NSF to Close Overseas Offices

The agency announces that the fixed offices and staffing will be replaced with short-term expeditions to foster collaboration.

Feb 22, 2018
Shawna Williams

NSF headquartersNATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATIONIn a move billed as an “upgrade” to its approach to international outreach, the US National Science Foundation (NSF) will close its three overseas offices this year, the agency announced yesterday (February 21).

The announcement comes the day after Science|Business reported that NSF had recalled the directors of its offices in Brussels and Beijing, citing budget cuts in internal announcements of the change (the third office, in Tokyo, was already without a director). The article notes that the Brussels office’s accomplishments include brokering a science cooperation agreement that makes it easier for US researchers to partner with international colleagues under the Horizon 2020 funding program, and introducing European researchers to US funding opportunities. Altogether, the three offices cost NSF about $1 million per year to run, the article estimates.

“This is the new environment we are in,” former US ambassador to the EU Anthony Gardner tells Science|Business. “All levers of soft power are being cut right now—science is just one of them. We’re beginning to see massive changes to how we do diplomacy.”

But NSF says in its statement that rather than staffing and maintaining offices, it will begin sending NSF experts “for short-term expeditions to selected areas to explore opportunities for collaboration. . . . We seek to improve cooperation by increasing outreach to our foreign counterparts instead of relying on a small number of static offices with a limited number of employees.” The office closures will take place by this summer.