The National Academy of Sciences has operated NSF's graduate fellowship program since 1952. But it has never had to compete for the contract, now worth close to $2 million annually. That's because of the academy's own rule that prohibits it from doing any work for the government if it first must submit a bid and be chosen over several competitors.

"We can't compete," says Frank Press, academy president. "If an agency accepts other bids, then we can't do the work. The rule stems from our 1863 charter [issued by Congress], and I certainly don't want to be the one to break with that tradition."

According to Press, the academy was created to provide a unique consultative service to Congress and the executive branch on matters of science and technology. The academy would be violating that charge, he explains, if it were to become involved in activities that could be performed...

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