GPRA requires the development of a strategic plan that guides annual performance plans and reports. Key factors of the strategic plan are statements of mission and general goals. These provide the context for assessing agency performance. NSF's continuing mission is stated in the preamble to the National Science Foundation Act of 1950 (Public Law 810507): ''To promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense; and for other purposes."
GPRA authorizes and directs NSF to initiate and support the following:
NSF works toward its mission through the support of research, infrastructure development, and education and training, largely at academic institutions. When we assess our programs, we are thus assessing the results and outcomes of the investments we make. We examine the outcomes of aggregate collections of awards over time frames appropriate to our expectations for results.
NSF has established its outcome goals by determining what types of observable outcomes from its programs advance the progress of science and engineering. These include:
The first three outcome goals are most relevant to the assessment of research and are the focus of the remainder of this discussion.
Because the timing of outcomes from NSF's activities is unpredictable and annual change in the award outputs is not an accurate indicator of progress toward outcome goals, NSF has developed performance goals for outcomes against which we expect to assess progress on a continuing basis. The stream of data and information on the products of NSF's investments will be combined with the expert judgment of external panels to assess NSF's performance over time and to provide a management tool for initiating changes in direction, where needed.
These continuing performance goals take advantage of GPRA's option for the use of an alternative format where quantitative annual performance goals are impossible or inappropriate. They are based on descriptive standards that convey the characteristics of the types of results NSF seeks. The successful performance standards for the outcome goals most closely related to valuing research are listed below.