national science foundation


national science foundation

No Longer a Lamp Under a Bushel Basket

Monday, April 10th, 2017 - 9:31
Discoveries like these are an entrepreneur’s dream, but they live in a different world than the scientists who develop these technologies. And their paths rarely cross. How can this dynamic be changed so discoveries move from the lab to markets more quickly, and don’t remain “a lamp under a bushel basket?”

Richard C. Hula

Sunday, March 28th, 2010 - 12:52
Richard C. Hula is professor of political science and urban affairs at Michigan State University. He is currently a co-director of MSU’s Program in Urban Politics and Policy. He served as the director of Michigan State’s Program in Public Policy and Administration from 1991 to 1996, and as an associate director in the Institute of Public Policy and Social Research from 1991 to 1998.

FY 2009 Financial and Performance Reports

Thursday, December 10th, 2009 - 15:32
If a tree falls in a forest, did it make a sound? The November 15th release of federal department and agency annual performance and accountability reports went largely un-noticed.  Not a mention in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal or Washington Post (even its Federal Page).

Anthony Arnolie interview

Friday, April 11th, 2008 - 20:00
Mr. Arnolie NSF's Director of the Office of Information and Chief Human Capital Office of Resource Management
Radio show date: 
Sat, 04/12/2008
Intro text: 
Mr. Arnolie NSF's Director of the Office of Information and Chief Human Capital Office of Resource Management
Complete transcript: 

Originally Broadcast April 12, 2008

Washington, D.C.

Announcer: Welcome to The Business of Government Hour, a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. The Business of Government Hour is produced by The IBM Center for The Business of Government, which was created in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. You can find out more about The Center by visiting us on the web at

And now, The Business of Government Hour.

Mr. Morales: Good morning. This is Albert Morales, your host, and managing partner of The IBM Center for The Business of Government.

Today, scientific discoveries are emerging at an accelerating pace in virtually every field, transforming the science and engineering landscape and opening entirely new territory for exploration. As one of the premier federal agencies supporting basic research at the frontiers of discovery across all fields, the National Science Foundation plays a critical role in keeping the U.S. competitive in the sciences. The success of such a vital national mission rests on the pursuit of an effective resource management approach and workforce strategy.

With us this morning to discuss NSF's strategic efforts in these areas is Anthony Arnolie, director of the Office of Information and Resource Management and NSF human capital officer.

Good morning, Anthony.

Mr. Arnolie: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

Mr. Morales: And joining us in our conversation is Solly Thomas, associate partner in IBM's Human Capital Practice.

Good morning, Solly.

Mr. Thomas: Good morning, Al. And good morning, Anthony. Good to see you again.

Mr. Morales: Anthony, let's start by setting some context for our listeners. Could you take a few minutes to provide us a general overview of the National Science Foundation, including its history and its mission today?

Mr. Arnolie: Certainly. The National Science Foundation is an independent federal government agency created by Congress in 1950 to, at that time, promote the progress of science, to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare, and to secure the national defense. Today, we fund basic research in scientific disciplines such as biology, geosciences, computer sciences, engineering, and education. And we fund researchers in all 50 states through grants to about 1,700 universities. And each year, we receive about 42,000 competitive proposals, and award about 10,000 new funding grants each year.

Mr. Morales: That's a fairly competitive statistic. Could you perhaps share some additional details to give us a perspective on the organization, such as how the Foundation is organized, the size of the overall budget, number of full-time employees and contractors, if you have such a mix?

Mr. Arnolie: The Foundation is run by a director and a deputy director who oversee the staff and management responsible for program creation and administration, merit review, planning, budget, and day-to-day operations. We also have a 24-member National Science Board that establishes the overall policies for the Foundation.

This year, our current budget is about $6 billion. And at present, we have a total workforce of about 1,700. That includes about 1,200 career employees, about 200 scientists from research institutions on temporary duty, and about 300 contract workers. And we're located in Arlington, Virginia.

Each year, NSF supports an average of about 200,000 scientists, engineers, educators, and students at universities, laboratories, and field sites across the country and throughout the world, from Alaska to Alabama and from Africa to Antarctica. You could say that NSF support goes to the ends of the earth to learn more about the planet and its inhabitants and to produce fundamental discoveries.

Mr. Thomas: Anthony, now that you've provided us with a sense of the larger organization, perhaps you could tell us more about your specific program. What are your responsibilities and duties as the director of the Office of Information and Resource Management, and as the National Science Foundation's chief human capital officer? Could you take a moment and tell us about the programs under your purview, how your office is organized, and the size of your staff and your budget?

Mr. Arnolie: Sure. As director of the Office of Information and Resource Management, I'm responsible for ensuring that NSF runs smoothly and efficiently from an operational perspective. Organizationally, I'm responsible for three divisions: the Division of Information Systems, the Division of Administrative Services, and the Division of Human Resource Management. These divisions collectively are responsible for developing and maintaining the technology infrastructure and systems that facilitate business operations, as well as the underlying IT security for managing the day-to-day administrative functions, such as building security, facilities management, proposal processing, conference and events management and visitor services, and also leading the agency's effective recruitment retention, motivation development, and utilization of NSF staff.

I manage about 165 federal employees and well over 200 contractors who work within these three divisions. Approximately 75 percent of the contractors perform information technology services, including application development, data center operations, and help desk support.

From a funding perspective, I'm responsible for a budget of approximately $100 million. And as the chief human capital officer, I serve as the senior strategic advisor for the deputy and the director of the agency on all human capital management issues. I'm accountable for the strategic management of NSF's unique workforce, which includes a large planned turnover of our scientific staff annually.

Mr. Morales: Anthony, if I may, just as a quick follow-up, is your role as director of the Office of Information and Resource Management effectively what people might recognize as a CIO?

Mr. Arnolie: The information technology function falls under my purview, but the CIO function and the Office of the CIO function is a separate function. So my role is a bit broader than just information technology, much like even though I hold the title of chief human capital officer, my role is broader than just human capital management.

Mr. Morales: Okay, thank you.

Mr. Thomas: Anthony, regarding your responsibilities and duties, what are the most significant challenges that you've faced in your position, and how have you addressed these challenges?

Mr. Arnolie: I would say the most significant challenge I've faced since I've been at NSF has been funding constraints and competing priorities, which are not unusual to small agencies in particular. We've been evolving from a small sort of off-the-radar agency to a much more highly visible one, which brings with it greater oversight and increased demands. Until this year, our funding for administrative activities has not kept pace with our needs and those demands, although I am beginning to see that change this year, finally, and I'm really excited about what the future holds as a result.

As a result of that situation, we've had to make some difficult choices among competing priorities. So for example, I oversee information technology as well as human capital management. Both of those are funded traditionally out of the same budget. And so there are often times where a decision has to maybe be made between hiring more people or investing more in technology, and clearly both of those are imperative to our mission, and so it does create some difficult challenges.

What I've done in my position is to aggressively work to educate our senior leadership on the importance of the administrative functions to the execution of our mission. And as I said, I think this year, we are finally starting to make some inroads and those messages are starting to take hold and we're starting to see the benefits in terms of a bigger budget.

Mr. Morales: That's fantastic.

Now, Anthony, I understand that prior to joining NSF, you came from the private sector. Could you describe your career path for our listeners? How did you get started, and what brought you to NSF?

Mr. Arnolie: Well, up until 2003, when I joined NSF, I spent my entire career in the private sector working for a number of accounting and professional services firms. I spent most of my career managing IT organizations, providing internal support to the consultants and accountants.

My most recent position was a partner in charge of technology administration at Arthur Andersen in New York. And it's not unknown to most what happened to Arthur Andersen as a part of the situation that took place with Enron. At the time, my wife and I were both partners at Arthur Andersen. We had met and both worked here in the D.C. area. We decided to move back. She continued in the accounting profession. We thought it wise for us to both not make the same mistake twice, if you will. And so I sought to find a challenging yet somewhat more stable occupation in the interest of our family.

Mr. Thomas: Diversification strategy.

Mr. Arnolie: Absolutely. Absolutely. Too many eggs in the same basket the first time around.

I was fortunate that the opportunity at NSF came up because it was similar from a functional standpoint to roles that I had had in the private sector, albeit obviously in a very different sector, which has been quite an interesting experience for me.

Mr. Morales: So as you sort of reflect on these experiences, how have they prepared you for your current leadership role at NSF and perhaps shaped your management approach and your leadership style today?

Mr. Arnolie: Well, I've had the fortune over my career of having six outstanding bosses, all of whom when perhaps I was maybe too young to trust, trusted me with quite a bit of responsibility. I think that what they did and the themes that I took away from working for them are ones that I apply today. The first being communication is critical. They taught me to speak honestly and frankly and expect the same in return.

The second is you must empower your staff and make sure that they take ownership for the success of whatever they're assigned with. Thirdly, that you must support them when they make mistakes and when they're being treated unfairly. And last but not least, as a leader, you must maintain your poise at all times, especially in the most difficult of situations. And as I said, each of my previous bosses exhibited those qualities, and I've tried to employ those in my management and leadership style.

Mr. Morales: Those are wonderful principles.

What is NSF's human resource strategy? We will ask Anthony Arnolie, director of the Office of Information and Resource Management and chief human capital officer at the National Science Foundation, to share with us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with Anthony Arnolie, director of the Office of Information and Resource Management and chief human capital officer at the National Science Foundation.

Also joining us in our conversation from IBM is Solly Thomas.

Anthony, let's talk a bit now about the President's Management Agenda and its focus on the improvement of management and accountability. What are some of the efforts within NSF to meet the requirements of the PMA today?

Mr. Arnolie: Well, when we embarked upon the PMA a few years ago, it really helped us as a small agency to institutionalize some of our important human capital functions and activities. And in particular, it helped us to bring some rigor to our evaluation processes.

NSF achieved green in human capital in 2005, and maintained that green for about two years up until this past June. The challenge that we faced, as I've alluded to earlier, had to do with limited funding. And as a result, we reached a point where there was a divergence between the agency priorities and some of the PMA requirements, and that left us in somewhat of a difficult position. Our funding was limited, and over time, we found it difficult to meet some of the ongoing requirements and still do what senior leadership at NSF was asking us to do.

Now, the good news is we had engaged senior leadership to the point where they had given us quite a list of human capital imperatives that they wanted us to carry out. We were working closely with senior management as well as all levels of the organization. And so while we would like to continue to work with OPM to see if we can get credit for some of the great work we're doing as an agency, and I think our director and deputy would support this, we're proud of the progress that we've been making, and we do credit the PMA for really getting us started down this road of a more rigorous approach to human capital management.

Mr. Morales: Anthony, let's probe on this area a bit more. If we focus on the theme of human capital, could you give us an overview of NSF's human capital strategy, and your efforts to develop a strategic human capital plan? How does the strategy align with and support the Foundation's core mission, goals, and organizational objectives?

Mr. Arnolie: Well, we've recently undertaken an effort to update our strategic human capital management plan, and the basis for that was the most recent update to the NSF strategic plan, so there is a very tight linkage between the human capital management plan and the agency's strategic plan. Our human capital vision is to attract, develop, and retain a diverse world-class workforce that is continually learning and expanding its capacity to shape the agency's future.

To that end, NSF senior leadership recognizes the value of strategic human capital planning as a key component of excellence in management. This is shown through the recent enhancement and ongoing implementation of our human capital management plan. And this plan is aligned to the agency's overall strategic plan as well as outlines goals, plans, and evaluation methods. A working group of senior career federal executives representing all of our key scientific disciplines was formed to update the plan and to ensure its relevancy to the agency's strategic goals and the needs of the strategic and scientific workforce.

Mr. Thomas: Anthony, staying on the human capital topic, as you know, the federal human resources community is changing from a transaction-based environment to a more strategic and consultative role. Could you tell the listeners about your efforts to transform the human resources function within the National Science Foundation? Specifically, how are you engaging the program directorates in order to anticipate human capital issues and improve processes while at the same time operating as consultants?

Mr. Arnolie: Well, under my tenure and under the leadership of the deputy CHCO, we've contracted out, over the last two years, many of our traditionally transaction-oriented duties. What that's allowed us to do is it's provided additional time for our permanent staff to serve in a more consultative role.

Additionally, we've recently implemented a service team concept. And what this entails is while we maintain our traditional functional branches, we deploy customer account representatives - CARs, we call them that are directly aligned to our internal customer organizations. These specialists strive to consult, coordinate, and communicate with their assigned organizations in order to improve our understanding of customer needs and to collaborate more closely for better, faster service. And so far, this concept seems to be working and our customers like it.

In addition, we are engaging senior leadership on a regular basis and discussing human capital issues that are of relevance to the strategic mission of the Foundation. On a quarterly basis, if not more often than that, we have a full agenda at our senior management meetings where we talk about a variety of human capital issues. The important point here is we don't spend a lot of time talking about staffing and classification, but really talking more about how we shape or reshape the workforce to respond to the needs of the scientific community.

And in addition, because we are a highly participatory organization, all of our strategic human capital initiatives are done in collaboration with the program directorates. I mentioned the updating of the human capital management plan as one example, but just about every one of our initiatives from a human capital standpoint is overseen by a steering committee or a working group that consists of representation from all parts of our organization.

Mr. Thomas: Anthony, let's talk a little bit about performance management. Could you tell us about the National Science Foundation's efforts to develop and implement an agency-wide performance management system, and in particular, the focus on aligning employee performance expectations with organizational goals and objectives?

Mr. Arnolie: Well, our performance plans for executives have been aligned to the agency mission for quite some time. In 2004, we expanded this to all general workforce performance plans. We held briefings for supervisors and staff. We set up frequently asked questions, and even created an internal web page to provide information and sample performance plans showing linkage to the mission. And within a short period of time, we had full compliance throughout the agency, and have been pleased with this result. As research shows that when employees see how their daily work supports the organization's goals, then their performance improves, and from there, organizational performance improves.

As far as the executive performance plans, we take a very rigorous and we'd like to think transparent approach to both the evaluation of the plans themselves and their linkage to mission, along with an evaluation of the appraisals and how effective the executives have been at carrying out what's documented in the performance plans. We think that this has been very important, both in terms of making sure that activities are aligned to the mission, and also that our executives are held accountable for delivering on those things documented in their plans.

Mr. Thomas: To accomplish its mission, the National Science Foundation invests in the best ideas generated by scientists, engineers, and educators across all fields of research and education. Could you give our listeners an overview of the Foundation's performance assessment framework? What exactly is the framework, and to what extent does it enable continuous improvement and ensure openness to the research and education communities serviced by the Foundation?

Mr. Arnolie: NSF conducts a wide range of internal and external assessment activities to evaluate and report on our strategic investments and how effectively the strategic plan is being implemented. Since we fund basic research in science and engineering and education, it's sometimes not possible to directly link outcomes to annual investments because the results from basic research oftentimes takes years to come to fruition. Consequently, we believe in assessing the true impact of NSF's activities by utilizing the qualitative judgment of outside experts. To that end, we have a few activities.

One is what we call committees of visitors. We rely on these external committees of experts to evaluate long-term outcomes resulting from NSF grants. The COVs, as we call them, meet every three years to review the program reviews and to provide into two areas: the assessment of the quality and integrity of program operations, and how the research results have contributed to the attainment of NSF's mission and strategic outcome goals.

We also utilize directorate and office advisory committees. The judgment of these external experts help NSF to maintain high standards of program management. They also provide advice for continuous improvement and ensure openness to the research and education community served by the Foundation. Each of our directorates has an external advisory committee that meets twice a year to provide a review of program operations, discuss important current issues, and approve recent reports from the relevant COVs.

Last but not least, we have an advisory committee for Government Performance and Results Act. This external advisory committee conducts an assessment of the entire portfolio of NSF investments in science, engineering, and education. Each year, the committee reviews the Foundation's investments to determine if NSF demonstrated significant achievement under these strategic goals. The committee submits a report to the NSF director, which is incorporated into the Foundation's annual report each year.

Mr. Morales: Now, Anthony, you talked a little bit about the connection between the program leadership and your organization. And I'm sure that the increase in multidisciplinary projects, international activities, and major research projects has increased the volume as well as the complexity of the workload over at NSF. But could you tell us a little bit more about the efforts to analyze these workload requirements? And what can you tell us about a pilot program currently underway to test a new organizational structure and operations model?

Mr. Arnolie: For many years, NSF has been a leading federal agency in leveraging technology to support business processes. With rapid increases in e-government solutions to conduct our core business, we discovered that there were resultant changes in employees' job functions and competencies.

In 2007, we developed a weighted workload model that compares NSF's workload indicators to the staffing levels in our directorates and offices. The trend data allows us to track changes in workload by workload type and by scientific discipline for each directorate and for each program. The model shows a significant increase in overall workload in the last seven years, with only a modest increase in our staffing levels. Further, the model projects continued increases in the coming years, and we continue to refine the model as new data becomes available.

In terms of the pilot, about two years ago we undertook what we called an administrative function study in order to understand and address the impact of changing business process and technology on the program support workforce. The goal was to better align the functions assigned to the administrative staff in support of the mission and to increase professional development opportunities for administrative staff by establishing career paths and learning maps.

The program support staff at NSF represents about 30 percent of our permanent workforce. And recommendations from this study have led to the development of new program support positions that have become part of a clearer career paths with extended professional opportunities that did not previously exist at NSF. In addition to the new positions and career paths, we've developed learning maps that help guide employees through their options for individual competency development, and allows them to target professional development opportunities at the Foundation.

The pilot was initiated in 2007 to test the management positions of this new model we created, and a structured learning and development plan is in place for each of the pilot positions for the duration in order to address the competency gaps assessed prior to the beginning of the pilot. Additional competency gap analysis will be conducted during the pilot. And at the end of the pilot, we will perform a formal evaluation in addition to the rolling evaluations to assess the validity of the pilot and to determine future plans for the new management positions.

Mr. Morales: That's great. It sounds like it's going very well.

Let me switch gears for a moment here, Anthony, and talk a little bit about the NSF Academy. Could you elaborate on how the Academy provides learning opportunities which support the agency's vision and mission? And since we do like to talk about technologies here, can you tell us a little bit about something called "Academy Learn?"

Mr. Arnolie: The NSF Academy serves as the catalyst for the creation of a continuous learning organization at the National Science Foundation. We have a highly educated workforce, and sometimes convincing them that further development and enrichment is necessary. But what we've tried to do with the Academy is, as I said, to simply serve as a catalyst for stimulating discussion and dialogue that might lead to that enrichment.

The Academy promotes organizational excellence through the advancement of human capital by proactively identifying and implementing programs necessary for the development of all of our employees. One unique offering that supports our mission-critical occupations is the Program Management Seminar. This seminar is NSF's orientation for new program officers, many of whom have never worked for the federal government before. In addition to introducing them to federal government requirements, the seminar examines our agency's culture and values centered around NSF's merit review of submitted proposals, and it also raises the new program officer's awareness of the diverse composition of NSF's workforce.

We also offer division director retreats twice a year and division director roundtables on a quarterly basis that are structured around topics of interest to our division directors and our deputy division directors. As an example of how NSF is a highly participatory organization, the planning committees who determine the agendas, the topics, the guests, are all the division directors and deputy division directors, with some assistance from my staff. In addition, the Academy is consistently evaluating and redesigning these programs to better meet the needs of our internal customers.

The NSF Academy is also embarking upon a blended approach to learning that enhances employee learning by allowing individuals to select the learning medium that best fits their individual needs. For example, the Academy provides standard classroom education, but it also provides e-business courses that can be accessed online 24/7 from home or work or while on travel.

We're currently implementing Academy Learn, a learning management system that contains a course catalogue of over 2,000 online courses, has an online technical library, and also has an individual learning plan built in that can communicate the employee's training needs and wants to their supervisor, so that supervisors can more fully support the learning process for our employees.

Mr. Morales: That's fantastic.

How does NSF manage a blended workforce? We will ask Anthony Arnolie, director of the Office of Information and Resource Management and chief human capital officer at NSF, to share with us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with Anthony Arnolie, director of the Office of Information and Resource Management and chief human capital officer at the National Science Foundation.

Also joining us in our conversation from IBM is Solly Thomas.

Anthony, like most organizations, workforce planning must be critical in helping your agency's leadership draw a clearer picture of the nature of the current and future human capital decisions. Could you tell us a bit about your efforts to enhance and institutionalize, perhaps, workforce planning within the Foundation?

Mr. Arnolie: Certainly. There's been quite a lot of activity around this in the last two years. As I mentioned before, our human capital strategic plan also includes a workforce plan as well as a succession plan, and those were recently updated to more closely align with the NSF's strategic plan. We assembled a group of senior executives from across the Foundation who led that effort and drafted a plan that was distributed to all NSF staff for comment, another example of the highly participatory nature even after the plan was developed. And we did this with the strategic plan as well. It was posted for comment for about three weeks for each and every one of the employees to provide feedback, and we did make changes as a result of that. That's somewhat of an aside.

But in any case, the workforce plan itself identifies the steps to align our workforce with our current and projected work requirements. Each year, the Division of Human Resource Management facilitates a workforce planning process with NSF senior management that results in an updated set of goals, priorities, and action strategies for workforce and staffing planning across the Foundation. This structured process has focused management efforts on strategic workforce planning, and I would say that's for the first time in many years at the Foundation.

At the same time, we've implemented a biannual staffing planning process with each directorate and office that focuses specifically on developing work unit staffing plans. The staffing planning process encourages directorates and offices to align their staffing strategies to the overall workforce plan.

Mr. Morales: Anthony, you mentioned succession planning. What are some of the efforts at NSF to ensure continuity of leadership through succession planning and executive development? Specifically, what changes are you perhaps making to the recruitment process that enable you to use flexible compensation strategies to attract and retain employees in some of the mission-critical areas?

Mr. Arnolie: The goal of our succession planning activities is to ensure a seamless transition in all of our executive leadership positions. We strive to enable continuity of business operations and to preserve critical organizational knowledge. Finally, we want to develop and nurture a cadre of executives that can lead the agency into the future. Some of our implementation strategies aim to broaden and deepen NSF's leadership pipeline through the implementation of a comprehensive leadership development program, to prepare leadership transition plans for all executive positions, and last but not least, to establish a comprehensive knowledge management and transfer strategy for all of our executive leadership positions.

Regarding our recruiting strategies, we use two principal avenues to hire staff. The first is the National Science Foundation Act of 1950, that authorized the creation of the agency and also authorizes us to appoint scientists and engineers without competition under the accepted service authority unique to our agency. This appointing authority provides us with the necessary flexibility to fill these mission-critical occupations. Compensation for these scientists and engineers is set within pay bands, and the use of additional incentives can also be authorized. Our administrative staff is hired using the same appointing and compensation rules as other agencies in the Executive Branch.

There are similarities in the recruiting processes for both of these groups and we've made substantial efforts to simplify the process, to leverage technology, and to look for ways to streamline the process. For example, we post our job information on both and USA Jobs. To the extent that there are individuals who are specifically looking for NSF opportunities, they would obviously find those on our website. And there are other individuals who may be seeking opportunities from NSF along with many other alternatives.

We've also adapted our recruiting processes to the needs and expectations of our key target applicant groups. For our professional scientific and engineering community, we use a streamlined application process. And these applicants may submit resumes that are much more in line with the types of CVs typically used in those professional communities. We also have extensive outreach efforts to the various scientific communities through what we call "Dear Colleague" letters, which solicit interest in our vacancies by contacting presidents of universities and chancellors who might know of worthy candidates who would be interested in an opportunity at NSF.

Last but not least, word of mouth is an extremely important tool in filling these positions. We turn over about 30 percent of our scientific workforce each year by design. And it's key for us for those individuals when they return to their home institutions to have had a positive experience, and therefore, be in a great position to recommend the next wave of individuals to serve the country by working at NSF.

Mr. Morales: That's great. It sounds like you're making it easier not only for the applicant, but as well as the managers within the organization who are seeking these candidates.

Mr. Thomas: Anthony, given NSF's mission, you seem to rely on a continual and transparent exchange between the broader science community and the Foundation itself. Could you tell us how federal managers can effectively manage an ever-increasing blended workforce composed of contractors and federal workers? And what are some of the key differences intrinsic to these core groups?

Mr. Arnolie: Our success in engaging the science community is in large part because we interact with them regularly and rely on them heavily to perform many key business functions of the Foundation. We not only recruit them for key leadership and program management positions, but we utilize them for merit review of competitive proposals as well as our performance assessment activities.

Now, while this enables fresh ideas regarding scientific research and the management of the agency, it does bring with it some challenges in terms of managing a blended workforce. When you factor in the increased reliance on contractors to perform many administrative functions, managing the NSF workforce can be challenging.

The good news is we have a very collegial culture, and the career federal employees at NSF provide mentoring support, and most importantly, stability to the agency's operations. One of the things that we try to do is we both try and engage the contractors and temporary staff as part of the NSF family. At the same time, we work closely to establish a strong core among the career executives and staff, because it's important for the contractors and temporary workers to hear and for the messages to be reinforced as to what's important to the Foundation.

And so we find that it's the permanent staff that allow us to do that. We have a very dedicated and committed staff, and they really make it possible for this rotation of temporary workers to come in and out and still allow the business of the Foundation to continue.

Mr. Thomas: As you know, Anthony, the younger employees have different attitudes, behaviors, and expectations for their careers and the workplace. In general, they tend to be more flexible and more mobile, and therefore, we expect them to change employers and jobs several times. They also typically look for more flexibility from their employers and greater support at the workplace.

Could you tell our listeners about the National Science Foundation's efforts to meet the challenge of this changing workforce?

Mr. Arnolie: In part, I think we're meeting the needs of this group by expanding our use of the Federal Career Intern Program as well as the Presidential Management Fellows Program. In addition, as you know, we're widely recognized as one of the great places to work in the federal government, and we offer many amenities, such as an on-site fitness center, an on-site child care center, on-site health services, on-site caf�, library services, and proximity to a shopping mall.

We also offer detailed assignments that offer interesting developmental opportunities for our employees. For the last six years, the number of telework agreements on file at the Foundation have increased, and telework is clearly one of those areas that's appealing to employees of all ages. That said, NSF is in a somewhat unique position because for many of the positions we try and fill, the requirements greatly limit our pool and our opportunities to go after some of the younger employees, in that a Ph.D. with six years of experience after attaining it is often a requirement for many of our program management positions. And so we look to leverage as best we can the opportunities to attract younger employees for those positions that they would qualify for.

Mr. Thomas: The NSF is also co-managing partner and a consortium leader for the grants management line of business. And you recently launched a web portal called Could you tell us about this specific effort, and to what extent does your office support systems necessary to manage the Foundation's grant-making process?

Mr. Arnolie: Certainly. NSF is a single-mission agency that fulfills that mission by issuing grants, so it's critical that our IT investments support and enable those business processes. is a new initiative that supports the grant-making process by providing a menu of services tailored to the needs of the research community, and enables NSF to comply with recent government-wide mandates and guidelines.

We were selected by OMB to lead the research focus grants management consortium because of our successful track record with our existing grants management system, FastLane, our leadership position in the research community, and our high standards and performance for our customers. allows us to leverage FastLane's capabilities to deliver common grants management services, and allows us to serve as a lead partner for federal research-oriented, grant-making agencies with a shared vision of increasing customer service for the research community while streamlining and standardizing the business process among the partner agencies. provides public-facing services for the broader research community, and business services for institutions that apply for and receive grants from participating federal research agencies.

The first of many business services that we offer is grants application status, and we recently released this in a beta mode. It will allow applicants to check the status of grant applications submitted to NSF and any of its partners in one single location. As this initiative matures, will continue to develop and implement additional services in support of the science, engineering, research, and education mission.

Mr. Morales: Anthony, in the past year, we've seen a surge of federal agencies and a variety of communities launching their own version of a Wikipedia or a blog. Could you talk about efforts within NSF to leverage these new social networking ideas and technologies such as blogs and wikis? And specifically from perhaps your vantage point, how can such tools enhance NSF's ability to collaborate and communicate?

Mr. Arnolie: NSF has several methods by which we interact with our communities, both internal and external. There's active interest among our scientists and engineers to explore and use various collaboration tools, and our connection with the academic community keeps us on the constant lookout for the latest technologies.

Regarding wiki technology, we launched the first NSF wiki in 2005, and it has been in agency-wide use for over the last two or three years. Currently, we have about 20 distinct groups that use the NSF wiki for a variety of purposes, such as project updates, meeting minutes, notices of interest, and posting and updating standard operating procedures. Right now, we're exploring the development of a wiki that can be used for both internal staff and their external communities for collaboration. All these tools can help NSF to better communicate and collaborate. We also have the luxury internally of being located in one location, which facilitates a lot more face-to-face collaboration, which is not always an option for some other organizations.

Mr. Morales: Let me switch subjects here for a moment. A major cyber security concern with the federal government these days is employees perhaps not thinking about the risks and being careless about personal information and data security. What steps have you taken to create or cultivate a culture of accountability and protection for sensitive personal information?

Mr. Arnolie: We strive to balance security and privacy considerations, such as the protection of personal information and data, with the open and collaborative environment that's central to the scientific research and discovery. User education we think is the critical success factor in maintaining this appropriate balance.

Our key message establishes accountability. Each employee is responsible for recognizing personal information and avoiding inappropriate access, use, or disclosure. We hold annual security awareness training, which is required or all employees and other on-site staff. We also hold ongoing outreach activities to remind employees of their responsibilities with respect to protection of personal information.

Keeping users informed is just one component of NSF's security and privacy strategy. NSF's information systems are designed to facilitate work processes while providing appropriate levels of protection for security information, which is not a trivial task given that we receive 42,000 proposals each year for research, education, and training projects, and we receive several thousand applications annually for graduate and postdoctoral fellowships.

One of the things that we've done recently, in 2007, we stopped collecting Social Security numbers from individuals that conduct business with the Foundation, and assigned unique NSF IDs to replace those SSNs for all individual accounts in our grants management system, and this constituted over 350,000 records. We also implemented other technical controls, such as data encryption and secure access mechanisms that are employed where appropriate to provide additional layers of protection for sensitive personal information.

Finally, our security and privacy program could not be successful without the involvement and dedication of senior management, particularly the director and the deputy director. When senior leadership makes it clear that security and privacy are priorities, then the Foundation listens.

Mr. Morales: That's great.

What does the future hold for the National Science Foundation? We will ask Anthony Arnolie, director of the Office of Information and Resource Management and chief human capital officer at the Foundation, to share with us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with Anthony Arnolie, director of the Office of Information and Resource Management and chief human capital officer at the NSF.

Also joining us in our conversation from IBM is Solly Thomas.

Anthony, in addition to your role at NSF, I understand that you're also the chairman of the Small Agency Council. Could you tell us more about the Council and its charter? Specifically, what kinds of agencies are represented on the Council and what are the goals of the Council?

Mr. Arnolie: Sure. The Small Agency Council is a voluntary management association of sub-cabinet independent federal agencies. It was established in 1986 with the purpose of achieving three major goals: the first, to ensure that federal policy oversight agencies consider implications to small agencies when developing management policies; the second, to exchange approaches for improving management and productivity at small agencies; and the third, to share management resources so as to strengthen the internal management practices of small agencies.

Now, the loose definition of a small agency is an agency with less than 6,000 employees. Currently, the Small Agency Council has over 80 member agencies representing about 50,000 federal employees, and each of those agencies is represented by a principal management official who generally oversees agency management functions such as personnel, budget, procurement, finance, and information resources management. The full Council meets at least two times a year to discuss a variety of management issues of concern to small agencies.

The Council also has a number of committees that represent small agencies on specialized issues, including information technology, finance, procurement, training, and administrative services. Personnel from these agencies who work in these functional areas sit on these committees and help to widen the overall scope and effectiveness of the Council. In addition, we're also represented on many federal policy oversight organizations such as the Chief Human Capital Officers Council, the Federal CFO Council, and the Federal CIO Council.

Small agencies that have joined the Council are responsible for managing a wide array of federal programs and implementing various statutes. Members have diverse program responsibilities, including private and public sector employment, commerce and trade, energy and science, transportation, national defense, finance, and cultural issues. Almost half of the Council is divided among regulatory and enforcement agencies, and the remaining half is divided among grant-making, advisory, and uniquely chartered organizations. There are many sized agencies represented, including several so-called micro agencies with less than 100 employees.

During my tenure as chair, I believe the Council has further advanced the cause and unique issue of small agencies through the power of its collective voice and membership, which is really the main charter of the Council. For those who are interested in learning more about the Small Agency Council, please visit

Mr. Morales: Great.

Now, as a follow-up, could you tell us more about the efforts on the part of the Council to establish a human resources training academy? What is this training academy, and how might it operate?

Mr. Arnolie: Actually it's not the Small Agency Council, but the Small Agency Human Resource Council that has created the human resources training academy for small agencies. The "SAHR C," as they're called, operates independently from the Small Agency Council. However, because my deputy division director for human resource management is a co-chair of this training committee, I can actually tell you a little bit more about it.

Two courses have recently been held, and both were well-attended. And at this time, instructors are being sought among the different small agencies to train on a wide variety of topics within the HR arena, such as workforce planning, labor relations, and benefits. I should also mention that the Small Agency Council administers a training program each year through voluntary contributions from member agencies. This program allows us to pool and leverage funding from across the government agencies to make training opportunities available to small agency personnel. This is particularly beneficial to some of the micro agencies and other really small agencies that would otherwise not have the opportunity in some cases to provide their personnel with required training.

Mr. Thomas: Anthony, let's come back to your role at the National Science Foundation. In transitioning to the future, how do you envision NSF's human capital needs evolving in the next two to three years? And how do you envision your office evolving over that same period of time to support this transition?

Mr. Arnolie: I think what we'll do is we will continue our aggressive push to hire more staff. We're in desperate need, and we'll continue to focus on that. We plan to continue our efforts to redefine the NSF workforce and equip them with the skills and competencies that they need to be successful and to carry out the agency's mission. We'll continue to look for ways to leverage technology solutions to improve our work processes. And we'll also continue to implement work-life programs that improve both the quality of work and the quality of life for our staff.

My office will continue to strategically align itself with our customers, listen intently to their needs, and work closely with them to create and customize our service offerings and deliver the services and solutions that help the agency carry out its mission.

Mr. Thomas: Now, there has been much discussion about the pending retirement wave in government and what type of impact it will have on agencies. What are you seeing within NSF, and what plans are in place to mitigate its effect?

Mr. Arnolie: Well, as it turns out, our retirement projections aren't as grim as the federal government overall. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 50 percent of all federal employees and 70 percent of all federal senior managers will be eligible to retire by 2010. At NSF, by contrast, only about 20 percent are eligible today, and 39 percent will be eligible in 2011. In addition, and maybe more importantly, NSF staff tend to work longer into their retirement eligibility years.

With the recent adoption of the updated NSF strategic plan and the importance of aligning the agency's human capital management with the Foundation's strategic goals and priorities, a succession planning working group was tasked to update key elements of the human capital management strategy, including leadership succession planning, goals, and strategies.

Some specific succession planning concepts being implemented include identifying best practices in leadership transition and knowledge transfer, providing hands-on learning and mentoring for potential leaders, and appraising senior leadership on their succession planning efforts. And we believe that focusing on those particular areas will put us in the best position to handle any retirement wave that we might face in the years to come.

Mr. Morales: Anthony, you previously talked about how NSF has received the honors as one of the agencies titled as the best places to work. And in fact, you've obviously ranked consistently near the top on that list. So other than some of the things that you've mentioned, what do you think are some of the keys to your success as a best place to work?

Mr. Arnolie: Well, I'd like to take a lot of credit for that since it's the Federal Human Capital Survey that yields those results, but the truth is it's the NSF staff that make NSF a great place to work. It's very participatory, as I said before. Every individual believes that they have a voice and that what they have to say can influence the agency's priorities and the agency's strategic direction. I think that that is an important factor in people coming to the Foundation and wanting to stay at the Foundation.

In addition, I think that we have a very unique and very important mission in terms of funding basic research. We promote science and innovation through all types of science disciplines, and I think it's critically important. Two items that might not directly be connected to NSF in the public's eyes would be the initial investments we made to lead to the creation of the Internet, or the investments that we made in a small group of principal investigators who later went on to found Google. So those are two of the things that as an employee of NSF, you recognize that the work we do really in the near and the longer term future promote incredible innovations in science, engineering, research, and education that are critically important to the country.

As I said earlier, one of the other reasons I think we are considered one of the best places to work is we do all that we can to provide a variety of work-life programs that are meaningful and beneficial to our staff. I mentioned the on-site child care center, the on-site fitness center, the on-site health services, along with retirement counseling and tuition assistance. We continue to try and add to our portfolio work-life programs to the fullest extent possible.

Mr. Morales: That's great.

On that same note, Anthony, we have a number of listeners who may be thinking about a career in public service. Now, given your own federal experience and the transition from the private sector, what advice might you give someone out there who's perhaps considering a role in government?

Mr. Arnolie: Well, there are a number of agencies with different missions who serve this country in different ways. I would suggest that you explore a bit to find a fit between what you value and what you're interested in and what your strengths are and what those agencies do. I know that agencies are working hard to be more flexible in terms of work schedules and work assignments, so don't assume there isn't a good fit for you. Finally, understand that there's nothing more important than service to your country, so lend us your talents and you might find a rewarding, challenging, and personally enriching opportunity awaits you. That was certainly the case for me, and continues to be the case for me at NSF.

Mr. Morales: That's wonderful advice.

Unfortunately, we have reached the end of our time. I do want to thank you for fitting us into your busy schedule, but more importantly, Solly and I would like to thank you for your dedicated service to our country in your roles at NSF.

Mr. Arnolie: Thank you. And I guess I'd like to finish by saying a recent study said that there was a very positive impression of who NSF was, but by that same audience, not a clear understanding of exactly what we do. So what I would encourage you to do is to go to and learn more about what the Foundation is all about, the areas that we provide funding for, and the types of activities that might be of interest to those of you seeking employment in the federal government.

Mr. Morales: That's great.

This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation with Anthony Arnolie, director of the Office of Information and Resource Management and chief human capital officer at the National Science Foundation.

My co host has been Solly Thomas, associate partner in IBM's Human Capital Practice.

As you enjoy the rest of your day, please take time to remember the men and women of our armed and civil services abroad who may not be able to hear this morning's show on how we're improving their government, but who deserve our unconditional respect and support.

For The Business of Government Hour, I'm Albert Morales. Thank you for listening.

Announcer: This has been The Business of Government Hour.

Be sure to join us every Saturday at 9:00 a.m., and visit us on the web at There, you can learn more about our programs and get a transcript of today's conversation.

Until next week, it's

Dr. Rita Colwell interview

Friday, July 11th, 2003 - 20:00
Dr. Rita Colwell
Radio show date: 
Sat, 07/12/2003
Intro text: 
Dr. Rita Colwell
Complete transcript: 

Arlington, Virginia

July 1, 2003

Mr. Lawrence: Good morning and welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, the partner in charge of The IBM Center for The Business of Government. We created the Center in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. Find out more by visiting us on the web at

The Business of Government Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. Our special guest today and our conversation this morning is with Dr. Rita Colwell, director of the National Science Foundation.

Good morning.

Dr. Colwell: Good morning. It's a pleasure to be here.

Mr. Lawrence: And joining us in our conversation is Tom Burlin.

Good morning, Tom.

Mr. Burlin: Good morning, Paul. Good morning, Rita.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, Rita, let's start by finding out more about NSF. Could you tell us about its mission and its activities?

Dr. Colwell: The mission of NSF is to continue to ensure America's place at the forefront of scientific and engineering capability, and to develop a technically competent workforce for what is a rapidly changing world.

Mr. Lawrence: Could you give us a sense of the budget and the number of people who work there, and even the types of people? When I think about science, I think of a wide range of people.

Dr. Colwell: The budget right now for fiscal 2003 is $5.3 billion. We have a staff of about 1,250 full-time employees and about 350 contract employees. We have a lot of rotating scientists and educators, meaning people who come in, probably about 5- or 600 of the total, who come in for two or three years, scientists from university, from industry, who will spend time with us and continually bring in the wonderful new ideas, new thoughts, new directions. It's a very dynamic situation.

Mr. Lawrence: And they're coming from academia?

Dr. Colwell: They come from academia predominantly, universities around the country, but also we do bring in folks from industry on occasion.

Mr. Lawrence: Now NSF has a unique governance structure. Could you tell us about the National Science Board?

Dr. Colwell: The National Science Foundation was established in 1950. It was an act of Congress signed by Harry Truman on May 10, 1950, from the back of a train in Pocatello, Idaho. So if you pass through Pocatello, have a toast to the National Science Foundation. But it comprises the director and the National Science Board, which is very interesting because the director, I report directly to the President of the United States. The Science Board reports to the director, advises the director, and advises the President on major policy issues. Its role is to set policy for the foundation and to advise the director on the processes of the foundation, mainly with respect to policy. It approves budgets and it acts as a sounding board. It's very helpful and it's quite unique.

Mr. Burlin: Thank you, that's very informative. Rita, how about yourself? Can you share with us some of your roles and responsibilities as the director?

Dr. Colwell: As the director of the National Science Foundation, I have a staff of about, let's say, 9 or 10 people who report directly to me. Altogether, including the fiscal officers and the legal counsel and so forth, it's probably a team of about a dozen that are the major senior council for the National Science Foundation. Interestingly, the National Science Foundation sets the direction really for fundamental research and engineering in the United States. We fund everything from anthropology and archeology all the way to zoology, if you will, engineering, biosciences, computer sciences, social/behavioral/economic sciences, as well as the traditional math, physics, chemistry, material science. So we fund research for the country.

And the proposals come in. They are prepared by scientists and engineers around the country. We receive about 35,000 proposals every year and we have about 50,000 people on the Rolodex, if you will, who act as reviewers. So we do about 250,000 reviews and then we select 9,000 proposals. We usually have about 10,000 ongoing, so it's somewhere between 19,000 and 20,000 proposals that we're managing every year.

So it's a complicated job in that I coordinate what goes on within the NSF, but I'm also the spokesperson externally, which means a lot of talks, visits, site visits, speeches, throughout the country. I must say it's a challenge, but it's wonderful. I often tell people I have the best job in Washington.

Mr. Burlin: That's wonderful. One of the things that's always interesting to me is the background and experiences that prepare people for these types of positions. Can you share with us some of your prior career experiences prior to becoming the director of NSF?

Dr. Colwell: I do have a rather unusual background in that I have a background that includes a bachelor's degree in bacteriology. Now in the time since I got my degree, generally most universities now would have that included within a Department of Biology. I did a master's degree in genetics, classical genetics and molecular genetics, which was really a very good foundation. And from there, studies at the University of Washington in Seattle on marine microbiology, which means that I have a degree, a Ph.D., in oceanography. Now that's quite unusual because it's a span of training that I think has enabled me to be an effective director.

I did a post-doc in Canada at the National Research Council, and spent time, therefore, in another country. Well, you may not consider Canada another country, but I think Canada certainly does. From there, I taught at Georgetown University, and then at the University of Maryland as a full professor with a very active research group; founded the Sea Grant College Program at the University of Maryland, College Park, and then founded the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute. This occurred while I was the academic vice president and provost for the University of Maryland system. From there, of course, I was tapped to become the director of the National Science Foundation.

My research, personal research, has involved work in Bangladesh and India on cholera, tracking the origins of cholera. We made some very exciting discoveries over the last 25 years showing that the bacterium really is an environmental bacterium. Here's a clue that I got being a marine microbiologist: I discovered that the bacterium, in fact, requires salt for growth because it's marine and it's associated with plankton. And we were able to use remote sensing to show the relationship of the epidemics of cholera with sea surface temperature and sea surface height, which means tides and the ocean influenced cholera epidemics.

This was quite unheard of and, of course, was against the dogma, but we were able to put all of the basic research to good practical use. We discovered that the bacterium are attached to plankton, microscopic animals living in the sea. We were able to show that if you took cloth, the cloth that women use for their dresses, sari cloth, folded 4 to 8 times, you got a very good filter of about 20 micrometers, and these plankton are about 200 micrometers. So we did a very large study showing that if you filtered water before you drank it in these villages where they don't have water purification, we were able to reduce it by 48 percent. So that was a major study that showed a very practical human benefit from all of this research, which included oceanography, clinical microbiology, medicine, remote sensing, mathematics, mathematical modeling, et cetera.

So it was a very interesting background that led to some very important human discoveries, which is one of the reasons why I love being at the National Science Foundation, because it covers all of science. And it's like being in a candy store for scientist to be at the head of the National Science Foundation.

Mr. Burlin: As I said, I'm never disappointed with that question because I find that it takes very diverse and convergent backgrounds to be able to take on responsibilities as broad as that as the director of NSF. Is there any particular experience that you would relate back to that really helps you in your current position?

Dr. Colwell: I do think that running a very large laboratory was the primary training. At the University of Maryland, I had a laboratory at one point with 30 or 40 people and a budget well over a million dollars, and this was, you know, 20, 25 years ago when a million dollars was a whole lot more than it is now, unfortunately for us now. And it was an important responsibility to keep track of the funding, to keep track of students, graduate students, and their career progress, to have postdoctoral fellows, and to have visiting scientists from countries all over the world. At one point, they referred to my lab as the United Nations because we had scientists from Africa and Europe and the U.K. and Japan and China. But it was very good for the students, and certainly a marvelous training for interdisciplinary international science, much of what NSF does.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, that's a good point.

We've heard a lot already about NSF grants. Who's eligible, how much money's involved, and what's the process? We'll ask Dr. Rita Colwell of NSF to tell us more about the grants when The Business of Government Hour returns.


Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, and this morning's conversation is with Dr. Rita Colwell, director of the National Science Foundation.

And joining us in our conversation is Tom Burlin.

Well, Rita, can you tell us about the NSF's strategic goals of people, ideas, and tools?

Dr. Colwell: Well, the most important thing we do starts with people. It extends well beyond the scope of our 1,300 or 1,400 employees, because our programs impact almost a quarter-million people, from senior researchers down to K-12 students. Now people are fundamental. These are the graduate students, the faculty, the high school students. Altogether, we touch each year, as I say, nearly a quarter or a million people. Their ideas are critical because, after all, that is what comprises the grants that they submit.

And then what is very important and has become increasingly so are the tools, the high-end computers, the telescopes for astronomers, the laser interferometer gravitational wave observatories for physicists and astrophysicists. These are critical to carrying out science in the 21st century. And we find that even the social/behavioral scientists are now increasingly requiring very large-scale and, unfortunately, expensive tools because they are mining databases. In fact, the term "computational sociologist" is one that is increasingly common because sociologists analyze very large lots of data, and these large databases require computing, either personal computers or computers connected to very large high-end computers. And that means that we're focused on providing a cyber infrastructure; that is, connectivity, for all scientists and engineers around the country to computing capacity.

So we believe that people, their ideas, and the tools they need to carry out their ideas and their explorations comprise the holistic approach and the fundamental aspect of the National Science Foundation. We say this because it makes it very clear and very straightforward what NSF is all about.

Mr. Burlin: Doctor, you know, a new goal this year is for organizational excellence. Can you tell us what steps you've taken to address this goal?

Dr. Colwell: We've done quite a lot. When I first came to NSF, we set our ambitions to doubling the budget and, therefore, to have a management capability that would handle a large budget, and to be the most efficient and the most effective agency in the entire federal government. We established that as one of our goals, along with enhancing people, ideas, and tools; that is, good management. We brought in video teleconferencing capability so that we could reach any part of the country and interact with individuals. That proved extremely important post-9/11 because we were able to continue with our panels.

We also established NSF as an electronic agency. And now 99.99 percent of our proposals come in electronically; they're reviewed electronically, they're processed with panels using computer E-business rooms, and the reports are prepared by the time the panel finishes. The awards are made electronically, and the monitoring of the awards reports and financial reports are electronic.

Now as a result of our emphasis on good business practices, we've established, for example, an external review committee for our business practices. No other agency, I believe, has done that. And we've brought in experts from industry, from other government agencies, previous employees from the OMB, good advisers from outside, and these folks meet several times a year and advise us on our business practices. The consequence is a very good one. We are the only agency to receive a green light in the federal government, both in financial management and in E-business.

Mr. Lawrence: Let me ask you about setting priorities for NSF. You have a finite amount of money, and it sounds like many more requests than you can support. How do you determine priorities and balance that with new areas?

Dr. Colwell: We establish priorities because of several reasons. One is that there is a limited amount of money, as you said. $5.3 billion sounds like a lot, but when you've got thousands of scientists out there from 2,000 universities and other research institutions, they can, as they do, submit many times more dollar requests than we can afford to provide.

We also ensure in the reviewing of the grants that we seek out the very best of the science and engineering and the cutting edge. How do we achieve what is cutting edge or determine what is cutting edge? Probably this is by proposal pressure, because if you begin to see a lot of proposals coming in, in, let's say, information technology, you have a notion that things are happening.

Secondly, we have advisory committees for each one of our directorates. We have seven directorates and two offices. Each of these has an advisory committee. They also have a Committee of Visitors who come in after the awards have been made to see how well we have actually fulfilled our strategic plan and directions.

And we have workshops. We bring in the best and brightest: young people, seasoned veterans to advise on the direction science is going. And with all of this input we were able to establish quite early that information technology was fundamental to all of science and very, very important for us to fund.

Nanotechnology was an area that was beginning to really explode, and we needed to invest in nanotech. Mathematics is fundamental to all of the sciences and engineering, and we needed to establish primacy, leadership, in mathematics, so that became an area of importance.

Biocomplexity, understanding the complexity of the environment, understanding how it works as a system, we've been spending a lot of time drilling down to the atomic structure, and we had a lot of information at the atomic, molecular, organismic, community, and system level, and we needed to bring all that information together in the direction of biocomplexity.

And then a workforce for the 21st century. If we don't focus on K-12 education, science and math education, we aren't going to have the scientists and engineers we need for the 21st century. And more recently, we had been focusing on the human and social dimension. How does society respond to change? How can we interact with computers? What is the future for social, behavior, and economic dimensions of science? So these became our priorities through this very complicated process of evaluation and ensuring that we're right there at the cutting edge.

Mr. Burlin: Well, Rita, I think I've shared with you many, many years ago that as a lowly undergraduate biology student, I was a recipient of a National Science Foundation grant. However, a HP scientific calculator was high-tech back then, and I'm sure things have changed. Could you give us an overview of the different directorates within the Science Foundation, and also the process for applying for grants? Who's eligible, what's a typical grant?

Dr. Colwell: The directorates include the biological sciences; the geo sciences; mathematical and physical sciences, which means math, chemistry, material science, physics; social and behavioral and economic sciences; engineering, which is very important; and education and human resources; that is all the programs for K-12, graduate fellowships, IGERT fellowships, and so forth.

And we also have an Office of Polar Programs. We run the research programs in the Antarctic and also in the Arctic. This is quite exciting because it means as director, I get to go to the South Pole and to the North Pole. And I must tell you, that's very, very exciting.

We also have an Office of Integrative Activities where we have major programs, like the science and technology centers, infrastructure support programs. That means instrumentation and that sort of thing are coordinated through the Office of Integrative Activities.

For grants, we have a grant proposal guide. It's online, so you can go online for it. It's very straightforward. It describes how you submit proposals. And we have periodic solicitations where we send out notices and ask for proposals for most of the programs. Now people can apply for grants individually, scientists and engineers at universities or research institutes. But if it's not under a specific program solicitation where we're asking for proposals, it's better if the individual, if you as an individual scientist call the program manager, find out just where your ideas for a proposal would fit, and that advice would be I think a very efficient way for you to go about submitting a proposal.

Mr. Lawrence: How does one get to green on the President's Management Scorecard? We'll ask Dr. Rita Colwell of NSF to tell us about this achievement when The Business of Government Hour continues.


Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, and this morning's conversation is with Dr. Rita Colwell. She's the director of the National Science Foundation.

And joining us in our conversation is Tom Burlin.

Mr. Burlin: Thanks, Paul.

Doctor, you mentioned earlier about the President's Management Agenda and receiving green lights. In fact, the National Science Foundation is the only agency that has gotten those green lights in the President's Management Agenda. Can you describe to us some of your activities to date, specifically in E-government?

Dr. Colwell: The President has embraced NSF's vision and its value to the nation. I think this was clearly stated when OMB Director Mitch Daniels called NSF one of the true centers of excellence in the government, and we are very proud of that. Two green lights from OMB for financial management and E-government underscore, I think, the confidence in the way NSF does its business.

That success is due to stewardship and accountability of our resources. We also have applied very high-quality business services to internal and external customers. That is, we have done surveys to find out what our customers, namely our PIs, find important, what we do well and what we don't do well. We've learned that one of the things that was critical for them was to find out the decision on their proposals within six months. So we set ourselves a goal of at least 70 percent of our proposals would be reviewed, evaluated, and determined and announced to the principal investigators as to the decision within six months. Well, we worked really hard on it, and we managed to beat that by 74 percent of the proposals.

But it's that kind of interaction with the community, knowing what's needed and being highly responsive to the community and using electronic systems for our operations and transactions, and also establishing constructive partnerships to pilot the new practices and specialized services. This has given us I think a leg up in achieving our goal of continuing to be the best-managed agency in the government.

And we have a quality-based versus a quantity-based performance measuring system. We want to make sure what we do is the very best. And we have, I think, a good management that leads to very high performance of our staff, and we care very much about our staff and their careers. We've established within NSF an academy that provides career path and personal development. Our staff can get degrees externally at the university or they can take courses through the academy to achieve the kind of performance capabilities, whether it's using computers or doing accounting, et cetera. So I think it's managing the constancy of change, growth, and constant improvement. I think these are the keys to our performance.

Mr. Burlin: Can you tell us, are there any specific examples of how technology has changed the way you do business?

Dr. Colwell: Very clearly, being totally electronic has made a huge difference. We review all of our proposals. We receive them, review them, and manage them entirely through computing capability. Technology has changed significantly through e-mail, through business practices, through constant upgrading of the computer system. One of the very first things we did five years ago was upgrade the telephone system, and even the telephone system now becomes almost part of the business apparatus through voice mail and messaging. So I would say that technology has made a huge difference in how we run the foundation.

Mr. Lawrence: NSF was one of the first agencies to go green in financial management. Could you tell us about this accomplishment?

Dr. Colwell: I think the most important aspect of it was good financial practices; that is, accountability; good accounting practices; good planning on the part of NSF; competitive sourcing; undertaking an extensive human capital plan this year, which we have underway, from which we can pull the proper strategy to fit our human capital needs. That's very important. And our unique mix of full-time and rotator personnel, keeping a good balance between those who come in for two or three years bringing good ideas, and those who are the important continuing personnel throughout the agency.

We consider NSF as sort of like a laboratory: constantly testing, modeling, self-examining. We look for peer review for our research, and we also have peer review for our institutional knowledge and our business practices. As I mentioned earlier, we use an external advisory committee of peers to examine our business practices and to address the issues as they come up, challenges that we have periodically.

And I think the General Accounting Office has identified NSF's readily visible culture of self-evaluation. The GAO defines it as self-examination, data quality, analytic expertise, and collaborative partnerships. I think that's pretty strong praise for an agency to come from GAO.

Mr. Burlin: Throughout your conversations, you continually refer back to the people. Can you tell us what the National Science Foundation is doing in regards to its people, its human capital?

Dr. Colwell: Well, the human capital, we consider our most precious resource. We've established the NSF Academy for Career Path Development. We've also made a strong effort to determine in our planning for human resources the kind of job growth within the NSF. We have found that our human capital, our people, are highly prized and constantly recruited. In order to retain our people, we want to make sure we have a career path for them.

I find that, quite honestly, people like the NSF and stay a long time. It's very common and frequent to have retirement parties for people who've been at NSF 29 or 30 years, 35 years. That's an indication of job satisfaction.

We also make an effort to learn what will improve the job environment for our staff. And this is done in a variety of ways, through surveys and boxes for suggestions and so forth. But I think we have in the NSF a loyal, hard-working, committed, dedicated staff and I'm very proud of them.

Mr. Burlin: Change the subject a little bit. You mentioned competitive sourcing. That's a hot topic around the Washington area now. Can you tell us, in an area as challenging as the National Science Foundation, what you're doing in the way of competitive sourcing and how that may be more difficult for an agency like the NSF?

Dr. Colwell: Well, I think, frankly, the fact that we have about 5- or 600 rotators means that we are outsourcing, because these are not permanent employees. They're IPAs who come in, they're rotators. So we have a constant influx of ideas and new staff. We have also worked very hard to determine those jobs that can be contracted. And I mentioned earlier that we have 350 contractors amongst our employees. We do our very best to determine those tasks that can be done by nongovernment employees, but we also make sure that the fundamental operations of the NSF, which really require the NSF government employees to undertake, are defined and protected, so to speak.

Mr. Lawrence: One of the things you've talked about throughout this part of our conversation is about accountability. How do you ensure accountability in the implementation of the Management Agenda?

Dr. Colwell: Accountability is critical because we are accountable to Congress. We're accountable to the Office of Management and Budget, the President, and we're accountable to our principal investigators to ensure that we carry out the research the way it should be done. We have installed what we call our good business practices. We've in the process of establishing mechanisms for looking at those high-risk proposals that we will put more time and effort into. Because as we move into the 21st century, finding that the most rich resource people are in community colleges, are in tribal colleges, are in historically black institutions, colleges, and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions, institutions that may not have had experience and a kind of ongoing interaction with the NSF, in order to ensure their success and our success we have traveling workshops, which go out and do regional presentations. These will be people from our financial management, our grants management, our scientific directorates, and from our business offices to ensure that we can convey to our principal investigators what we expect of them and to help them make sure that their financial management as well as their scientific and educational management are really at the excellent level.

So we are doing all we can to ensure that our grants and contracts are carried out expeditiously, efficiently, and effectively. I think a part of this, too, is ensuring that we transmit information, communicate well, and that we have help desks, as we do for our information technology, but also help desks for our principal investigators.

Mr. Lawrence: That's a good point.

What role does NSF have in homeland security? We'll ask Dr. Rita Colwell for her perspective when The Business of Government Hour returns.


Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, and this morning's conversation is with Dr. Rita Colwell, director of the National Science Foundation.

And joining us in our conversation is Tom Burlin.

Well, Rita, could you tell us more? You've talked a lot about partnerships this morning. Could you tell us how NSF is using partnerships to fulfill its mission?

Dr. Colwell: Partnerships are critical to the mission of NSF. School systems partnering with universities under the math and science partnerships; a wonderful program called GK-12, graduate students who spend time in the classroom, elementary, middle, and high school, for the 20 hours a week for their stipend instead of working in the undergraduate laboratory, which is more traditional; universities and industry through the science and technology centers, the engineering research centers, Partnerships for Innovation Program. These have been enormously successful.

States and universities with NSF under EPSCoR, the experimental program for experimental research; this program is to bring those 100 universities that are in the lower half of success rate into a competitive scheme amongst themselves so that they don't find themselves always competing against Stanford and Harvard and Berkeley and Illinois, but they can compete amongst themselves. This has been extremely successful, building infrastructure capacity. NSF and other agencies of the federal government, with EPA, with NIH -- a program, for example, with NIH in mathematical biology, programs with Department of Energy in high-energy physics.

We have a new program in human social dynamics that has brought a lot of interest from the intelligence community, which is a new partnership. Our Scholarship for Service Program contributes a whole cadr� of information assurance professionals as part of a broader National Security Agency program on protecting cyber infrastructure, which we now know is more and more important. And again with NIH, we're partnering on the biomedical information science and technology initiative, and we certainly have been partnering with them on genome sciences.

So partnerships, that's our middle name.

Mr. Burlin: Doctor, we're all acutely aware of the responsibilities of Secretary Ridge and the Department of Homeland Security. Can you share with us the role that the National Science Foundation plays in homeland security, particularly in relationship between scientific freedom and national security?

Dr. Colwell: Well, first let me say that you will be surprised to learn that one of the first agencies to be at Ground Zero post-9/11 was the National Science Foundation. We had engineers there examining the rubble, the steel, the twisted steel, and so forth, developing a computer model of exactly what did happen and providing a sense of what could be used for materials in the future. We have engineers doing 3-D mapping of the interiors and exteriors of buildings that were damaged near the World Trade Center. That's another example.

We also had scientists from our social, behavioral, and economic sciences directorate. They're doing economic impact studies, doing affect on humans, just the folks who live in the area and survived. And then those small shoebox-sized robots that were used to search for, we hoped survivors, but victims found. This was an NSF principal investigator, Robin Murphy, and the funding from DARPA, and NSF was involved in the development of those robots, which are now part of the armamentarium of the FEMA, Federal Emergency Management Agency. So the small grants for exploratory research, these are small-scale, short-term, we can get these grants out quickly, in 24 hours if we had to, and we did in the case of post-9/11, as opposed to months with initial review internal, because we have scientists, very good scientists in-house, and extensions to grants that are already in place.

So we are able to fund now an investment of over $300 million in FY 2003 in science and engineering that will have an extraordinary impact on defense, intelligence, and security. We have several studies underway of above-ground and underground infrastructure systems, services, their coordination with first-responders. These are connected to the World Trade Center disaster. We also funded The Institute for Genomic Research, TIGR, to study the genome of the Florida anthrax strain that appeared after 9/11. So I would say that in homeland security, we're doing a great deal.

I would also add that we're doing a lot on cyber infrastructure, cyber security. Ironically, September 1, 2001, we had announced an award, request for proposals for awards, to be made in cyber security. So we were sort of ahead of the game, and we've certainly increased our emphasis on cyber security since then. So I would say that you might be surprised to know that an agency that has a mission of fundamental research in science and engineering was there immediately after 9/11.

Mr. Burlin: Well, certainly, I think that would be comforting to the citizens to know that some of our brightest minds under the stewardship of the National Science Foundation are working on those very important problems. Can you tell us a little bit about the Committee on Science of the National Science and Technology and your role as the co-chair?

Dr. Colwell: The Committee on Science is a coordinating committee for all of science throughout the federal government. And it looks at different topics, such as indirect costs, infrastructure needs for the whole nation across all agencies, a focus on the oceans will be one of the new things we'll do to bring the ocean sciences into a cross-agency focus. It's co-chaired by Kathie Olsen in the Office of Science and Technology Policy; Elias Zerhouni, the director of NIH; and myself as the director of the National Science Foundation. And we find this to be a very, very good way to interconnect with other agencies on things like high-end computing needs for the nation, infrastructure needs, and so forth. So I would say that it's a very effective mechanism for coordinating science and engineering activities across the federal government.

Mr. Lawrence: Could you tell us about some of the honorary awards that NSF administers? I was thinking about the President's National Medal of Science, for example.

Dr. Colwell: Well, the Medal of Science is always an exciting event each year. These are awards made to U.S. scientists and engineers for their very special contributions to scientific knowledge. And it's probably as close as anything we have to the Nobel Prize. Of course, I must mention that with respect to the Nobel Prize, since its inception at the turn of the century -- and remember, NSF was started only in 1950 -- about 150 Nobel laureates were NSF grantees before or during the time they got the Nobel Prize. So we pick them well.

Mr. Burlin: Doctor, I'm going to ask you to look into your crystal ball a bit now. Can you tell us where you see the National Science Foundation in the next 5 to 10 years?

Dr. Colwell: I think that the National Science Foundation is very, very important for the future of our country. The fundamental research that we do is important for economic strength, for national security. I mentioned some of the things we're doing already, and I could point out that we've developed a high-tech inspection system from an SBIR grant for sea cargo containers that could protect vulnerable port areas from terrorist incursions. And I see that not only for national security, but for social stability in providing education to the next generation, scientists and engineers, young children who can go on to become scientists and engineers, which are high-income jobs that contribute to the national welfare. I think that these are ways that we contribute significantly to the future of the United States.

I see the National Science Foundation as the agency where creativity blossoms, new discoveries are made from which new jobs, new companies, new industry are developed for national security, through cyber security for our computers, for our banking industry. I think the National Science Foundation has a firm place in the future of our country.

Mr. Lawrence: At the beginning of our show, you described your career, which is very interesting and cut across several different segments: the public sector, the academic sector. So I'm curious, what advice would you give someone interested in a career in public service?

Dr. Colwell: I would say that if you have any inclination to science or engineering, go for it. It's a wonderful way to develop a career, science and engineering. It's international; your friendships are international. I would urge anyone interested in administration to learn how to run a project, learn how to chase an idea to its discovery and ultimate completion of that idea. That is one way, I think, to learn how to manage in the future, because if you have a great idea for whether it's for a new mousetrap or whether it's an idea about how to do science even better, by fulfilling that idea to its completion that will teach you how to manage larger and larger projects, and ultimately, you may too become the director of the National Science Foundation.

Mr. Lawrence: Rita, I'm afraid that'll have to be the last question. Tom and I want to thank you for being with us this morning.

Dr. Colwell: Thank you very much. It's been a pleasure to be here. If you want to learn more about the National Science Foundation, go on the web to

Mr. Lawrence: This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation with Dr. Rita Colwell, the director of the National Science Foundation.

Be sure and visit us on the web at There, you can learn more about our programs and get a transcript of today's interesting conversation. Again, that's

This is Paul Lawrence. Thank you for listening.