Eos, Transactions American Geophysical Union

The NSF and the geosciences community: Rotating program officers



The National Science Foundation (NSF) is a federal agency charged with the care and feeding of basic scientific research in U.S. colleges and universities. NSF is a major contributor toward the support of research in Earth, ocean, and atmospheric sciences, disciplines of great importance to AGU members.

NSF makes a regular practice of employing scientists from universities, nonprofit research organizations, industry, and state or local governments as temporary program officers (“rotators”) with terms of service from 1 to 2 years. There are several reasons for the use of rotators:

  • It brings to NSF people who have firsthand, recent knowledge of "what it is really like" beyond the Washington, D.C. beltway. Knowledge of new ideas, recent graduates, and a fresh look at the system are worth considerably more than the problems that arise owing to inexperienced program officers.
  • It sheds some sunshine on internal NSF procedures when the rotator returns with his tales to his home institution.
  • It provides NSF management with considerable flexibility in coping with changing staff requirements.