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A Senate Slap at NSF Management

A Senate spending panel says that the National Science Foundation's mishandling of an Internet porn scandal is part of "systemic workforce management problems" that have created "a hostile work environment" for its 1300 employees.

Most of the senior program managers at the $6.5 billion agency are academic scientists who spend a few years at NSF headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. Such "rotators" are thought to provide a fresh perspective on the scientific challenges facing their field. But in a senate report accompanying a bill covering NSF's 2010 budget that was approved last Thursday, legislators have harsh words both for the administrative skills of those senior scientists and, more broadly, how the agency has responded to a 2008 report by its independent inspector general that found that senior officials were downloading and viewing pornography.

The appropriations committee's report notes "a trend in poor management oversight and neglected best-practice measure with regard to personnel management. The lack of action taken by NSF to address these ongoing problems is unacceptable, and raises serious questions about NSF's Human Resources office. Compounding the issue is the rotational director model, which although it brings fresh scientific insight and perspective to the agency, creates gaps in management oversight. Program directors, designated and authorized as supervisors, shall not neglect their management responsibilities for the employees who work under them." The panel also criticizes how NSF monitors large awards, especially to first-time grantees, and directs the agency to draw up a plan to look more closely at the entire process, from before an award is made through its completion.