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NSF Requests Concepts for Mid-Scale Research Infrastructure Projects

Tuesday, October 17, 2017 - 14:30

In response to one of the provisions of the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act (AICA, Public Law No. 114-32), the National Science Foundation (NSF) recently released a Request for Information (RFI), which is available from the Office of the Federal Register and in a Dear Colleague Letter on NSF's website. The AIP FYI takes an in-depth look at the RFI and its context in a recent article, so we will just offer some highlights here.

NSF seeks information on existing and future needs for mid-scale ($20–$100 million) research infrastructure projects from the US-based NSF science and engineering community. Congress wants NSF to investigate the demand for new or upgraded research facilities requiring an investment larger than the $4 million cap for the Major Research Instrumentation Program (MRI), but smaller than the $100 million minimum threshold for "Major Multi-User Research Facility Projects," a new designation defined in AICA as any project funded by the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC) account or large (>$100 million or >10% of a directorate's budget) projects within the Research and Research Activites (R & RA account. Congress is concerned that valuable science infrastructure ideas are not even getting proposed to NSF because they have no programmatic home; the investment required would be too large for MRI, but too small for MREFC. That concern was voiced in the New Worlds, New Horizons (NWNH) 2010 Decadal Survey in Astronomy and Astrophysics (Astro2010), to which NSF responded by establishing the Mid-scale Innovations Program (MSIP). The NWNH Midterm Report, released in August 2016, cautions that the implementation of the MSIP "has been possible only by subsuming previous programs into MSIP and by aggressive divestment from older facilities" and that, instead of increasing, the "total NSF-AST funding for mid-scale initiatives has dropped by nearly a factor of two since the start of the decade."

The concepts are to be submitted through an online survey (not FastLane) and the RFI should not be construed as a call for proposals or any guarantee of future calls for proposals or funding lines. The deadline for responding to the RFI with your mid-scale infrastructure concept is Friday, 8 December 2017.

AICA directs the NSF to modify its policies and practices in other areas. For example, it calls for increased transparency and accountability across NSF, enhances oversight of the Major Multi-User Research Facility Projects, encourages informal STEM education efforts, and establishes a program supporting undergraduates at Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs). Amanda Halberg Greenwell, head of the NSF Office of Legislative and Public Affairs, outlined the AICA provisions relating to the NSF in a presentation to the National Science Board last February. We anticipate one or more Congressional hearings in the coming months to provide oversight on the progress NSF has made on responding to the provisions of AICA.

Ashlee N. Wilkins
John N. Bahcall Public Policy Fellow
American Astronomical Society (AAS)
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