Data Points

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Science  06 Jun 2003:
Vol. 300, Issue 5625, pp. 1501
DOI: 10.1126/science.300.5625.1501d

Overrotation. The National Science Foundation's (NSF's) grantsmaking staff is top-heavy with temporary employees, according to a new internal report. The latest tally shows that only 139 of 334 program officers—the professionals who manage the process of deciding which proposals get funded—are permanent employees. The rest, some 59%, typically spend 1 to 3 years at NSF on leave from jobs at universities or elsewhere.

Such “rotators” constitute a valuable stream of fresh talent, says NSF Director Rita Colwell. They also allow NSF to handle a rising workload despite a cap on permanent staff slots. But federal lawmakers have begun to worry that temporary employees could weaken NSF's institutional memory and jeopardize its oversight of long-term projects. A 60/40 split would be “ideal,” Nat Pitts, head of NSF's Office of Integrative Activities, told the National Science Board during a presentation last month. He added that “we may [currently] be a tad out of balance.”

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