NSF is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 « to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense… »
To promote the progress of science
NSF is vital because we support basic research and people to create knowledge that transforms the future. This type of support:
- Is a primary driver of the U.S. economy.
- Enhances the nation’s security.
- Advances knowledge to sustain global leadership.
With an annual budget of $8.5 billion (FY 2021), we are the funding source for approximately 25 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by America’s colleges and universities. In many fields such as mathematics, computer science and the social sciences, NSF is the major source of federal backing.
View a two-minute video overview of NSF’s mission and focus. To learn how NSF determines which research has the greatest potential and would be the most fruitful investment of taxpayer dollars, view NSF’s Merit Review Process video.
Check out our NSF Toolkit, with resources providing information about the impact of NSF’s investments.
WHO WE ARE
NSF leadership has two major components: a director who oversees NSF staff and management responsible for program creation and administration, merit review, planning, budget and day-to-day operations; and a 24-member National Science Board (NSB) of eminent individuals that meets six times a year to establish the overall policies of the foundation. The director and all Board members serve six year terms. Each of them, as well as the NSF deputy director, is appointed by the President of the United States and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. At present, NSF has a total workforce of about 2,100 at its Alexandria, VA, headquarters, including approximately 1,400 career employees, 200 scientists from research institutions on temporary duty, 450 contract workers and the staff of the NSB office and the Office of the Inspector General.
WHAT WE DO
As described in our strategic plan, NSF is the only federal agency whose mission includes support for all fields of fundamental science and engineering, except for medical sciences. We are tasked with keeping the United States at the leading edge of discovery in areas from astronomy to geology to zoology. So, in addition to funding research in the traditional academic areas, the agency also supports « high-risk, high pay-off » ideas, novel collaborations and numerous projects that may seem like science fiction today, but which the public will take for granted tomorrow. And in every case, we ensure that research is fully integrated with education so that today’s revolutionary work will also be training tomorrow’s top scientists and engineers.
HOW WE WORK
NSF’s task of identifying and funding work at the frontiers of science and engineering is not a « top-down » process. NSF operates from the « bottom up, » keeping close track of research around the United States and the world, maintaining constant contact with the research community to identify ever-moving horizons of inquiry, monitoring which areas are most likely to result in spectacular progress and choosing the most promising people to conduct the research.