National Science Foundation:

Better Use of Existing Resources Could Improve Program Administration

RCED-94-95: Published: Jun 24, 1994. Publicly Released: Jul 26, 1994.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Directorate for Education and Human Resources (EHR), focusing on: (1) how EHR establishes current and future priorities for its education programs; and (2) whether EHR has the resources it needs to effectively administer its programs.

GAO found that: (1) EHR sets its program priorities through an informal process using internal and external advisory groups; (2) the National Science Board approves all new EHR programs, large awards, and multiyear commitments; (3) Congress has earmarked certain funds for specific education programs; (4) before 1991, EHR relied primarily on external peer oversight groups to determine the operational effectiveness of its education programs; (5) although EHR has implemented a comprehensive evaluation program that uses outside contractors to determine educational program effectiveness, most contractor reviews have not been completed; (6) NSF staffing levels have not kept pace with its increasing workload; (7) even though EHR has sufficient administrative resources to effectively administer its educational programs, EHR believes that its programs are not being effectively administered; (8) more effective use of EHR administrative resources could increase program effectiveness, ease program officers' workload, increase the availability of travel funds for site inspections, and increase program officers' effectiveness in monitoring grants and conducting evaluations; and (9) other NSF directorates could significantly increase their effectiveness if they adopted the proposed EHR administrative changes, since EHR operations and workloads are similar to that of other NSF directorates.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NSF is continuing to take steps in the right direction to improve overall administration of its current resources; however, whether additional steps are needed--such as the one recommended in this report--is unclear at this time. While GAO audit work indicated that NSF has had difficulty implementing measures designed to improve efficiency Foundation-wide, NSF has a new Director and GAO is encouraged that these difficulties will now be corrected. However, since NSF has not changed its position regarding the specific findings and recommendation contained in this report, GAO probably will not be able to convince NSF now. Therefore, the recommendation should be closed.

    Recommendation: In order to improve overall operations in a period when the workload and growth of NSF programs are increasing while staff levels and funds to administer these programs are lagging behind, the Director, NSF, should request the National Science Board to study ways to better utilize NSF current administrative resources to more efficiently and effectively manage the NSF review and awards process.

    Agency Affected: National Science Foundation


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