National Research Centers Supported by NSF

Gao ID: PAD-81-79 June 25, 1981

GAO summarized its observations and proposals made during a review of the National Science Foundation's (NSF) oversight of the six national research centers under its sponsorship. GAO also summarized the actions NSF plans in response to the review.

NSF should improve its policies and guidelines for administering and overseeing the research centers. Currently, the NSF Office of Audit and Oversight does not perform periodic reviews of the centers' organization and management, and it does not adequately monitor NSF internal oversight. In addition, NSF has not assigned responsibility for analyzing contractors' financial reports to identify variations between their budgets and actual expenditures. NSF agreed to implement a GAO proposal to provide Congress with better information for decisionmaking concerning the scope and size of one of the centers and the funds used as facilities support. Savings could be gained from consolidating various research support groups. While NSF has not analyzed this potential, it plans to determine the most cost effective options for consolidating these groups and to make the changes needed to improve instrumentation support and reduce costs. At one observatory, the telescopes are old and costly to operate, and the staffing level for operating and maintaining the facility is too high for current and projected requirements. NSF has agreed to implement GAO proposals for improving the cost effectiveness of this observatory. Further, GAO found that only one of the six national centers collects fees from users of its facilities. To correct this discrepancy, GAO proposed that NSF evaluate the appropriateness of user charges for the other centers, and NSF agreed to develop criteria for doing so.

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