Observations on the National Science Foundation's Fiscal Year 2000 Performance Plan

RCED-99-206R: Published: Jul 20, 1999. Publicly Released: Aug 18, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the National Science Foundation's (NSF) fiscal year (FY) 2000 performance plan, which was submitted to Congress in response to the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993, focusing on: (1) assessing the usefulness of the agency's plan for decisionmaking; and (2) identifying the degree of improvement the agency's FY 2000 performance plan represents over the FY 1999 plan.

GAO noted that: (1) NSF's FY 2000 annual performance plan will be of general usefulness to decisionmakers; (2) the plan provides a general picture of intended performance across the agency, a general discussion of the strategies and resources the agency will use to achieve its goals, and limited confidence that the agency's performance information will be credible; (3) while the plan identifies crosscutting efforts with other agencies, it does not provide clear information on the linkages between the NSF budget and its performance goals, which will be key for congressional reviewers; (4) NSF provides a matrix documenting the relative extent to which NSF functions, such as research project support and education and training, support its goals, such as the connections between discoveries and their use in service to society; (5) but there is no direct linkage between specific budget activities such as U.S. Polar Research Program or graduate education and NSF's performance goals; (6) the FY 2000 performance plan indicates moderate progress in addressing the weaknesses that GAO identified in its assessment of the FY 1999 performance plan; (7) in reviewing the FY 1999 plan, GAO observed that there was insufficient detail on crosscutting programs, external factors, strategies and resources needed to achieve goals, and data verification and validation; (8) among the improvements in the FY 2000 plan are additional information on crosscutting efforts and external factors; (9) regarding crosscutting efforts, NSF describes both formal and informal agreements with other agencies; (10) NSF also improved its plan by describing external factors that could affect performance; (11) NSF officials told GAO that if they believe work funded through a grant cannot be reliably completed, they may stop funding for the award; (12) while this may not improve performance, it may mitigate the continued use of funds for unproductive activities; and (13) improvements that still need to be made to the performance plan are more detailed discussions of the resources needed to achieve goals and further elaboration on the procedures to assess the reliability and validity of data used to assess goal achievement.

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