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NSF Asks Scientists to Give It Time to Regroup After Shutdown

18 October 2013 9:15 am
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National Science Foundation

Jump-start. Employees of the National Science Foundation will be gathering today to discuss how best to restart grantmaking efforts.

No advisory committee meetings for the rest of the year. No review panels until November. And don’t call us just yet.

That’s the guidance to the research community from the National Science Foundation (NSF), which reopened yesterday after the 16-day government shutdown. A memo from NSF acting Director Cora Marrett (also see below) outlines a series of steps that the $7-billion-a-year agency will be taking to get back to business over the next several weeks.

“It will take time and extra effort to work through the backlog of activities,” Marrett writes. “It’s important for us … to focus on re-establishing core functions, such as receiving, reviewing and awarding/declining proposals, as well as oversight and management of existing awards.”

NSF is urging scientists not to contact their program officers until the agency has had time to catch up on the backlog generated by the shutdown and resume normal operations. To that end, Marrett’s memo asks staffers to “pre-emptively communicate expectations” with the research community and “refrain from responding to PI calls and emails.”

To ease the immediate crunch, Marrett has directed staff members to postpone all panel reviews “through the end of October” and to cancel meetings of the various advisory committees that offer regular input to the agency’s research directorates and major programs until 2014. Staffers have also been asked to postpone travel, including site visits, “for at least one week, if possible.”

NSF is holding town meetings this morning to give staffers at its Arlington, Virginia, headquarters a chance to comment on what Marrett calls NSF’s “recovery plans.”

CORA MARRETT's MEMO:

October 17, 2013

Dear Colleague,

I’d like to welcome everyone back to the office after a difficult 16-day government shutdown. While I recognize that you are as eager as I am to get back to work, I also appreciate that this hiatus likely caused personal hardship for many of you. I am hopeful that the continuing resolution agreed to by the Congress and signed into law by the President will provide the basis for the longer term funding stability we need to meet our personal commitments and to plan and execute NSF’s responsibilities.

In an Important Notice to the community, I described some of the effects of the funding lapse on our activities and asked for patience and support as we focus on the actions necessary to restart NSF activities. Additional detailed guidance on assistance and contract-related policy and systems issues will be provided to you, as well as the community, as soon as possible. These communications will help us set expectations for both ourselves and the community as we recover from the shutdown and transition to normal operations. A copy of the Important Notice is attached.

It will take time and extra effort to work through the backlog of activities. We are establishing priorities that will enable us to resume normal operations as quickly as possible while minimizing extra burden on our already hardworking staff. It’s important for us in this timeframe to focus on re-establishing core functions, such as receiving, reviewing and awarding/declining proposals, as well as oversight and management of existing awards. We will strive for consistency in extending deadlines and addressing other delays or cancellations caused by the shutdown. We will also consider the impact of our actions on other NSF offices engaged in start-up operations and foster creative solutions, consistent with NSF policy, to recover operations and activities impacted by the shutdown.

The following near term actions will help ensure a successful restart of agency operations:

  • BFA will establish and publish on the NSF website within one week agency-wide policies for proposal deadline extensions and other grant-related actions.

  • Staff should pre-emptively communicate expectations with respective scientific communities via directorate/office websites, consistent with NSF-wide guidance, and refrain from responding to PI calls and emails until this guidance is available.

  • Advisory committee meetings will be canceled through December unless an exception is granted by me.

  • Panel and PI meetings should be postponed through the end of October, pending directorate and office review.

  • Agency travel (outreach, site visits, etc.) should be postponed for at least one week, if possible.

  • Routine internal meetings and training should be canceled through the end of October.

  • Guidance on HR actions, such as performance reviews and hiring activities, will be forthcoming.

  • Senior leadership will review and possibly modify individual and institutional performance goals to accommodate lost productivity.

Additional guidance on other matters will be shared as it is developed.

Your thoughts and suggestions are vitally important, and your directorate and office leaders will be seeking your input on the impacts of the shutdown and start-up approach. I invite you to attend a town hall meeting tomorrow, October 18, in Stafford I, Room 375 to learn more about our recovery plans and to share your perspectives. We will hold three sessions according to the follow breakout of directorates and offices:

9 – 9:45 a.m. (BFA, BIO, EHR, OD)

10 – 10:45 a.m. (CISE, ENG, GEO, OIG)

11 – 11:45 a.m. (MPS, SBE, NSB, OIRM)

We will also attempt to webcast the session — recognizing potential network challenges as a result of the shutdown — and we will separately post status and instructions for connecting to the broadcast. We would also invite your questions ahead of time at townhall@nsf.gov. Your questions will help to ensure that we appropriately address all policy, procedural and systems issues.

I am truly grateful for your continuing professionalism and commitment to our mission and our nation’s science and engineering enterprise. Thank you, in advance, for your support as we work our way back to normal operations.

Cora B. Marrett

Acting Director

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