Date: Thu, 29 Mar 2001 16:04:26 -0700 (MST)
Subject: DPS Mailing #01-09: Grant Delays Update/Message from NASA HQ

Greetings, DPS Members-
       |1) Grant Delays Update/Message from NASA HQ             |


NOTES FROM THE CHAIR - Grant Delays Update/Message from NASA HQ

It has been more than five weeks since your statements detailing the impact of
grant notification and funding delays generated a positive response from NASA
Headquarters. Since then a number of people have reported hearing from various
grant programs (positively and negatively). I also understand that a dozen of
our colleagues have responded to Dr. Ed Weiler's call for IPAs at the Office 
of Space Science to relieve their personnel shortage.

Dr. Guenter Riegler, the Director of NASA's Office of Space Science Research
Division has sent me a message on the status of the R&A grants programs which 
I append in its entirety. I also link the original WORD document
for downloading (

If you have any comments or outstanding concerns, please contact me.

Mark V. Sykes (


March 29, 2001
To:  Mark Sykes, Chair, Division of Planetary Sciences,  
     American Astronomical Society. 
Subject:  Delays in Decision-Making and Award Issuance for  
          Space Science Research and Analysis (R&A) Programs 
In response to your invitation, I wish to give you and the DPS members  
an update on two topics:  (1) where we are in the decision-making process  
for space science R&A programs, and (2) what we are doing to improve the  
awards (grants, contracts, interagency transfers, etc.) issuance process. 
For the decision-making process, two developments conspired to cause by  
far the worst delays in many years, particularly in the planetary sciences,  
specifically the planetary atmospheres and astronomy programs.   
       - First, a labor shortage:  Normally, we have three full-time  
         scientists who are responsible, as Program Scientists, for  
         12 missions, and as Discipline Scientists for about 300 awards  
         per year for Planetary Atmospheres and Planetary Astronomy;   
         since mid-2000 we have only one full-time and one half-time  
         scientist in these areas. 
       - Secondly, those 1.5 persons had an extra workload:  in response  
         to the planetary science community, including advisory groups,  
         the DPS and the Planetary Society, NASA decided to issue an open  
         solicitation for a Pluto missions.  The "Pluto Announcement of  
         Opportunity" had to be issued within just one month. We therefore  
         gave this AO priority over the R&A selection process, which  
         caused a major delay in preparing announcements about acceptance  
         or rejection of proposals submitted many months ago.   
0e are working to improve our performance in the decision-making process.   
In the near term, we expect to complete the selection process for the  
Planetary Atmospheres Program by March 30, and expect to make announcements  
for all proposals by April 6.  For the future we will add a half-time  
visiting scientist, at least for the next two years, to handle both the
Planetary Astronomy and Planetary Atmospheres programs, freeing the other
scientists to concentrate on their mission Program Scientist responsibilities.
Mark, I very much appreciate your support in publicizing the need for 
additional visiting scientists here at NASA Headquarters.  I have had
constructive dialogues with a number of interested candidates.  

With respect to the awards issuance process ("grants process"), NASA's
Space Science R&A grants performance was frequently judged to be poorer
than that of other agencies, but this year we have reached a new "low".
Long delays in issuing new or continuation grants are caused by three 

       - The Research Division of the Office of Space Science has often
         been too slow in preparing the packages for roughly 2000 awards
         per year.  The causes are similar to those for the decision-making
         process:  serious understaffing, and higher priority for 
         mission-related than R&A-related tasks.  We are working to correct
         this by transferring, wherever legally possible, clerical work to 
         a new peer-review support contractor.  As soon as the current 
         hiring controls are lifted, we plan to hire at least 5 civil 
         servant scientists and will also add a few visiting scientists to
         our science staff.  

         - A second source of delay is the process through which grants or
           contract packages are processed and approved, but award packages
           are misplaced or funds are misplaced.  For this purpose we will
           assign an additional civil servant to provide answers to the 
           frequently heard question "where's my grant - I can't find it on
           the awards spreadsheet"?  Also, we will assign another civil 
           service person, and use improved database programs, to improve
           the accuracy of funding flow.

         - A third source of delay lies within the science community itself.
           Grants or contract recipients sometimes do not provide progress 
           reports and other documentation in a timely manner.  Federal law
           and NASA procurement policy prohibit us from releasing funds until
           all reporting requirements are met.  It is incumbent upon the 
           awardees to ensure that these deadlines are met. NASA's ability
           to help here is limited since the responsibility for these reports
           rests with the award holders;  however, we plan to institute (in 
           fiscal year 2002) a reminder system which would send electronic 
           reminders to holders of multi-year awards who request such a 
           reminder service.  For broader information on the responsibilities
           of awardees we would welcome an education/information dissemination
           effort by Space Science professional societies.

I would welcome a constructive dialog, and suggestions for further 

Guenter Riegler
Director, Research Division, 
Office of Space Science, NASA Headquarters
e-mail: :


                      Nick Schneider, on behalf of the DPS Committee
                      (submissions to Al Harris: