The National Science Foundation's Management Information System:

A Status Report

PAD-80-7: Published: Apr 8, 1980. Publicly Released: Apr 8, 1980.

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The current status of the National Science Foundation's (NSF) management information system (MIS) and NSF plans for making needed improvements were reviewed. The review focused on identifying major changes planned or in process, quality controls, user satisfaction, and cost. The goal of MIS is to automate all NSF administrative and program functions. Users of the system's data include NSF management, Congress, the Office of Management and Budget, and grantee institutions, with the system being managed by the NSF Directorate for Administration through the Division of Information Systems. NSF began developing MIS in 1971, and has spent over $15 million on it through fiscal year 1979, excluding personnel costs. A management consultant assessed the system in 1976 and found that user objectives had not been met and that significant improvements in the system were needed. Some of the consultant's recommendations were implemented, and managers and users have found the changes useful. However, other recommendations such as data quality assessment, long-range planning, and system performance evaluation have not been implemented.

Significant improvements are needed in MIS and its management if the system is to fulfill its intended purpose and achieve a degree of reliability which is satisfactory to its users. As a result of not implementing some of the consultant's recommendations, serious technical and management problems threaten the successful operation of the system. The absence of long-range planning and a knowledge of system effectiveness has caused NSF to give low priority to areas which should have had the highest priority, such as data quality and system reliability. GAO found MIS to be of medium reliability, which means that users of the system's data should verify the accuracy of the data before using it for important decisions. Users will not, nor should they, be satisfied with this level of reliability.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Director of NSF should improve MIS by taking actions in the following areas: (1) resolve expeditiously the slow system response time problem which is frustrating system users, and reassess the need for acquiring additional hardware; (2) assess MIS data quality and establish procedures for periodically testing and maintaining data quality to insure high reliability; (3) develop and implement performance evaluation procedures to determine and control the efficiency of the system in meeting its goals, with the procedures assessing user needs and insuring system cost effectiveness; and (4) assess MIS short- and mid-range management efforts to insure that areas such as general system security, system documentation, and training receive adequate attention. The Director should strengthen the internal audit staff capability to monitor the performance of MIS. He should also develop and maintain a long-range system and hardware planning process to insure orderly and systematic development of MIS. The planning process should include top management participation; provide a reasonable 5-year projection of system requirements and costs, which would include life-cycle cost analysis; establish quantified goals and priorities for work projects; and set milestone completion dates.

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