Friday, May 13, 2011

New Year's Day?

After our first week of real warm weather here in Indiana this spring, we at the INSGC Central Office are preparing for next year.  No, we're not talking about the return of snow and cold next December.  As you may recall, the new program year for INSGC, as established with our five-year award last July, begins on May 17.  Thus, we're in the process of sending out requests for end-of-year reporting for our 2010-11 projects, and making decisions for program awards for 2011-12.

NASA Headquarters is in the midst of providing its operating plan to Congress for the FY 2011 budget continuing resolution that was recently passed.  (I believe that this document is officially due later this spring.)  In addition, the Office of Education is reviewing its own activities and organizational requirements within that FY 2011 budget.  Thus, Space Grant Consortia nationwide are all waiting for notification of next year's base funds, as well as any augmentations that may be determined.  Not every Space Grant has the same "program anniversary," date, so even a check around the Big Ten or MAC conferences would indicate that other universities have already experienced, or not yet experienced, this end-of-year transition. All I know is that it's our turn now.

Despite this uncertainty, I am pleased to say that there are a number of extremely strong proposals that we are evaluating as our "first tier" funding priorities for 2011-12.  These funding priorities include summer programs and research activities, student internships at NASA Centers, INSGC Consortium priorities that are tied to summer activity, and outstanding scholarship and fellowship students.  One of the joys of INSGC is that we have a strong *portfolio* of projects that we support each year.  So, someone might ask us why this student didn't win a scholarship, or that project isn't being supported.  There are several factors that are involved, including (not in order of importance):

  • Program and disciplinary variety and representation;
  • Total cost and allocation of costs across budget categories;
  • Representation of multiple INSGC Affiliates and affiliate types;
  • Cost effectiveness and number of "persons touched" for project cost;
  • Adherence to NASA priorities and constraints, including Office of Education Outcomes.

I believe you would agree that these are all important criteria, and in addition, I need to make sure that we manage our "debt" and "future projections" well.  (Some days, I feel like I'm turning into a Washington political economist.  Oh, that's right, Space Grant funds really do come directly from NASA, as part of the Federal Budget.)  I have been extremely proud of our ability to present and defend our selection of programs, and report on our outcomes and successes, over the past three years; it looks like we will be able to continue this pattern of success within the constraints of unknown amounts of money with unknown delivery for projects that can't wait.

So, bear with us.  We plan to provide a "first cut" of award announcements on Tuesday, May 17... the first day of our new program year.


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