Observations on the National Science Foundation's Draft Strategic Plan
RCED-97-203R: Published: Jul 11, 1997. Publicly Released: Jul 30, 1997.
Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the draft strategic plan for the National Science Foundation (NSF), focusing on: (1) whether it fulfills the requirements of the Results Act and its overall quality; (2) whether it reflects NSF's key statutory authorities; (3) whether it reflects interagency coordination for crosscutting programs, activities, or functions that are similar or complementary to other federal agencies'; and (4) whether NSF's data and information systems are providing adequate information for measuring results.
GAO noted that: (1) NSF's draft strategic plan is incomplete and not specific enough to allow the Congress to evaluate whether the agency's goals are achievable; (2) the draft strategic plan addresses aspects of five of six required elements; (3) however, three of the five elements are not yet complete, goals and objectives, strategies for achieving goals, and how program evaluation was used; (4) furthermore, NSF did not include one key element, external factors that could affect the achievement of the plan's goals; (5) because the plan is incomplete, the Congress is missing critical information for its consultations with NSF; (6) NSF's draft strategic plan appears to reflect the consideration of its key statutory authority, the National Science Foundation Act of 1950, as amended; (7) however, NSF is subject to other statutes related to its core functions which broaden the scope of its responsibilities; (8) NSF could provide useful information by describing its responsibilities under these other statutes when its plan includes goals and objectives based on them; (9) NSF's draft strategic plan acknowledges the crosscutting nature of its work; (10) however, the draft plan does not show evidence of interagency coordination; (11) while the strategic plan emphasizes the importance of NSF's many partners in the research and education enterprise, it does not identify who these partners are or provide sufficient information to determine the extent to which NSF's and its partners' functions are duplicative or overlapping; (12) while GAO has not analyzed NSF's data and information systems, inadequacies in both financial information and information technology at NSF have been identified by NSF's Office of Inspector General (OIG); (13) NSF's OIG and independent public accounting firm completed the first audit of NSF's consolidated, agencywide fiscal year 1996 Statement of Financial Position (balance sheet); (14) except for inadequate documentation to support the reported amounts for property, plant, and equipment, the auditors concluded that NSF's assets, liabilities, and net position are reliable; (15) in addition, the auditors found that NSF had not yet met the requirements in the Chief Financial Officers (CFO) Act to develop an integrated agency accounting and financial management system that provides for reporting cost information and the systematic measurement of performance; and (16) furthermore, linkages between NSF's technology and its programs' missions and goals were not included in its strategic plan.