Federal Management:

Observations on the National Science Foundation

T-RCED/AIMD-97-168: Published: Jul 24, 1997. Publicly Released: Jul 24, 1997.

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Victor S. Rezendes
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GAO discussed a number of management and program issues at the National Science Foundation (NSF) as recently reported by the NSF Office of Inspector General (OIG) and GAO, focusing on: (1) duplicate funding in the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program at NSF and elsewhere; (2) challenges for NSF in implementing the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA); (3) the status of NSF's efforts to prepare and have audited agencywide financial statements as required by the Chief Financial Officers (CFO) Act; and (4) a framework for assessing NSF's readiness to meet computer challenges that will arise in the year 2000.

GAO noted that: (1) among the management issues identified by NSF's OIG most in need of reform at NSF is the SBIR program; (2) GAO has reported that duplicate funding of similar or even identical SBIR proposals submitted to more than one agency has occurred at NSF, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and Department of Defense ; (3) NSF has revised its certification form to require applicants to certify, under criminal penalties for perjury, exactly what, if any, applications for similar research were pending in other agencies; (4) in implementing the Results Act, NSF, like most agencies, is still struggling to develop the mission based goals and the performance measurement requirements of the Act; (5) measuring the performance of science-related projects can be extremely difficult because a wide range of factors determine if and how a particular research and development (R&D) project will result in a commercial application or have other benefits, and it can take years for a research project to realize a successful outcome; (6) GAO recently reported that there is no single indicator or evaluation method that captures the results of R&D; (7) as a result, determining the specific outcomes resulting from federal R&D is a challenge that will not easily be resolved; (8) as required by the CFO Act, one of NSF's primary financial management challenges is to prepare and audit consolidated agencywide financial statements; (9) NSF received its first-time audit of its agencywide financial statements for fiscal year 1996; (10) NSF's auditor concluded that the reported property, plant, and equipment account balance is unreliable; (11) in response to its auditor's concerns, NSF is in the process of developing a framework for identifying and developing performance measures in response to the CFO Act's and GPRA's requirements; (12) NSF like other federal agencies that have system or application programs that use dates to perform calculations, comparisons, or sorting may generate incorrect results when working with years after 1999; (13) converting systems to a four-digit year can be a massive undertaking for agencies such as NSF because it involves identifying computer systems, developing conversion strategies and plans, and dedicating sufficient resources to converting and adequately testing their computer systems and programs before January 1, 2000; (14) GAO has developed an assessment guide that provides a structured approach for assessing the readiness of agencies' year 2000 programs.

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