NSF-Funded Collections Aren’t Dead Yet

A couple of weeks ago, I described how NSF’s collections program was going to be cut–and why that would be a very stupid thing to do. Well, it looks like NSF has granted the program a reprieve (boldface mine):

In BIO’s fiscal year 2017 (FY17) budget request, plans were included regarding the evaluation of smaller DBI programs, such as CSBR, with the goal of informing the FY18 budget request. The BIO Directorate is currently performing an internal evaluation of DBI research resource programs, including CSBR, which will be completed in November, 2016. This internal evaluation is an opportunity to assess the important role of CSBR in the context of the Postdoctoral Collections Fellowship program and the Advancing Digitization of Biodiversity Collections program, which includes iDigBio. Additionally, the biological collections and research communities have provided very helpful feedback on the CSBR program, and this input will be analyzed and used to assess program needs. The evaluation will be performed by an internal working group, comprising representatives from each of BIO’s divisions and NSF’s Office of Evaluation and Assessment.

The results from the internal evaluation will be used to inform commissioning of a more in-depth evaluation of DBI’s research resource programs, including CSBR. The BIO Directorate recognizes the changes occurring in the biological sciences community regarding infrastructure, specifically data storage, access and analysis. DBI’s programs have overlapping and synergistic goals as well as important connections with the research programs they serve within BIO, so it makes sense to look at all of DBI’s programs in the context of program roles and community needs. An update on the status of the external evaluation will be provided by September 30, 2017.

In English, NSF is kicking the can down the road by way of evaluation committees. The problem any granting agency faces with collections is that, unless the proposal is for a one-time improvement–”we would like to build facility X to house biology stuff Y”–funders often feel they are saddled with the maintenance of these resources forever. If budgets are constant, and collection programs aren’t terminated, this is obviously unsustainable.

It’s a problem. Because without collections, we really can’t do biology very well.

Something to keep in mind when you hear the cry of the deficit hawks.

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