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 same 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." The 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 further detail.
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.