Anderson, Christopher. "NSF's New Random Inspections Draw Fire," Science 261 (16 July

 

Anderson, Christopher. "NSF's New Random Inspections Draw Fire," Science 261 (16 July
1993), p. 289.

It is not Big Brother but merely NSF's IG. That office is now randomly selecting for
examination. The units studied are units receiving government grants and the IG is looking into
the ways in which the sponsors operate under the grant. This report describes a visit to the
biology department at the U of Virginia. Charlottesville. It was a four-day affair designed to
"promote an awareness by principal investigators and their sponsoring institutions of the
importance of accountability in the management of, and the performance under, NSF grants."

The term's examination is reported to have taken place in March and to have been "broad." The
visiting officials did not merely look into the university's accounts but examined internal
university policies in such areas as hiring and promotion, maintaining laboratory notebooks and
mentoring.

The visitors explained that the inspections focus on "overall aims" including improvement in the
infrastructure of the universities and other units receiving support. They also examined teaching
and authorship policies.

The inspectors issued their report in June and devoted pages of the 38 page report to the failure
of the university to promote the department's hiring of women and minorities.

Four inspections a year are planned with "...each team typically including a management and a
financial expert along with a staff scientist who is knowledgeable in the discipline being
examined. Last month, IG team members conducted their second investigation, visiting the
seven-person Carnegie Institution of Washington's department of plant biology on the campus of
Stanford University."

"Inspectors general are autonomous offices within federal agencies and are intended to serve as
internal watchdogs. NSF's IG is overseen by the 24-member, presidentially appointed National
Science Board, which has approved the IG's initiative. Roland Schmidt, chairman of the board's
audit and oversight committee, defends the inspections as ‘preventive medicine'; but adds that
the procedures are new and must be refined."