Created by on 02/14/2012

Earlier this month, the National Science Board (NSB) held its first meeting of the year to discuss strategic plans for the National Science Foundation (NSF) in fiscal year (FY) 2012 and beyond. The advisory panel also received updates on several working group activities with implications for digital data access policies, merit review, and the NSF research budget.    
The Task Force on Data Policies summarized the public comments collected in response to its pre-publication policy recommendations on Digital Research Data Sharing and Management (see related article in this newsletter). NSB received a total of 23 comments, a number of which expressed the need for details on policy implementation, the importance of long-term sustainability as it relates to digital data, and a desire to assist NSB as they further develop these policies. The panel plans to incorporate the community’s suggestions into the report where appropriate, and it hopes to continue its work on data access as the Office of Science and Technology Policy and other groups begin to address the issue as well. In addition to the activities of the Task Force, an NSF-wide working group continues to develop guiding principles regarding public access to research data and scholarly publications. Subgroups associated with individual NSF Directorates are exploring related topics, such as methods for creating “enabling environments” for increased access to journal articles, and encouraging increased citation of data sets.
NSF’s Merit Review Working Group presented its provisional recommendations to the NSB Committee on Strategy and Budget. The group is working to devise strategies that reduce applicant and reviewer workload, broaden reviewer participation, and utilize improved information technology without sacrificing the quality of the NSF merit review process. Preliminary recommendations relating to review process enhancement include increased reliance on virtual panels, rapid proposal screening by ad hoc reviewers, greater use of preliminary proposal submissions, and development of asynchronous electronic discussion. A preliminary proposal process is currently being tested by two divisions within the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO). In addition to a planned evaluation of the new policies at BIO, several other merit review pilot activities will be launched in FY 2013. The working group also proposes that application demand could potentially be managed by enhancing outreach to research institutions and limiting resubmission of declined proposals.
In his report to the NSB, NSF Director Subra Suresh, ScD, described the final outcome of the FY 2012 appropriations process and expressed his relative satisfaction with the $7.0 billion funding level provided to the agency. Citing a provision in the FY 2012 bill that grants NSF additional budget flexibility, the director explained the agency’s decision to transfer $30 million from Research and Related Activities to Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC). The adjustment will increase the MREFC budget to $197 million and enable efficient use of resources by advancing projects already initiated by NSF. Dr. Suresh also stated that he remains committed to priorities outlined in the NSF FY 2012 budget request, despite limited funding.
The NSB meeting also featured a brief review of Science & Engineering Indicators 2012, a biennial report which presents data on the scope, quality, and vitality of America’s science and engineering enterprise. Later this year, NSB plans to distribute two SEI companion pieces; the first will address research and development, innovation, and the science and engineering workforce, and the second will examine funding for public research universities.