative format, which uses the judgment
of independent expert review panels, enables the assessment of the Foundation’s
performance in three key areas:
- the outcomes of NSF investments;
- the effectiveness of NSF’s investment process;
- the value of management activities.
Outcome goals focus on the long-term results
of NSF’s grants for research and education in science and engineering.
Investment process goals focus on the means and strategies NSF uses to
achieve its outcome goals. And, management goals address the efficiency
and effectiveness of our administrative activities in support of NSF’s
mission. Once these assessment goals were determined, NSF put in place
new processes and procedures, data collection systems, and committees
to measure our performance.
This FY 1999 GPRA performance report affirms
NSF’s tradition of accomplishment. I am proud to report that NSF was successful
in meeting all of our outcome goals, and we met 12 of the 18 investment
process and management goals. Altogether, we were successful in meeting
78% of our goals. The goals that were not met include the length of time
NSF takes to process proposals and the timing of program announcements.
We will renew our efforts to meet these goals in FY 2000.
In the new century, NSF remains committed to
ensuring the health and vitality of the U.S. science and engineering enterprise.
We face daunting challenges and rich opportunities: responding to emerging
developments at the frontiers of science and engineering, broadening participation
by all members and regions of our nation, strengthening the connections
between scientific discovery and technological innovation, modernizing
the nation’s research and education infrastructure, and positioning the
United States to benefit from global investments in science, engineering
and technology. I have little doubt that the strategic and performance
planning process implemented through GPRA will help NSF meet future challenges
and make the most of our opportunities, leading to 21st century science
and engineering achievements that will further transform society.
Rita R. Colwell
National Science Foundation