One of the nice things about NSF is that we can talk to the program officers. They will help us, discuss the reviews and the proposal, and point us in helpful directions. They are the messengers that tell us about the reviews, though they won’t often have much more to say than what you can read in the reviews and panel summaries. Still, it sometimes helps to hear it. Also, they can help us strategize for the next step.
So don’t call the program officer if you did not get funded until you are at some level of emotional peace. The program officers are doing a very hard job with brutal work loads. They put together the panels, set the order of the discussions, place things on the board, according to the panel’s instructions, and decide how far the funds will reach, to name just a few of their tasks. But they rely on the panel and on ad hoc reviews (reviews sent to outside people not on the panel) if the particular program has them, for the rankings. This means they are not the ones that decided alone your work was not going to get funded this round.
You may also want to talk to the program officer before you submit a proposal (not right before, preferably, but weeks or months before). They have seen thousands of proposals and may well have some excellent advice at this stage.
But if you call or email your program officer about a specific proposal, please give them the proposal number. The first thing they will want to do is to look up the proposal and the easiest way for them to do that is with the proposal number. Always, always, provide this number, for it will save valuable time for more meaningful discussions.