Today, in an effort to ensure fiscal responsibility and accountability, the Subcommittee on Research and Science Education held a hearing to examine the management and operations of Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC) projects at the National Science Foundation (NSF).
Large and up-to-date research equipment and facilities are essential to the fundamental process of basic research. As the primary federal agency supporting basic scientific research, NSF plays a key role in the construction and operation of major research equipment and facilities. NSF funds a variety of large research projects, from multi-user research facilities to tools for research and education and distributed instrumentation networks.
"Over the last ten years NSF has worked to establish and refine the practices for launching new MREFC projects, overseeing construction, and the transition to managing the operations and maintenance of the equipment and facilities," noted Subcommittee Chairman Mo Brooks (R-AL). "These practices have led to greater involvement by the National Science Board and a clear understanding of how MREFC projects are prioritized in difficult economic times."
Chairman of the Subcommittee that oversees facilities at the National Science Board, Dr. José-Marie Griffiths, outlined the task of overseeing such large facilities. "Selecting the best projects, providing adequate program management, as well as oversight for the operations of such facilities, are all substantial challenges," Dr. Griffiths said. "However," Griffiths continued, "an equally important challenge is that by supporting these essential facilities we not sacrifice our ability also to provide adequate support for the individual researcher proposals that for potentially transformative research."
Dr. Cora Marrett, Deputy Director of NSF said that the Agency "takes its facility stewardship responsibilities very seriously To ensure success at this major scale of investment, NSF has strong processes in place for overseeing the planning, construction, and operations of its facilities, and for managing its overall facilities portfolio."
Chairman Brooks praised the success of many of these facilities in support of NSF's larger goal of "ensuring the United States maintains its competitive edge in science by promoting global leadership in advancing research, education and innovation." However, Brooks insisted that "it is imperative that appropriate oversight be executed to guarantee the greatest return on taxpayer investments."