I recently returned from an NSF (National Science Foundation) review panel. (Of course, I'm not allowed to say when, or for what.) On the way back, at the airport, I ran into a more senior colleague (from an entirely different field -- not EECS) coming back on the same flight. It came up that he had never served on an NSF review panel. He admittedly seemed a bit sheepish about it, but offered the excuse that there were more important things to do, and I will give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he meant other service activities, not research and such. Essentially, his argument seemed to be that NSF panels were a waste of his time.
Having served on a half dozen or so NSF review panels, I have some sympathy for this point of view. In particular, being anti-travel, I'm not sure why we have to fly in for a two-day meeting to make decisions; it's expensive for the NSF and time-consuming for me. (It's not clear to me that decisions are any better because of the face-to-face meeting. Indeed, arguably, they can be worse, depending on the group interaction. But government process is government process, so unlike for PCs, not having the face-to-face meeting is not currently an option...)
However, despite the time, I've tried to make myself available when the calls for NSF panels go out, because I've always figured that if the NSF is paying my summer salary (which, in large part, they do), they have the right to ask for some of my time. Indeed, my gut reaction (without working through the arguments) is that it's objectionable that they don't actually require people who have received funding to serve on a review panel at some point during the term of their grant, though I suppose the implementation of that rule could become unpleasant. In short, my moral interpretation is that by taking their money, I'm part of their system, so when they come calling, I should respond, even without an explicit quid pro quo.
Even if one does not subscribe to this implicit understanding, I think it's important for us individually and as a community (including non-academics who don't get NSF funding directly) to do our service for the NSF, particularly in the way of review panels. In general, citizens should be keeping an eye out on how the government uses their money, and in this specific case, as scientists, we should be paying especially close attention to how the government is distributing research money to scientists in our own and related fields, and we should be attempting to influence the process to move in the right directions as much as possible. The panels give us some opportunity to influence the process, and these otherwise near-useless face-to-face meetings give us some opportunity to influence the NSF administrators who shape and make the decisions that affect us all.
So, with all due respect to my senior colleague, and any of you other slackers out there, get over yourselves, and go serve on an NSF panel every other year or so.