NSF and DARPA as Models for Research Funding - An Institutional Analysis

  • PMs generally come from research world
  • although it seems unable to pay exactly what the PMs would earn in the private sector, it is able to negotiate pay scales and contract terms significantly better than those that other government agencies can offer.
  • PMs come to the agency with their own project, an idea which they essentially originate and to which they have a personal commitment (respondents talked of that commitment in fact as if it were an obsession—although that was not the term they actually used)
  • DARPA cultivates a reputation for being open to new, radical ideas originating outside the organization (indeed, listening to people talk, one is led to believe that the ideas alwaysoriginate from outside the organization) whether or not they fit the defined program. But the office managers and the director play an active role in recruiting ideas that fit into the program and in screening proposals to ensure that the program has some coherence and direction
  • Two under noted things
  • The National Science Foundation - NSF does not actively solicit proposals.
  • The conservative bias (In the NSF) is widely attributed to the peer review process through which funds are awarded.
  • NSF and NIH PMs need to push back against peer review to save a proposal
  • On the one hand they have a profound intellectual commitment to science and engineering, although not necessarily a well-fleshed out research agenda. On the other hand, their position at MIT requires them to raise substantial funds from agencies and organizations on the outside
  • An additional two to three months is viewed as “summer support” and must be raised through research grants and contracts on the outside
  • In many respects the research establishment is like a small business and the terms in which faculty members discuss it makes them sound like independent entrepreneurs
  • DARPA helped researchers build relationships (and they liked that)
  • DARPA awards are often larger than NSF or NIH
  • Researchers can use DARPA money to buy equipment for other projects
  • Funds as contracts rather than grants, so they can be cut off.
  • National Institute of Health - NIH program officers not respected while National Science Foundation - NSF program managers are
  • The failure (of a performer) triggers a discussion in which the first question is whether the goals were correctly specified and how they might be redefined in the light of the research that has already taken place. There are many tight feedback loops built into the ARPA model
  • there is very little interaction among the PMs themselves (the quip is that the only thing they share is a travel agent) ::this contradicts mark::

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