A major responsibility of the National Science Foundation (NSF) is the support of scientific facilities as an essential part of science and engineering enterprise. NSF makes awards to external Recipient entities – primarily universities, consortia of universities or non-profit organizations – to undertake construction, management, and operation of facilities. Such awards frequently take the form of cooperative agreements.1 Generally speaking, NSF does not directly construct or operate the facilities it supports. However, NSF retains responsibility for overseeing the Recipient’s development and management of the facility as well as assuring the successful performance of the funded activities. Facilities are defined as shared-use infrastructure, instrumentation and equipment that are accessible to a broad community of researchers and/or educators.
Facilities supported by NSF may be centralized or may consist of distributed-but-integrated installations. They may incorporate large-scale networking or computational infrastructure, multi-user instruments or networks of such instruments, or other infrastructure, instrumentation, and equipment having a major impact on a broad segment of a scientific or engineering discipline. Historically, awards have been made for such diverse projects as accelerators, telescopes, research vessels, aircraft, and geographically distributed but networked observatory systems.
The Large Facilities Manual contains NSF policy on the planning and management of large facilities. The purpose of the Manual is to provide guidance for NSF staff and awardees to:
• Carry out effective project planning, management, assistance, assurance, and oversight of large facilities,
• Clearly state the policies, requirements, and recommended procedures pertinent at each stage of a facility’s life cycle, and
• Document best practices that ensure accountability and effectiveness of the program.
The policies in the Large Facilities Manual apply to all large facility projects funded by NSF, including:
• Large facilities that have been or will be constructed or acquired with funds from the Major Research Equipment and Facility Construction (MREFC) Account;
• Facilities or infrastructure projects that have been or will be constructed or acquired with funds provided through the Research and Related Activities (R&RA) and/or leveraged with Education and Human Resources (EHR) Accounts and that require National Science Board (NSB) approval; and
• Existing facilities for which operation and replacement cost would be similar in size to MREFC-funded and MREFC-eligible projects.
NSF typically supports facility construction from two appropriations accounts: the MREFC Account and the R&RA Account. The MREFC Account was created in 1995 to fund the acquisition, construction, commissioning, and upgrading of major science and engineering infrastructure projects that could not be otherwise supported by Directorate level budgets without a severe negative impact on funded science. MREFC projects generally range in cost from one hundred to several hundred million dollars expended over a multi-year period. The R&RA account can be used to support other activities involving an MREFC-funded facility that the MREFC Account cannot support, including planning, conceptual design, development, operations and maintenance, and scientific research. Construction and acquisition projects at a smaller scale, usually of a scale ranging from millions to tens of millions of dollars, are also normally supported from the R&RA Account. The provisions and principles in the Large Facilities Manual also apply to these smaller-scale facilities funded through the R&RA Account, but procedures should be modified appropriately to fit the needs of each facility.
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