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July 14, 2011 - ASCE letter - criteria for merit review

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July 14, 2011

Dr. Ray M. Bowen
Chairman, National Science Board
Room: 1225N 4201 Wilson Boulevard
Arlington, Virginia 22230

Subra Suresh
Director, National Science Foundation
Room 1205N
4201 Wilson Boulevard
Arlington, VA 22230

Dear Dr. Bowen and Dr. Suresh:

I am writing on behalf of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and its more than 140,000 members to comment on the National Science Board (NSB) Task Force on Merit Review proposed revision of the two merit review criteria (Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts). ASCE appreciates the opportunity to make these comments to the National Science Board.

ASCE supports the science and engineering mission of the National Science Foundation (NSF) and has long worked to promote its programs and funding initiatives that support the research and education needs of the civil engineering profession. ASCE and NSF share common and important interests and objectives. Both promote progress in engineering and recognize the importance of engineering research and education for advancing national prosperity, welfare and quality of life. Maintaining strong and steadily increasing support for research and education in civil engineering is critical to training an innovative and creative workforce capable of serving the increasingly complex needs of society.

ASCE believes that NSF-funded research should allow for criteria based upon applied outcomes from research that would have a significant impact on standards, materials and methods used to design and construct a resilient national infrastructure. It should also be possible that research include industry, federal, state and local government and professional association partners.

There is a concern that proposals that attempt to address all of the national goals would not have as great an impact if they were to instead focus on only two or three goals and did those well. However, ASCE fully supports the STEM initiatives of NSF, including the development of faculty, which should include appropriate attention to graduate students.

Among specific items, ASCE would like to make the following recommendations.

• A rewording for Merit item #2: To what extent does the proposed activity explore creative and potentially transformative concepts rather than incremental advances?
• In both Merit item #2 and Broader item #2: A better description of what is intended by “engagement” should be included.
• In Merit item #5: It is a good change that allows for the idea that review criteria may change over time.
• In both Merit item #5 and Broader item #5: Expand the concept of resources to go beyond financial to include things like facilities.

ASCE was founded in 1852 and is the country’s oldest and most prominent national civil engineering organization. It represents civil engineers in private practice, government, industry and academia who are dedicated to the advancement of the science and profession of civil engineering.

Thank you for the opportunity to express our views. If ASCE can be of more assistance, please do not hesitate to contact Martin Hight, ASCE’s Senior Manager of Government Relations at 202-789-7843 or


Kathy J. Caldwell, P.E., F.ASCE