Job Stimulation – and Study by the NSF

A brief observation. This morning, the Washington Post sent out a news alert that “Obama promises more than 600,000 stimulus jobs” this summer. As if we needed another reminder as to a key review criteria for applications for ARRA funding.

Perhaps this would be a good time to remind you that in the NSF Dear Colleage letter that appeared and then disappeared and then reappeared, the Science of Science & Innovation Policy (SciSIP) Program is accepting 2-5 page proposals for RAPID funding that address the outcome of ARRA, such as:

  • What was the contribution of the science investment to the creation and retention of jobs?
  • What was the contribution of the science investment to science and technology industries?
  • What scientific or technological advances were achieved?
  • What was the impact on the scientific workforce?

In keeping with the Presidential focus on openness and transparency in government, proposals might also examine and evaluate different approaches to building appropriate platforms for tracking and assessing science investments across the federal government as well as ways to visually convey the information to policy makers and the American public.

Edward Tufte, your country needs you.


  1. ama said

    I hope NSF gets some good apps for this–I think it’s critical that we, as scientists, take an evidence-based approach to evaluating the efficacy of the stimulus package (and all government science spending, for that matter). The usefulness of ARRA funding seems, so far, to have been taken for granted by most folks I’ve talked to, but as we saw from the Great Doubling of ’90s-era NIH funding, these things can have some serious unintended consequences, ie, a large increase in PhDs and postdocs without a proportional increase in tenure track jobs, as well as a demographic bulge of labs that got funded at the 30th %ile and are SOL in the age of 12% paylines.

    I wish NIH had taken the opportunity to put aside a few bucks to have somebody, anybody, rewrite the truly stupendously execrable SF424 forms package, whose awfulness cannot be overstated.

  2. D said

    Although NIH would like to take credit for the SF424, it can’t. It was a form designed by contractors for the OMB to be used by ALL federal agencies. A prime example of the price you pay for designing something by committee.

    • writedit said

      Really? The NIH would like to take credit for the SF424? It has improved with age and revisions but, as ama notes, still lacks literary flow. – writedit

  3. whimple said

    … as well as a demographic bulge of labs that got funded at the 30th %ile and are SOL in the age of 12% paylines.

    It’s not just these labs that are SOL. This lack of nimbleness can also be called a failure of the academic tenure system. The increasingly frantic newsletters from the AAUP seem to also be evidence along these lines.

  4. I ❤ Edward Tufte. Although I've been deliberately stretching what he said because it's fun to tell people "PowerPoint killed the astronauts".

  5. writedit said

    I just realized I forgot to add a bit about an item in Science last Friday about the administration claims on job creation and the economic models used to estimate how many jobs are created and “sustained”. With regard to ARRA reporting at Universities:

    The rules for how to report job creation or preservation were due out this week, according to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Preliminary OMB guidelines say that quarterly reports should include “a narrative description of the employment impact,” including estimates of numbers of jobs created or retained, measured as full-time equivalent positions.

    However it is defined, the task of counting jobs won’t be easy. “They’re not going to have a clue,” says a government economist who asked not to be quoted by name. In addition to the elusive nature of the jobs themselves, there’s also the question of duration. Many jobs are like fireflies, flashing on one minute, off the next. “Fifteen percent of jobs last for less than a quarter [of the year],” says labor economist Julia Lane, director of a new program at the National Science Foundation called the Science of Science and Innovation Policy. That transient nature is at odds with CEA’s definition of a job retained as “an existing position that would not have been continued were it not for ARRA funding.” Continued, but for how long?

    Universities and state and federal agencies are scrambling to figure it all out, and their strategies are likely to vary by type of recipient. In academia, for example, there’s the question of whether a graduate student counts as an employee or a student. Even if universities gear up to collect data that relates to job creation or retention, questions remain. “There’s a lot of concern in the community about how we could, even with the best of guidance, ensure that we report comparable data,” says Tobin Smith of the Association of American Universities in Washington, D.C. “What kind of work can be counted toward a job retained? If one university counts one way and one another, then none of the data becomes comparable.”

    Lane hopes to find a way out of the swamp, taking an approach that is intended to relieve scientists of most of the burden. It calls for coordinating administrative records that already exist within the offices of finance, human resources, and research at most universities. Creating an administrative tracking system would mean developing uniform definitions of what is a “created” and what is a “retained” job, she says. There would still be issues of privacy and confidentiality, feasibility, and cost. But, she says, such a system shouldn’t be too costly because the data will already have been generated. Lane says a pilot project is planned at perhaps a half-dozen universities.

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