NSF Changes Transparency And Accountability Procedures

The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced in early December changes to its accountability and transparency procedures.  Based on some of the changes, it would appear that the move is also in response (see the third paragraph) to the Republican congressional efforts to explicitly connect individual grants to ‘the national interest.’

The changes are focused on how projects are described in grant proposals and abstracts.  While that may appear superficial, it’s worth remembering that most policymakers and members of the public will only encounter brief descriptions of scientific projects.  Like an abstract.

So, effective December 26, the NSF Proposal and Awards Policies and Procedures Guide was updated to reflect the following (quoting from the press release):

“Should a proposal be recommended for award, the PI may be contacted by the NSF Program Officer for assistance in preparation of the public award abstract and its title. An NSF award abstract, with its title, is an NSF document that describes the project and justifies the expenditure of Federal funds.”

“The guidelines for program officers in the Proposal and Award Manual now state that a nontechnical project description must explain the project’s significance and importance and “serve as a public justification for NSF funding by articulating how the project serves the national interest, as stated by NSF’s mission: to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity and welfare; or to secure the national defense.” The titles and abstracts of NSF’s awards are made public on NSF.gov.”

What would be lovely to see is the commencement of a research program to assess how these new requirements are implemented, and how views of titles and abstracts change (if they do).  Will these new requirements be handled in the same way the ‘broader impacts’ requirements have been?  Will Congressional efforts to micromanage grant approvals make use of this information?

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