If you've been on an NSF panel recently, you may have seen a figure that had the same axis as the graph above. It's what POs are showing panelists as they consider the proposals on the table. I've added in my own details to reflect what I'm hearing from both POs and people coming out of the spring panels. The green oval represents proposals ranked as "Outstanding", the yellow "Superior" and the red "Meritorious".
At least in the 4 panels I have heard about in BIO, funding lines are coming in around 6-9%. The continuing resolution and 1% cut in the new Fed budget mean that things are tight and this is certainly no surprise. Knowing this was going to be a slim year, POs have been urging panels to wield I mighty hammer when it comes to putting proposals in the black in the above graph and 80% of proposals ending up "non-competitive" is not unusual this year, in stark contrast to previous years.
So what is getting the nod? Based on the graph above that panels are asked to consider, the implication should be pretty clear - ensure your methods are tight, have the preliminary data to cover your ass and be thinking hard about the bigger implications of any work you are proposing. This holds true for any year, but going forward in our financial climate, in particular. NSF's fav word right now is "transformative"... but only when it comes via proven methods.