Where we’ve been: attending the National Science Board summer meeting

 

Last week, the National Science Board met to discuss policies and initiatives at the National Science Foundation. The meeting provided updates on NSF’s budget process and a number of reports being produced by the agency.  Highlights from the meeting are below.

  • The committee on strategy provided an update for the FY18 budget process. As we covered here, both the U.S. House and Senate have put forth appropriations for the National Science Foundation that are ready for floor action.  Both appropriation committees provide a decrease in funding of around 2 percent from FY17 levels.  NSF’s chief financial officer pointed out that both appropriation bills include language highlighting the importance of research being supported by the agency while excluding any directorate-level budget allocations.  Additionally, both bills exceed established discretionary spending caps.  Agency officials anticipate FY18 beginning under a continuing resolution until debt ceiling and spending caps are addressed.

President Donald Trump’s FY18 budget called for a 10 percent cap on facilities and administration costs for the National Institutes of Health but did not include the same language for the NSF.  In response to the proposed language by the president and answers delivered by the director of NSF during the agency’s budget hearing, members of the board went on record to voice their opposition to imposing a cap on F&A cost reimbursements to institutions.  Members of the board urged the community to cease using terms like “indirect” or “overhead” costs due to the potential confusion that they cause when describing the importance of F&A funding.  They also addressed the importance of accurately defining what is supported through facilities and administration costs to not only Congress but the research community and the public.

NSF staff and members of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine presented reports on the value of social sciences to national priorities, new approaches to center-based engineering research and integrity in research.   The report on fostering integrity in research defines research misconduct and highlights best practices to promote increased integrity in the research enterprise. The recommendations found in the National Academies’ report address the mandates imposed by the COMPETES Act on agency oversight on research misconduct.  The report found that all stakeholders are responsible for improving research integrity policies and practices.  Moreover, funding agencies should conduct research on misconduct and detrimental practices while implementing new and effective approaches to addressing these issues.

  • The committee on oversight discussed the 2016 merit review report and the preliminary outcomes of merit review pilots being conducted around the agency. In recent years, a number of programs across the NSF have been conducting a merit review pilot eliminating proposal submission deadlines.  This policy change resulted in an initial drop off in the number of proposals submitted to participating programs. This decrease was subsequently sustained in the years after the drop-off.  As a result, success rates for programs participating in the pilot increased and the workloads for reviewers, program staff and principle investigators decreased.  While trends in awardee demographics were presented, officials shied away from attributing any cause-and-effect association without further research.
  • The committee on science and engineering policy was presented with a draft of the NSF Science and Engineering Indicators 2018 report. A new chapter, titled “Invention, Knowledge Transfer and Innovation,” is being incorporated into the report to display the effects of federal investments in research to the economy.  The new chapter will include patent data to lead the discussion on invention. Also, the section on innovation will include data points such as multi-factor productivity and the creation of new firms as potential measurements of innovation.  The current draft S&E indicators report is under revision and slated for release in 2018.

Additional discussion during the NSB meeting covered research misconduct, the value of proper mentoring for trainees, NSF’s no-cost overrun policy, and NSF’s new focus on the “skilled technical workforce.”

Recordings from the open sessions can be viewed here.

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