outsource prize administration to nongovernmental entities, among many other issues. NSF certainly has the capacity to make good use of this learning opportunity.
In the program’s initial phase NSF should offer several small-scale prizes ($200,000 to $2 million each) in diverse areas that differ regarding prize scope and scale, contest duration, engagement of outside groups, and other features. The committee believes that NSF could award three or four such prizes in the first two years of the program and one or two each year thereafter. The annual cost of this component of the program, excluding administrative expenses, would be in the range of $800,000 to $8 million initially and perhaps $400,000 to $4 million each year thereafter. Simultaneously, NSF should commence planning for much larger awards ($3 million to as much as $30 million) to encourage more complex innovations, well beyond the state of the art and addressing significant economic, social, or other challenges to the United States. NSF could conduct a major prize contest every few years. Designing such a contest may require one to three years of preliminary planning and consultation and the competition itself could extend over 5 to as many as 10 years. The award budget for this component of the NSF program could range from $5 million to $50 million annually at steady state, depending on the number of contests. For branding or public recognition purposes it may be desirable to use different titles for the two sets of prizes.
NSF should assume primary responsibility for developing, communicating, implementing, and evaluating this program through a dedicated program staff, perhaps designated as the Office of Innovation Prizes (OIP), with its own appointed advisory committee. NSF should seek “no-year” congressional appropriations, in addition to its request for current year appropriations for its research and education mission, to pay for the prize awards. No-year budget authority would help ensure that funds for large prize awards accumulate and remain available until multiyear contests are completed. While initiating the first series of prizes, NSF should seek legislative authorization for the program, allowing the agency considerable latitude in administering it. Such authorization could require periodic reporting on the program’s status and progress to Congress and the general public.
There are many ways that NSF could make full use of the interests and capabilities of other federal agencies and either nonprofit or for-profit private sector entities. In some cases it may be desirable for NSF to partner with another agency to award a prize related to that agency’s portfolio (e.g., energy supply, environmental protection, public health,