Subcommittee Examines Management of NSF Facilities

Apr 18, 2012
Subcommittee Examines Management of NSF Facilities

Washington D.C. – The Subcommittee on Research and Science Education today held an oversight hearing to examine the planning, management, operations, and stewardship of major, multi-user research facilities funded through the National Science Foundation (NSF).  The hearing focused on an element of NSF’s support for research infrastructure that funds the  operations and maintenance of existing facilities such as telescopes, accelerators, research vessels, and Federally Funded Research and Development Centers.

“This research infrastructure has a significant impact on large segments of the science and engineering population,” said Subcommittee Chairman Mo Brooks (R-AL).  “We in Congress need to ensure the planning, operations, management and overall stewardship of these projects are being carried out responsibly and in the best interest of the American taxpayer.”

A component of support for basic research is providing researchers, students, and teachers access to powerful, cutting-edge equipment and facilities. Large and up-to-date research equipment and facilities enhance the fundamental processes of basic research. As the primary federal agency supporting basic scientific research, NSF funds a variety of large research projects, and often coordinates with other agencies, organizations, and international partners to ensure projects are integrated and complementary.

Praising the advancements made possible through such infrastructure, Dr. William Smith, Jr., President of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, said these facilities are “a major tool for advancing the state of knowledge in astronomy and astrophysics,” but he also encouraged they be “operated on a competitive peer review basis.”

Beyond advancing scientific understanding, Dr. Smith discussed the importance of these facilities in supporting American researchers.  “Just as important, these facilities have been the training ground for students at all levels, providing early career research experiences, and enabling research for PhD students at academic institutions across the US and indeed across the world.”

The National Science Board and NSF are currently involved in examining the process of recompetition for major multi-user research facilities in order to “assure the best use of NSF funds for supporting research and education.”  Witnesses today supported efforts to promote competition and best-use of NSF facilities. 

Dr. Sol Michael Gruner, Director of Cornell University’s High Energy Synchrotron Source, said that “During the recompetition process, reviewers are charged to evaluate uniqueness as well as the importance and quality of the proposed program.”  Dr. Gruner also discussed how recompetition directs the efforts of a multi-user research facility, “The threat of termination

focuses the minds of all facility personnel on the compelling and important aspects of renewal.”

Dr. Ethan Schreier, President of Associated Universities, Inc., said his organization take s its role as a steward of facilities “very seriously.” Dr. Schreir noted that in managing its facilities it is responsible “not only to the NSF, but to the research community and the taxpayers as a whole.

The following witnesses testified today before the Committee:
Dr. Ethan J. Schreier, President, Associated Universities, Inc.

Dr. William S. Smith, Jr., President, Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy

Dr. David Divins, Vice President and Director, Ocean Drilling Programs, Consortium for Ocean Leadership, Inc.

Dr. Gregory S. Boebinger, Director, National High Magnetic Field Laboratory and Professor of Physics, Florida State University and University of Florida

Dr. Sol Michael Gruner, Director, Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source and The John L. Wetherill Professor of Physics, Cornell University