Earlier this month the National Science Foundation released a draft
Strategic Plan for FY 2003 through FY 2008. The foundation is now
seeking public comment on this report.
There is little that is surprising in this thirty-page report
required by the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993. A
centerpiece of the Clinton's Administration early efforts to make
government agencies more efficient and effective, the act requires
that agencies submit an updated strategic plan every three years. An
earlier NSF plan was for the years FY 2001-2006.
As described by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), "the
strategic plan is a tool to be used in setting priorities and
allocating resources consistent with those priorities." Measuring
the results of basic research, which frequently has a long term
horizon, can be a daunting challenge. The foundation comments on
this, stating, "Although, in the short term, it is sometimes
difficult to link specific research and education projects with these
longer term impacts, the overall linkage has been demonstrated time
and again, and underpins the public's confidence in the value of S&E
[science and engineering] research and education." The Bush
Administration took the Clinton Administration evaluation process a
step further, assessing program performance in four areas. There is
continued acknowledgment that measuring an agency's research
performance is difficult, with the NSF strategic plan quoting an OMB-
OSTP joint memorandum: "While the [investment evaluation] criteria
apply broadly to all types of R&D, agencies should not have the
expectations for planning and measuring the results of long-term,
high-risk basic research as they have for applied research and
development . . . . Serendipitous results are often the most
interesting and ultimately may have the most value."
The foundation's draft Strategic Plan addresses the unique problems
inherent in the performance evaluation process through three previous
goals that center on people, ideas, and tools, while adding a fourth
goal, organizational excellence. To do so, the plan outlines three
core strategies for the long term: (1) develop intellectual
capital, (2) integrate research and education, and (3) promote
partnerships. The NSF will follow two major integrative investment
strategies. The first is to strengthen core activities. The
foundation intends to do so by making larger, longer-term grants, the
plan explaining that the FY 2004 request "defines a path toward
average annualized research grants of $250,000 for five years."
second strategy is to identify and support priority areas. One of
the six priority areas is nanoscale science and engineering.
The Strategic Plan describes how the foundation establishes
priorities and the resources it allocates to people, ideas, and
tools. Strategic goals are outlined for each. Appendices provide
NSF Director Rita Colwell, in a cover letter, explained "The views
of the science and engineering community and the public are very important
to us and will be reflected in the final draft of the updated plan."
The letter and plan can be viewed at http://www.nsf.gov/od/stratplan_03-08/draft-stratplan.htm
The comment deadline is July 15.