Division of Ocean Sciences - Spring 2001 Newsletter

Division Considers Moving from Target Dates to Deadlines for Unsolicited Proposal Submissions

The Division of Ocean Sciences presently uses the semiannual target dates of February 15 and August 15 for unsolicited research proposals while using deadlines for other program solicitations (e.g., JGOFS, GLOBEC, MESH, MARGINS, LTER, Biocomplexity, ECOHAB). We are currently debating the positive and negative impacts for both the community and the Division of switching to deadlines for all research proposals (ship operations and related programs would continue to operate with target dates).

Many investigators find the distinction between a target date and deadline ambiguous. As defined in the Grant Proposal Guide (NSF 01-2), target dates are “dates after which proposals will still be reviewed, although they may miss a particular panel or committee meeting.” Target dates offer more flexibility than deadlines, which are “dates after which proposals usually will not be accepted for review by NSF.” Program Officers have used the flexibility afforded by target dates to accommodate, to the extent possible, those individuals who indicate legitimate circumstances that prevent them from meeting a target date.

OCE Program Officers have encountered an increasing number of proposals submitted well after the target date – many of these without any prior consultation with a Program Officer. Approximately one-third of proposals in the last two cycles have been submitted after the target date. Late proposal submissions, particularly those that do not arrive within a few days of the target date, cause concern about both the fairness and quality of the review process.

Since our review process is highly competitive, individuals who receive additional time to complete proposals may be perceived as gaining advantage over other investigators who make a concerted effort to submit according to guidelines and by the published target date. As the Division’s semi-annual target dates have been February 15 and August 15 for approximately a decade, the community should be able to anticipate and, in the vast majority of cases, meet these dates.

On the matter of review quality, late proposals further tax the already stressed peer review system. Late arrival of proposals prolongs reviewer and panelist selection, which must take into account the subject matter and personnel involved in all submitted proposals for a particular panel. Late arrivals ultimately impact the review timing for all proposals in the Program, hence, reviewers have less time to complete reviews before a panel meets. This reduced time leads to more proposals returned without review. As a consequence, panelists and programs have less expert input on which to base discussions, recommendations and decisions.

In addition to concerns about fairness and quality, delays caused by late proposals take away time that the program staff can put into important services to the ocean science community. Such efforts include helping with the proposal/review processes for NSF-wide competitions (e.g., Biocomplexity, Information Technology Research) where hands-on participation and advocacy can mean more resources for the community, and science development activities with the community that are geared towards developing new initiatives and securing new resources.

To remove ambiguity and eliminate late proposals, the Division may move to semi-annual deadlines of February 15 and August 15. Such deadlines are commonly used for unsolicited proposals (“core”) in other Divisions at NSF. We will monitor the results of proposal submissions from the next review cycle to determine whether the pattern of late submissions is beginning to reverse. It is important for investigators to remember that any proposal arriving after the target date risks being excluded from the upcoming panel cycle. If a problem in submitting a proposal by the target date is anticipated, investigators should discuss the situation with the responsible Program Officer.

We appreciate the community’s efforts in maintaining the quality and integrity of the peer review system. Should we move to using deadlines, you will receive advance notification. In the meantime, 15 August 2001 will remain a target date.


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