Government Performance and Results Act:

Information on the National Science Foundation's Performance Report for Fiscal Year 1999 and Performance Plans for Fiscal Years 2000 and 2001

RCED-00-281R: Published: Aug 30, 2000. Publicly Released: Sep 29, 2000.

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James E. Wells, Jr
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the National Science Foundation's (NSF) fiscal year (FY) 1999 performance report and FY 2000 and 2001 performance plans, focusing on the: (1) extent to which the FY 2000 and 2001 performance plans presented a consistent and coherent story regarding the agency's support of basic research efforts; (2) goals and results as reported in its FY 1999 performance report; (3) extent to which NSF's FY 1999 performance report and FY 2000 and 2001 performance plans link to its FY 2000 and 2001 budget requests; and (4) limitations with NSF's FY 1999 performance report and FY 2001 performance plan.

GAO noted that: (1) NSF's performance plans and report generally present a consistent and coherent story regarding NSF's support of basic research; (2) NSF's 2001 performance plan incorporates its outcome goals from its FY 2000 performance plan, into three new outcome goals that broadly capture its investments aimed at encouraging new scientific discoveries, developing a world-class workforce, and using state-of-the-art tools for research and education; (3) the FY 1999 performance report evaluated NSF's performance with respect to 5 outcome goals, 13 investment process goals and 5 management goals; (4) the performance report indicated that NSF achieved each of its 5 outcome goals, 9 of its 13 investment goals, and 3 of its 5 management goals; (5) it is difficult to link NSF's performance report and performance plans to its budget; (6) for the FY 1999 performance report and FY 2000 and 2001 performance plans, GAO found no clear linkage with the agency's FY 2000 and 2001 budget requests; (7) NSF acknowledges that there is no clear linkage between the outcome goals found in its performance report and the agency's budget; (8) GAO identified a number of limitations with NSF's FY 1999 performance report and FY 2001 plan; (9) for example, reports from the external expert review panels, which were the foundation for the qualitative assessments of whether the agency met its outcome goals, varied in their attention to detail; (10) some depended on anecdotal evidence rather than systematic information as the basis for assessments--some cited specific examples or included meaningful narrative to support their evaluations while others provided none; (11) likewise, some provided specific criticisms and recommendations for improvements, while others did not; and (12) in all cases where GAO has concerns, NSF recognized that improvements were warranted and had an action plan for improving internal processes.

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