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 …