On Nov. 15, Joanne Tornow, acting assistant director for the National Science Foundation’s biological sciences directorate, released a statement reversing a policy that implemented proposal limits for investigators applying for grants from the directorate’s core programs. This adjustment would not have occurred if the community had not advocated against the policy change.
The now-reversed policy restricted investigators from serving as either lead or co-principal investigator on multiple grant proposals. While the limit included a number of exceptions, such as allowing additional submissions for proposals to special solicitations, the restrictive policy was met with displeasure from members of the directorate’s funded community.
Sixty-four percent of ASBMB members who are awarded grants by the NSF receive support from the BIO directorate. This policy reversal will now provide ASBMB members who seek funding from the BIO directorate more chances to obtain funding and facilitate additional opportunities for collaboration.
During the September advisory committee meeting for the BIO directorate, Tornow said that the proposal cap would address proposal pressures, workload imbalances within the NSF, and provide an incentive for investigators to submit fully developed proposals rather than “half-baked” ones. Additionally, Tornow mentioned that allowing investigators to be included as senior personnel or subawardees provided increased flexibility for collaboration and that the agency views the contributions of senior personnel as important as that of a PI. These designations, however, are not viewed equally by members of the research community or their institutions.
Tornow also noted in the directorate’s statement that, since the limits were imposed, proposal submissions for its core programs have decreased far more than intended, further highlighting the concerns voiced by the complaints that were received.
A subcommittee of the BIO advisory committee will address the biological sciences research community’s concerns and evaluate the effect that the removal of deadlines has had on the directorate’s portfolio. Adjusted versions of program solicitations are scheduled to be released in the coming weeks reflecting the removal of investigator limits. This change in policy serves as an important example for why investigators should remain involved in policies that impact the research community and engage with government officials to enact change.