National Science Board Tackles the Challenge of Balancing Research Funding with Facility Upkeep

Jun 22, 2018

How do you walk the line between spending money to funding researchers, and building and maintaining cutting-edge facilities? As ongoing budget constraints remain a concern across all agencies, the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations tasked the Nation Science Board (NBS), the governing body of the National Science Foundation (NSF) to address this issue. The NSB recently released its findings in its report titled, “Study of Operations and Maintenance Costs for NSF Facilities.”

One of the primary assertions of the report is that grant success rates are dependent on multiple factors. The common belief that grant success rates come down to a toss-up between Operation and Maintenance (O&M) costs and grants is wholly inaccurate. While it is important to take the costs of maintaining and updating facilities into consideration, it should not come down to a choice between awarding a grant and updating a facility. “The time is right for NSF and NSB to consider how our strategic planning and budget mechanisms can evolve to reflect NSF’s mature facilities portfolio,” explained NSB Chair Diane Souvaine. “We face challenges that include bigger investments for state-of-the-art facilities, stewardship of facilities that rely on interagency and international partnerships, and divestment of facilities.”
Looking forward, the report makes three recommendations:

  • NSB and the NSF Director should enhance agency-level ownership of the facility portfolio to elevate strategic and budgetary decisions and the agency’s Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction account (MREFC) should allow for greater flexibility. 
  • NSF and NSB should reexamine what share of the agency’s budget should be devoted to research infrastructure.
  • NSB and NSF should develop model funding and governance schemes for the next generation of partnerships at the agency, interagency, and international levels.

“NSF can’t abandon its large facility pedigree if it wishes to remain a world leader in fundamental research,” said Peter Lepage, Chair of NSB’s Committee on Awards and Facilities. “Our recommendation for a flexible MREFC account aims to help divisions afford to develop and build large facilities while maintaining a robust grant program.”

To view the full report, click here: https://www.nsf.gov/nsb/publications/2018/NSB-2018-17-Operations-and-Maintenance-Report-to-Congress.pdf