I've mentioned this before in discussion of the preproposal panel I was on last spring, but a post of DrugMonkey's brought it back up in my mind. One of the ideas that NSF seemed to be batting around was the possibility of funding proposals at the preproposal stage. As it was discussed, this would be a rare option that might be exercised on the top few preproposals in the bin. Obviously, with no budget at the preproposal stage, there would have to be some downstream work with the POs to make it happen, but it is an intriguing option.
On the "pro" side, my experience on that panel suggested that a small number of preproposals stood out to the group as superior. With this option, it would save time and resources in getting top science funded.
Some of the "cons" could include overuse. If, say, five preproposals got funded, what would that leave for the full proposal round? And if we're going to fund 4 pagers, why bother doing the full proposal? Having read a large number of both grant types, I can say for sure that most proposals need more than 4 pages. I think most panel members would shy away from green-lighting 4 page science, but I don't know.
What do you think? Is funding a preproposal a viable model?