National Science Foundation/Office of Science and Technology Policy


Advancement in science and technology is a key element of national economic success. Investments in research and development (R&D) tend to be the strongest and most consistent positive influence on productivity growth. New developments in fields such as telecommunications and information technology are expected to affect the way we work and the way our children learn. New materials and manufacturing processes can make the United States more competitive in world markets. Investments in basic science ensure the availability of scientists who can forge new understandings of mechanisms that affect our health and our environment. Determining how best to invest federal research dollars to meet national goals is an important element of federal policy. Delivery of resulting technological advances to business and industry is a major challenge for the federal government.

A look at agencies with major responsibilities in science and technology reveals that they have many issues in common. This report suggests a structure for addressing R&D priorities as well as matters of research administration which are relevant to the wider federal R&D community. This structure involves the President's Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).

OSTP was created by the National Science and Technology Policy, Organization, and Priorities Act of 1976 to provide advice to the President on issues relating to science and to coordinate federal efforts in science and technology. The Act also established the Federal Coordinating Council for Science, Engineering and Technology (FCCSET). FCCSET, with representation from all agencies with significant scientific research activities, coordinates selected interagency research initiatives.

In addition, although many agencies have significant roles in federal R&D, the focus and coordination of the federal R&D effort have particular impact on the National Science Foundation (NSF) with its mandate to strengthen the nation's overall potential in science and engineering. NSF, with a budget of approximately $3 billion, funds research and education in most fields of science and engineering through grants, contracts, and cooperative agreements to colleges, universities, and other institutions across the United States. Of NSF's approximately 1,200 staff members, about one-third are Ph.D. scientists, engineers, or educators who are familiar with functioning in a technologically sophisticated environment. NSF has committed to using technology in order to improve the effectiveness of its operations and services.

NSF has been instrumental in developing streamlined methods for research administration and has had a significant role in efforts to coordinate interagency research activities. NSF is a major participant in the activities of the Office of Science and Technology Policy and also participates in the Federal Demonstration Project (FDP), a group formed by federal agencies and universities interested in streamlining research administration.

The issues identified by the National Performance Review emphasize policy formulation and research administration: how to set priorities, promote efficient evaluation, and eliminate activities that distract from research efforts.

Because of the importance of R&D to the nation's progress, the productive use of R&D funds is critical. This requires management mechanisms that focus agencies' efforts on important national priorities and reduce administrative overhead. To enhance policy development and implementation, a national policy council to facilitate formulation of a coherent national science and technology policy and provide a mechanism to address important issues as they emerge is needed.

Making use of technological advances to streamline the administrative aspects of research management is an important part of empowering government research managers to manage for results. NSF's effort to automate grant management activities is presented as an example of an effective way to keep up with increasing workload by handling program administration more efficiently.

Removing red tape that distracts from research activity is an important way to ensure that more research funds are directed to productive research. FDP has found examples of administrative requirements placed on universities that can be eliminated without compromising financial accountability. A more formal relationship between FDP and the federal government is proposed so that its documented findings can be brought to bear on government regulations.

The issues presented in this report support the evolution of a scientific research program focused on national priorities with each science agency having a well-defined role that complements the total effort.

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