August 21, 2007

NSF Report: Impact of Proposal and Award Management Mechanisms

In recent years, the funding rate for National Science Foundation proposals has decreased, while NSF budget, average award size, and proposal submission rates have increased. The percentage of principal investigators that are funded has decreased, as the number of PIs submitting to NSF has increased.

Responding to concerns that this trend may be having negative impacts on the academic research community, NSF established the Impact of Proposal and Award Management Mechanisms Working Group (IPAMM) in March 2006. IPAMM was charged to “recommend policies and preferred practices to improve NSF’s program announcement and solicitation processes in ways that achieve appropriate balances between proposal funding rates, award sizes and award duration in the various types of awards that comprise the total NSF portfolio, with the emphasis on individual, investigator-initiated grants.”

NSF published the final report on IPAMM’s study, Impact of Proposal and Award Management Mechanisms, on August 8.

IPAMM Recommendations (from the NSF press release)

1. NSF should require that each of the directorates and research offices develop an overarching strategic framework, incorporating flexible management approaches.

2. Long-term planning for accommodating growth in the communities and infrastructure built by research investments (including both physical infrastructure and human resources) must be incorporated when developing new funding opportunities.

3. The practice of limiting the number of proposals that a principal investigator or institution may submit is appropriate in some situations but should be considered in the context of relevant trade-offs and impacts on the community.

4. Careful consideration should be given to the short-term use of various management practices to increase the number of awards and reduce the need to revise and resubmit highly rated proposals.

5. NSF management should inform the appropriate internal and external communities when implementing new proposal management practices and should monitor their concerns during implementation.

6. NSF should ensure that the community has access to specific and accurate statistical data on funding rates; this will include evaluating the Budget Internet Information System and updating it, as needed.

7. NSF should annually update trend analyses for internal review, and include it in the annual Report on the NSF Merit Review Process to the Board.