National Science Foundation

Neal Lane, Director

Mission Statement

The National Science Foundation's (NSF's) mission and purpose is to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; and to secure the national defense. It does this through:

Summary Budget Information

FY 1993 (Actual) FY 1996 (Budgeted)
Budget Staff Budget Staff
$2.734 billion 1,235 $3.220 billion 1,267

Reinvention Highlights

During my tenure as Director of the National Science Foundation, I have been privileged to preside over widespread reengineering of NSF processes, particularly to take maximum advantage of modern information technology. Both our basic business transactions with the external research and education communities and our internal operations are being transformed.

Reengineering Our Dealings With Customers. NSF's primary business is to fund research and education projects, largely in universities and other academic institutions. We invite competitive proposals, subject those proposals to merit review by peers, and draw on the peer reviews to reach award-or-decline decisions.

NSF already compares favorably with any private foundation in speed of proposal processing and the ratio (around 4 percent) of our administrative costs to our total funds. But we can now apply state-of-the-art information technology to improve service further to those who deal with us, further reduce both their costs and ours, and further speed our processing of proposals and awards. We are doing all those things through what we call Project FastLane.

The basic idea of FastLane is to let citizens and institutions conduct business with NSF easily and quickly using the World Wide Web. To users, FastLane is a World Wide Web home page through which they quickly reach specific applications that help them do business with NSF. Each application comes with online help.

Virtually all routine business transactions with NSF either can already be transacted electronically over the Web or are now being tested by external users. Our "customers" in nearly 300 registered institutions already can electronically:

FastLane will soon let customers electronically: NSF has also established tight coordination with those who are developing similar systems at other federal agencies so that researchers, administrators, and reviewers will encounter much the same interface when dealing with any major agency.

Privatizing the Internet. NSF was well prepared to take a lead role in application of Internet technology to government operations, because we led the development of the Internet itself.

Originally a small network used only by government and university scientists, the Internet came into full bloom under NSF leadership, using the facilities of our NSFNET network. We worked with other federal agencies (especially the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency which had invented the technology and the network) to develop the fledgling Internet for use by a much broader community of government and university scientists. Then we worked with the other agencies, with industry, and with other governments to open the rapidly growing network to the broader public. As time went on, more and more other networks -- including privately operated networks -- connected to the Internet, which grew into the Information Superhighway now available and familiar to millions worldwide.

In 1995 -- in keeping with the emphasis the President and Vice President have placed on a leaner government that performs only those functions that government can perform best, and pursuing a carefully phased plan -- NSF spun off the operation of the Internet to commercial suppliers of networking services, and began phasing out NSF support for routine Internet connections and services, which will henceforth be provided and priced commercially.

Reengineering Our Operations. Meanwhile, we have been revamping our own internal operations to take advantage of information technology. All NSF employees have access to the Internet and the World Wide Web. Internal NSF forms can be filed electronically. And we are now shifting to electronic files -- or "jackets," as we call them -- for proposals and awards. These jackets already exist and are being tested in 10 NSF programs. For now, we scan in many of the documents in these files from paper submissions. But proposals and other documents filed electronically via FastLane can go directly into the electronic jackets, then go out for review, without ever taking paper form.

We have also set out to improve NSF's basic business processes in other ways. For the past year, we have extensively reexamined the way we review and otherwise process research and education proposals. Teams of staff with input from stakeholders and customers looked at everything from peaks in proposal intake and award outflow to the criteria we and our reviewers apply to determine which proposals should be funded. The recommendations are now being considered and, in most cases, implemented.

Partnership in Education and Research. In its 1995 strategic plan, NSF committed to promoting partnerships to serve society's interest in science and engineering. A model for such partnerships can be found in NSF's programs aimed at educational system reform in science and mathematics: our Statewide Systemic Initiatives, Urban Systemic Initiatives, and Regional Systemic Initiatives. Through these programs, NSF provides catalytic funding that enables states, cities, and regional alliances to move aggressively toward standards-based, discovery-oriented reform in math and science education, leveraging their own funds and those from other federal agencies, state and local governments, and the private sector.

NSF is also part of a significant partnership of federal agencies designed to develop a comprehensive, coordinated approach to managing the federal investment in science and technology. NSF staff have taken a leadership role in many activities of the National Science and Technology Council, partnering with other agencies to identify and eliminate gaps and undesirable overlap in the federal research portfolio. Together, the agencies have reinvented the management of this portfolio.


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