NSF Authorization Bill

The good news is that the National Science Foundation Authorization Act of 2010 (H.R.4997), introduced this week by Daniel Lipinski (D-IL), authorizes budgets of $8.22B for FY11, $8.93B for FY12, $9.56B for FY13, $10.11B for FY14, and $10.70B for FY15. Each FY total is broken down into amounts authorized for research and research-related activities, education and human resources, major equipment and facilities, agency operations and award management, National Science Board, and Inspector General. (Here is what NSF requested.)

The Bill includes a few other spending caveats, starting with an emphasis on “potentially transformative research”:

The Director shall establish a policy that requires the Foundation to use at least 5% of its research budget [not including equipment & facilities funds] to fund basic, high-risk, high-reward research proposals. … the term ‘‘high-risk, high-reward research’’ means research driven by ideas that have the potential to radically change our understanding of an important existing scientific or engineering concept, or leading to the creation of a new paradigm or field of science or engineering, and that is characterized by its challenge to current understanding or its pathway to new frontiers.

Congress is also pushing for more collaborative research at NSF … or maybe one or two particular collaborative arrangements, given the level of detail and funding:

The Director shall award competitive, merit-based awards in amounts not to exceed $5,000,000 over a period of up to 5 years to interdisciplinary research collaborations that are likely to assist in addressing critical challenges to national security, competitiveness, and societal well-being and that— (1) involve at least 2 co-equal principal investigators at the same or different institutions; (2) draw upon well-integrated, diverse teams of investigators, including students or postdoctoral researchers, from one or more disciplines; and (3) foster creativity and pursue high-risk, high-reward research. In selecting grant recipients under this section, the Director shall give priority to applicants that propose to use advances in cyberinfrastructure and simulation-based science engineering.

Well then. I guess earmarkish directives aren’t quite dead.

Universities are also sought to inject life into US manufacturing:

The Director shall carry out a program to award merit-reviewed, competitive grants to institutions of higher education to support fundamental research leading to transformative advances in manufacturing technologies, processes, and enterprises that will support United States manufacturing through improved performance, productivity, sustainability, and competitiveness. Research areas may include— (1) nanomanufacturing; (2) manufacturing and construction machines and equipment, including robotics, automation, and other intelligent systems; (3) manufacturing enterprise systems; (4) advanced sensing and control techniques; (5) materials processing; and (6) information technologies for manufacturing, including predictive and real-time models and simulations, and virtual manufacturing.

Virtual manufacturing. Who knew? There is more language about funding for partnerships with minority-serving institutions, mid-scale research equipment, and a big emphasis on education in STEM (bill focuses on grad students and postdocs).

Of possible interest to anyone seeking NSF funding is the language on “Broader Impacts” and its review criterion. First, why Congress thinks this is important:

The Foundation shall apply a Broader Impacts Review Criterion to achieve the following goals:

    (1) Increased economic competitiveness of the United States.
    (2) Development of a globally competitive STEM workforce.
    (3) Increased participation of women and underrepresented minorities in STEM.
    (4) Increased partnerships between academia and industry.
    (5) Improved K-12 STEM education and teacher development.
    (6) Improved undergraduate STEM education.
    (7) Increased public scientific literacy.
    (8) Increased national security.

National security? What happened to, “How well does the activity advance discovery and understanding while promoting teaching, training and learning?”

Then the Bill lays out the policy changes (versus current guidance) NSF should implement:

(b) POLICY.—Not later than 6 months after the date of enactment of this Act, the Director shall develop and implement a policy for the Broader Impacts Review Criterion that—

    (1) provides for educating professional staff at the Foundation, merit review panels, and applicants for Foundation research grants on the policy developed under this subsection;
    (2) clarifies that the activities of grant recipients undertaken to satisfy the Broader Impacts Review Criterion shall— (A) to the extent practicable employ proven strategies and models and draw on existing programs and activities; and (B) when novel approaches are justified, build on the most current research results;
    (3) allows for some portion of funds allocated to broader impacts under a research grant to be used for assessment and evaluation of the broader impacts activity;
    (4) encourages institutions of higher education and other nonprofit organizations to develop and provide, either as individual institutions or in partnerships thereof, appropriate training and programs to assist Foundation-funded principal investigators at their institutions in achieving the goals of the Broader Impacts Review Criterion as described in subsection (a); and
    (5) requires principal investigators applying for Foundation research grants to provide evidence of institutional support for the portion of the investigator’s proposal designed to satisfy the Broader Impacts Review Criterion, including evidence of relevant training, programs, and other institutional resources available to the investigator from either their home institution or organization or another institution or organization with relevant expertise.

Hmm. And the broader impact on NSF grant applications will be …

6 Comments »

  1. writedit said

    For comparison, here is the Broader Impact language from the 2007 Reauthorization Bill:

    BROADER IMPACTS MERIT REVIEW CRITERION.

    (a) In General- In evaluating research proposals under the Foundation’s broader impacts criterion, the Director shall give special consideration to proposals that involve partnerships between academic researchers and industrial scientists and engineers that address research areas that have been identified as having high importance for future national economic competitiveness, such as nanotechnology.

    (b) Partnerships With Industry- The Director shall encourage research proposals from institutions of higher education that involve partnerships with businesses and organizations representing businesses in fields that have been identified as having high importance for future national economic competitiveness and that include input on the research agenda from and cost-sharing by the industry partners.

    (c) Report on Broader Impacts Criterion- Not later than 1 year after the date of enactment of this Act, the Director shall transmit to Congress a report on the impact of the broader impacts grant criterion used by the Foundation. The report shall–

    (1) identify the criteria that each division and directorate of the Foundation uses to evaluate the broader impacts aspects of research proposals;

    (2) provide a breakdown of the types of activities by division that awardees have proposed to carry out to meet the broader impacts criterion;

    (3) provide any evaluations performed by the Foundation to assess the degree to which the broader impacts aspects of research proposals were carried out and how effective they have been at meeting the goals described in the research proposals;

    (4) describe what national goals, such as improving undergraduate science, mathematics, and engineering education, improving K-12 science and mathematics education, promoting university-industry collaboration and technology transfer, and broadening participation of underrepresented groups, the broader impacts criterion is best suited to promote; and

    (5) describe what steps the Foundation is taking and should take to use the broader impacts criterion to improve undergraduate science, mathematics, and engineering education.

    The 2010 Bill has been referred to the House Committee on Science and Technology, so perhaps some timely letters and phone calls can adjust the Broader Impact language.

  2. You know that these authorization bills don’t mean jack fucking shit, right? All that matters is the appropriation bill. And there is a decent likelihood that Congress won’t pass a budget this year, and will resort to a continuing resolution.

    • writedit said

      Well, while reauthorization bills do not appropriate funds, they provide the means by which Congress exerts authority over federal agencies (in the absence of specific reauthorization bills, such language goes in the appropriations bills). In this case, the reauthorization bill provides NSF the authority to obligate funds for specified activities … and to change policy, such as Broader Impact goals/evaluation. At the NIH, reauthorization in 2007 upped the size of the Common Fund, among other administrative changes (e.g., the Division of Program Coordination, Planning, and Strategic Initiatives, which replaced OPASI when Kington replaced Zerhouni). Meaningless? Not if they pass, not to the agencies involved.

  3. […] The weekly news drop by MedSciWriter under Department of Education, NIH, NSF, News, grant writing If Representative Lipinski’s National Science Foundation Authorization Act of 2010 survives the legislative process intact, NSF will receive a 19% increase in funding over 2010 levels next year (compared to a 7% increase under the president’s proposed budget). The Act calls for a 55% increase in funding over five years to $10.7 billion in 2015. As always, writedit provides a good overview. […]

  4. […] Standards and Technology, another less welcome bit of NSF authorization is include. Namely, the new Broader Impact review criteria: SEC. 214. BROADER IMPACTS REVIEW […]

  5. A really interesting article. Thank you very much.

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