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Suggested Citation:"EXECUTIVE SUMMARY." National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council. 1996. An Assessment of the National Science Foundation's Science and Technology Centers Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5401.
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Executive Summary

“The National Science Foundation (NSF) established the Science and Technology Research (STC) Centers Program to help maintain U.S. preeminence in science and technology and ensure the requisite pool of scientists with the quality and breadth of experience required to meet the changing needs of science and society—ingredients essential to successful economic competitiveness” (NSF 1989).

“The objectives of the Program are:

  • To exploit opportunities in science and technology where the complexity of the research problems or the resources needed to solve these problems require the advantages of scale, duration, and/or equipment and facilities that can only be provided by a campus-based research center.

  • To involve students and research scientists and engineers from academia, nonprofit organizations, industry, and Federal laboratories in order to enhance the training and employability of professionals with an awareness of potential applications of scientific discoveries and to provide a mechanism for increasing the transfer of knowledge among sectors of society.

  • To provide stable, long-term funding.”

Two competitions, in federal fiscal years 1989 and 1991, led to the establishment of 25 science and technology centers in 14 states. The centers span a wide range of science and engineering fields and vary substantially in their responses to the goals of the STC program. When NSF determined that it was appropriate and practical to evaluate how well the STC mode of support had been operating and to recommend adjustments, it asked that the Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy (COSEPUP) of the NAS, the NAE, and the IOM form

Suggested Citation:"EXECUTIVE SUMMARY." National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council. 1996. An Assessment of the National Science Foundation's Science and Technology Centers Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5401.
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a panel to evaluate the accomplishments of the NSF STC program (not individual centers) against its goals in research, education, and knowledge transfer. This report is the result of the work of the panel charged with that effort. NSF also contracted separately with Abt Associates to gather data about the STC program.

The panel found that most STCs are producing high-quality world-class research that would not have been possible without a center structure and presence, and it found that the design of the STC program has produced an effective means for identifying particularly important scientific problems that require a center mode of support. Many STCs also provide a model for the creative interaction of scientists, engineers, and students in various disciplines and across academic, industry, and other institutional boundaries.

Several other important findings of the committee follow. First, the STC program's vision and themes have evolved over the last 7 years. The NSF has made multidisciplinarity of the research a goal and has placed strong emphasis on K-12 education. Second, although at this stage of their development the individual STCs are largely at the cutting edge of research, the panel found that some of the research subjects are maturing. Finally, it also found that the success of the individual STCs depends critically on the presence of strong scientific and administrative leadership.

On the basis of our studies of the individual centers and the review reports supplied to us, the panel believes that the nation and NSF are getting a good return on their relatively small investment. The total fiscal year 1996 budget for all NSF's modes of support is $3.2 billion. Of the $200 million devoted to all centers at NSF, $60 million goes to the STC program. Thus, less than 2% of NSF's research budget (which does not include any overhead funds for NSF) goes to the STCs. The STCs represent a pilot effort by NSF to achieve a more balanced approach to research problems that are amenable to different modes of support. The panel considers the center approach to be a valuable and necessary tool in NSF's portfolio of support mechanisms. The scope of the center approach is defined by the existence of important research problems that are most amenable to attack by research teams needing the distinctive combination of resources that define centers.

After reviewing the STC program, the panel offers the following recommendations:

  1. NSF should continue the STC program.

  2. Research and the undergraduate and graduate education linked to it should be the paramount goals of the STC program.

  3. In future solicitations, NSF should encourage but not require that proposed STCs be multidisciplinary.

  4. The level of funding for the STC program should be maintained to ensure that it retains its strength and vigor.

  5. The budget for the STC program should retain a separate identity. More

Suggested Citation:"EXECUTIVE SUMMARY." National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council. 1996. An Assessment of the National Science Foundation's Science and Technology Centers Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5401.
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over, the tradeoff between this program and other NSF activities should be made at the level of the NSF director.

  1. STC solicitations should be conducted openly across all fields by NSF as a whole (rather than within specific directorates), and existing STCs should be allowed to compete in this open process.

  2. The duration of STC awards should be 10 years. Two periodic solicitations should occur within that period.

  3. The differing roles of the NSF Office of Science and Technology Infrastructure and program directorates in the management of STCs are complementary and should be continued.

  4. NSF should place greater weight on scientific and administrative leadership in evaluating proposals for STCs and in the periodic reviews of centers.

  5. NSF should establish policies allowing center directors to allocate funds and other resources (e.g., staff) both within and among participating institutions, so as to optimize progress toward the center's goals. The limits of this unilateral authority should be clearly defined and procedures to make major reallocations beyond these limits should also be defined.

  6. NSF should make every effort needed to coordinate reviews of the centers to avoid redundant data collection and to make previously collected data available to all who may have good reason to be interested.

Suggested Citation:"EXECUTIVE SUMMARY." National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council. 1996. An Assessment of the National Science Foundation's Science and Technology Centers Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5401.
×
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Suggested Citation:"EXECUTIVE SUMMARY." National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council. 1996. An Assessment of the National Science Foundation's Science and Technology Centers Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5401.
×
Page 2
Suggested Citation:"EXECUTIVE SUMMARY." National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council. 1996. An Assessment of the National Science Foundation's Science and Technology Centers Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5401.
×
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The National Science Foundation requested that the Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy of the NAS, the NAE, and the IOM form a panel to evaluate the accomplishments of the NSF Science and Technology Centers program (not individual centers) against its goals in research, education, and knowledge transfer. This report is the result of the work of the panel charged with that effort, and provides recommendations for moving forward.

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