Today was the second day of the Astronomy and Astrophysics Advisory Committee meeting. The most interesting material today was a report on proposal success rates and proposal pressures, particularly focusing on the NSF programs. The beautiful result is that none of the standard myths about proposal over-subscription are correct: It is not coming from an increase in the size of our community, it is not coming from faculty at smaller or non-traditional research institutions, it is not coming from any simple demographic changes, it is not coming from any increase in typical proposal budgets, and it is definitely not that people are writing proposals more hastily and less well. And these myth-bustings are empirical findings from data gathered by a subcommittee of the AAAC.
It appears that the vastly increased proposal pressure is coming from the resubmission of proposals rated Very Good to Excellent, which are getting rejected more and more because the funding rate is now so low. That is, there is a runaway process in which when the funding rate gets low enough, very good proposals are getting rejected with good comments, and the proposers resubmit, thereby increasing further the proposal pressure and reducing further the funding rate. This effect is expected to increase further when LSST comes on-line, because the NSF AST budget has to absorb operations.