# Organization:National Science Foundation

Short description: United States government agency

### Funding Profile

#### 1970–79

In 1972 the NSF took over management of twelve interdisciplinary materials research laboratories from the Defense Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). These university-based laboratories had taken a more integrated approach than did most academic departments at the time, encouraging physicists, chemists, engineers, and metallurgists to cross departmental boundaries and use systems approaches to attack complex problems of materials synthesis or processing. The NSF expanded these laboratories into a nationwide network of Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers. In 1972 the NSF launched the biennial "Science & Engineering Indicators" report[26] to the US president and Congress, as required by the NSF Act of 1950. In 1977 the first interconnection of unrelated networks was developed, run by DARPA.

During this decade, increasing NSF involvement lead to a three-tiered system of internetworks managed by a mix of universities, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies. By the mid-1980s, primary financial support for the growing project was assumed by the NSF.[27] In 1983, NSF budget topped $1 billion for the first time. Major increases in the nation's research budget were proposed as "the country recognizes the importance of research in science and technology, and education". The U.S. Antarctic Program was taken out of the NSF appropriation now requiring a separate appropriation. The NSF received more than 27,000 proposals and funded more than 12,000 of them in 1983. In 1985, the NSF delivered ozone sensors, along with balloons and helium, to researchers at the South Pole so they can measure stratospheric ozone loss. This was in response to findings earlier that year, indicating a steep drop in ozone over a period of several years. The Internet project continued, now known as NSFNET. #### 1990–99 In 1990 the NSF's appropriation passed$2 billion for the first time. NSF funded the development of several curricula based on the NCTM standards, devised by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. These standards were widely adopted by school districts during the subsequent decade. However, in what newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal called the "math wars", organizations such as Mathematically Correct complained that some elementary texts based on the standards, including Mathland, have almost entirely abandoned any instruction of traditional arithmetic in favor of cutting, coloring, pasting, and writing. During that debate, NSF was both lauded and criticized for favoring the standards.

In 1991 the NSFNET acceptable use policy was altered to allow commercial traffic. By 1995, with private, commercial market thriving, NSF decommissioned the NSFNET, allowing for public use of the Internet. In 1993 students and staff at the NSF-supported National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, developed Mosaic, the first freely available browser to allow World Wide Web pages that include both graphics and text. Within 18 months, NCSA Mosaic becomes the Web browser of choice for more than a million users, and sets off an exponential growth in the number of Web users. In 1994 NSF, together with DARPA and NASA, launched the Digital Library Initiative.[28] One of the first six grants went to Stanford University, where two graduate students, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, began to develop a search engine that used the links between Web pages as a ranking method, which they later commercialized under the name Google.

In 1996 NSF-funded research established beyond doubt that the chemistry of the atmosphere above Antarctica was grossly abnormal and that levels of key chlorine compounds are greatly elevated. During two months of intense work, NSF researchers learned most of what is known about the ozone hole.

In 1998 two independent teams of NSF-supported astronomers discovered that the expansion of the universe was actually speeding up, as if some previously unknown force, now known as dark energy, is driving the galaxies apart at an ever-increasing rate.

Since passage of the Small Business Technology Transfer Act of 1992 (Public Law 102–564, Title II), NSF has been required to reserve 0.3% of its extramural research budget for Small Business Technology Transfer awards, and 2.8% of its R&D budget for small business innovation research.

## Grants and the merit review process

A grant proposal which the National Science Foundation chose to fund

The NSF seeks to fulfill its mission chiefly by issuing competitive, limited-term grants in response to specific proposals from the research community and establishing cooperative agreements with research organizations.[37] It does not operate its own laboratories, unlike other federal research agencies, notable examples being NASA and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The NSF uses four main mechanisms to communicate funding opportunities and generate proposals: dear colleague letters, program descriptions, program announcements, and program solicitations.[38]

The NSF receives over 50,000 such proposals each year, and funds about 10,000 of them.[39] Those funded are typically projects that are ranked highest in a 'merit review' process, the current version of which was introduced in 1997.[40] Reviews are carried out by ad hoc reviewers and panels of independent scientists, engineers, and educators who are experts in the relevant fields of study, and who are selected by the NSF with particular attention to avoiding conflicts of interest. For example, reviewers cannot work at the NSF itself, nor for the institution that employs the proposing researchers. All proposal evaluations are confidential: the proposing researchers may see them, but they do not see the names of the reviewers.[4]

The first merit review criterion is 'intellectual merit', the second is that of the 'broader societal impact' of the proposed research; the latter reflects a broader global trend for funding agencies to demand evidence of research 'impact' and has been met with opposition from the scientific and policy communities since its inception in 1997.[41][42] In June 2010, the National Science Board (NSB), the governing body for NSF and science advisers to both the legislative and executive branches, convened a 'Task Force on Merit Review' to determine "how well the current Merit Review criteria used by the NSF to evaluate all proposals were serving the agency."[43] The task force reinforced its support for both criteria as appropriate for the goals and aims of the agency and published a revised version of the merit review criteria in its 2012 report, to clarify and improve the function of the criteria. However, both criteria already had been mandated for all NSF merit review procedures in the 2010 re-authorization of the America COMPETES Act.[44] The Act also includes an emphasis on promoting potentially transformative research, a phrase which has been included in the most recent incarnation of the 'merit review' criteria.[45]

Most NSF grants go to individuals or small groups of investigators, who carry out research at their home campuses. Other grants provide funding for mid-scale research centers, instruments, and facilities that serve researchers from many institutions. Still, others fund national-scale facilities that are shared by the research community as a whole. Examples of national facilities include the NSF's national observatories, with their giant optical and radio telescopes; its Antarctic research sites; its high-end computer facilities and ultra-high-speed network connections; the ships and submersibles used for ocean research; and its gravitational wave observatories.

## Scope and organization

The NSF is broadly organized into four offices, seven directorates, and the National Science Board.[51] It employs about 2,100 people in permanent, temporary and contractual positions at its headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia. Prior to 2017, its headquarters were located in Arlington, Virginia.[52][53]

In addition to around 1,400 permanent employees and the staffs of the NSB office and the Office of the Inspector General, the NSF workforce includes some 200 scientists on temporary duty and 450 contract workers.[54] Scientists from research institutions can join the NSF as temporary program directors, called "rotators", overseeing the merit review process and searching for new funding opportunities. These assignments typically last 1–2 years, but may extend to 4.[55] The NSF also offers contracting opportunities. As of May 2018, the NSF has 53 existing contracts.[56]

### Offices

• Office of the Director
• Office of the Inspector General
• Office of Budget, Finance, and Award Management
• Office of Information & Resource Management

The NSF also supports research through several offices within the Office of the Director, including the Office of Cyberinfrastructure,[57] Office of Polar Programs,[58] Office of Integrative Activities,[59] and Office of International Science and Engineering.[60]

### Research directorates

The NSF organizes its research and education support through seven directorates, each encompassing several disciplines:

### Overseas sites

Prior to October 2018, NSF maintained three overseas offices to promote collaboration between the science and engineering communities of the United States and other continents' scientific communities:[68]

• Brussels for Europe, formerly based in Paris [69] (established 1984; relocated to Brussels in 2015)
• Tokyo for East Asia, except China[70] (established 1960)
• Beijing for China [71] (established 2006)

All three overseas offices were shut down in October 2018, to reflect the agency's move to a more nimble international posture. Rather than maintain dedicated offices, NSF will dispatch small teams to specific international institutions. Teams may work for up to a week on-site to evaluate research and explore collaborations with the institution.[72]

### Crosscutting programs

In addition to the research it funds in specific disciplines, the NSF has launched a number of projects that coordinate the efforts of experts in many disciplines, which often involve collaborations with other U.S. federal agencies.[73] Examples include initiatives in:

### National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics

NSF's National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES) gathers data from surveys and partnerships with other agencies to offer official data on the American science and engineering workforce, graduates of advanced U.S. science and engineering programs, and R&D expenditures by U.S. industry.[78] NCSES is one of the principal U.S. statistical agencies. It is a part of the NSF's Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences Directorate (SBE).[79]

## Criticism

In May 2011, Republican Senator Tom Coburn released a 73-page report, "National Science Foundation",[80][81] receiving immediate attention from such media outlets as The New York Times , Fox News, and MSNBC.[82][83][84] The report found fault with various research projects and was critical of the social sciences. It started a controversy about political bias and a Congressional Inquiry into federally sponsored research. In 2014, Republicans proposed a bill to limit the NSF Board's authority in grant-writing.

In 2013, the NSF had funded the work of Mark Carey at University of Oregon with a \$412,930 grant, which included a study concerning gender in glaciological research. After its January 2016 release, the NSF drew criticism for alleged misuse of funding.[85][86]

Some historians of science have argued that the National Science Foundation Act of 1950 was an unsatisfactory compromise between too many clashing visions of the purpose and scope of the federal government.[87] The NSF was certainly not the primary government agency for the funding of basic science, as its supporters had originally envisioned in the aftermath of World War II . By 1950, support for major areas of research had already become dominated by specialized agencies such as the National Institutes of Health (medical research) and the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (nuclear and particle physics). That pattern would continue after 1957 when U.S. anxiety over the launch of Sputnik led to the creation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (space science) and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (defense-related research).

## References

1. ﻿2019 Committee of Visitors Final Report﻿ (Report). Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences of the NSF. September 2019. p. 43. Retrieved 29 September 2021.
2. NSF Budget Request 2014. Available: https://www.nsf.gov/about/budget/fy2014/
3. Moffitt, Robert A. "In Defense of the NSF Economics Program." The Journal of Economic Perspectives, vol. 30, no. 3, 2016, pp. 213–233. JSTOR, JSTOR, https://www.jstor.org/stable/43855708.
4. Uscinski, Joseph E., and Casey A. Klofstad. "Determinants of Representatives' Votes on the Flake Amendment to End National Science Foundation Funding of Political Science Research." PS: Political Science and Politics, vol. 46, no. 3, 2013, pp. 557–561. JSTOR, JSTOR, https://www.jstor.org/stable/43284388.
5. National Science Foundation. "NSF Funding Profile".
6. Kevles, Daniel (1977). "The National Science Foundation and the Debate over Postwar Research Policy, 1942-1945". Isis 68 (241): 4–26. doi:10.1086/351711. PMID 320157.
7. George T. Mazuzan, "The National Science Foundation: A Brief History" (NSF Publication nsf8816).
8. Wang, Jessica (1995). "Liberals, the Progressive Left, and the Political Economy of Postwar American Science: The National Science Foundation Debate Revisited.". Historical Studies in the Physical and Biological Sciences 26 (1): 139–166. doi:10.2307/27757758. PMID 11609016.
9. B.L.R. Smith 1990: 40, cited in Daniel Kleinman Politics on the Endless Frontier
10. Kleinman, Daniel (1995). Politics on the Endless Frontier. Duke University Press.
11. Truman, cited in Daniel Kleinman's Politics on the Endless Frontier.
12. 42 U.S.C. 16 – National Science Foundation. Gpo.gov. Retrieved on February 21, 2014.
13. "Harry S. Truman: "Statement by the President Upon Signing Bill Creating the National Science Foundation.," May 10, 1950". The American Presidency Project. Santa Barbara: University of California.
14. Pub.L. 81–507, 64 Stat. 149, enacted May 10, 1950
15. "Chapter 7. Science and Technology: Public Attitudes and Understanding". Science and Engineering Indicators. 2014.
16. Digital Libraries at nsf.gov
17. National Science Foundation (NSF) News - NSF awards rapid response grants to study West Virginia chemical spill - US National Science Foundation (NSF). nsf.gov. Retrieved on February 21, 2014.
18. "Merit Review". NSF. January 14, 2013.
19. McLellan, Timothy (2020-08-25). "Impact, theory of change, and the horizons of scientific practice" (in en). Social Studies of Science 51 (1): 100–120. doi:10.1177/0306312720950830. ISSN 0306-3127. PMID 32842910.
20. Lok, Corie (2010). "Science funding: Science for the masses". Nature 465 (7297): 416–418. doi:10.1038/465416a. PMID 20505707.
21. NSB (2011). "National Science Foundation's Merit Review Criteria: Review and Revisions." National Science Board. Available at: https://www.nsf.gov/nsb/publications/2011/meritreviewcriteria.pdf
22. Holbrook, J.B. (2005). "Assessing the Science-Society Relation: The Case of the US National Science Foundation's Second Merit Review Criterion". Technology in Society 27 (4): 437–451. doi:10.1016/j.techsoc.2005.08.001. Retrieved March 5, 2012.
23. "Chapter III – NSF Proposal Processing and Review". Grant proposal Guide. NSF. January 1, 2013. "2. To what extent do the proposed activities suggest and explore creative, original, or potentially transformative concepts?"
24. "Research Experiences for Teachers (RET) in Engineering and Computer Science". National Science Foundation.
25. Normile, Dennis; Stone, Richard (2018-02-26). "National Science Foundation to close its overseas offices" (in en).