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National Academy of Sciences (US) Committee on Criteria for Federal Support of Research and Development. Allocating Federal Funds for Science and Technology. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1995.

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Allocating Federal Funds for Science and Technology.

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Preface

In a report accompanying funding for the National Institutes of Health for Fiscal Year 1995, the Senate Appropriations Committee requested a study from the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The study was to address "the criteria that should be used in judging the appropriate allocation of funds to research and development activities, the appropriate balance among different types of institutions that conduct such research, and the means of assuring continued objectivity in the allocation process." The study originated from the Appropriations Committee's concern "that at a time when there is much opportunity to understand and cure disease, funding for health research supported by NIH in the next fiscal year is held to below the inflation rate for medical research due to budget constraints. Similarly, other Federal research agencies are confronted with constrained resources resulting from the virtual freeze in discretionary outlays."

The charge was daunting when it was requested by the Appropriations Committee and is even more so now. With a year's passage, the concern with a "virtual freeze in discretionary outlays" seems an understatement. The efforts by both the Administration and the Congress to reduce the federal deficit have prompted proposals to cut programs, consolidate or abolish agencies, and even do away with whole departments. The federal research and development enterprise has not been exempt from examination, nor should it be. Since the end of World War II, this enterprise has become vast and complex, and it accounts for a significant part of the discretionary outlays of the federal government. It is thus important that the nature and structure of federal support for research and development, as well as the benefits it brings, be understood to assure that as budgets are reduced, the strengths of U.S. science and technology are maintained, while the anachronistic or weak aspects are pruned.

The Committee on Criteria for Federal Support of Research and Development approached its task with realism about the budget pressures, an eagerness to provide advice that could guide both the Executive Branch and Congress, and a concern for fairness in evaluating the many parts of the enterprise. The committee's membership reflected these aims, including individuals who perform federally funded research, who use the results in industry and other sectors, who have been involved in shaping federal research and development programs in the past, and who are students of the research and development enterprise.

The committee's realism about budget pressures was matched by its realism about the report's immediate impact on current budgets. It is the committee's hope that this report will serve well both the executive and legislative branches as they grapple with the very hard decisions that will have to be made over many budget cycles, in a politically and fiscally difficult environment.

The theme of the committee's report is continuance in the face of change. Continuance builds on the spectacularly successful results of postwar federal investments in research and development. By any measure, these investments have been recouped many times over in contributing to a strong and globally competitive U.S. economy, hastening the end of the Cold War, providing continuing national security against new enemies, advancing the fight against disease, improving our environment, and producing revelations about ourselves, our world, and our cosmos. Change comes in acknowledging that the federal research and development enterprise must adapt to a new world. The Cold War is over. Global competition is both economic and military, involving many more nations than did the past bipolar confrontation of nuclear superpowers. These problems create opportunities. Indeed, science and technology will be even more important in the future than they are today. Change is also reflected in the very doing of science, as computers and high-speed communication networks expand access to databases and facilities throughout the world and enable daily collaboration among scientists and engineers separated by great distances.

Over time, institutions and programs have been created that no longer serve us well. Even good programs and institutions must give way to successors that are better and are more closely linked to new national needs. These are painful messages. Some of the committee's members have built their professional lives through programs and institutions that may not survive application of the principles the committee proposes for judging future expenditures. At the same time, the committee believes strongly that failure to make these choices will prove costly, serving neither the nation nor the scientific community. That said, the committee appreciates that its principles for judging programs and institutions are, by necessity, general and must be given more specificity when applied to particular programs and institutions. As a practical matter, the committee did not offer specific details for implementing the judgments that must be made. The committee believes that those who must make the decisions and execute them should be given the latitude to apply these principles sensibly.

The report is short, and deliberately so. Part I offers the committee's recommendations, with sufficient elaboration to enable readers to understand them. The four supplements included in Part II give details underlying the recommendations. These supplements are not mere appendixes, but provide background critical to understanding this brief report. For example, Supplement 2 shows how the committee derived a new budget index it calls federal science and technology (FS&T). The committee believes that these federal funds best define the public investment in the science and technology base that is essential for maintaining U.S. health, prosperity, and security.

In addition to the facts and analyses provided in the supplements, the committee relied on other means for arriving at its judgments, including more than 35 letters received from individuals in leadership positions in industry, academia, and scientific societies; a number of outreach meetings held around the country; several commissioned papers; communications through an Internet home page; briefings by senior government officials whose agencies are collectively responsible for most of the federal research and development budget; and discussions with many individuals in the Administration and Congress. The committee is grateful to all who took the time to provide assistance and in doing so not only tutored us, but also showed their concern for the future of the U.S. research and development enterprise. The individuals who assisted the committee and the background papers prepared for it are acknowledged in Appendixes C and D, respectively.

Some will think it politically unwise that we recommend a process and guidelines for identifying activities that can be reduced or eliminated and for reallocating the savings to ones more essential to preserving U.S. leadership in science and technology. We have been told that our advice will be only partially followed—that the cuts will be made but that the savings will not be reallocated to federal science and technology. Perhaps. But we see no alternative. We can only hope that the case we have made is convincing, and trust that our recommendations to maintain U.S. strength in science and technology will be accepted. The committee believes that the political wisdom that created the remarkably successful U.S. research and development enterprise will endure, driven by the U.S. public's strong and abiding support for federal science and technology.

This report results from the work of many people. I especially thank the committee itself. It had what some believed a near-impossible task. Whether it succeeded is for others to judge. I shall always be grateful to these extraordinarily accomplished and able people for the care, intelligence, and above all the time they gave to wise and experienced judgments about a federal role that is so vital to the nation's future. Finally, I know I speak for all the committee members in acknowledging our indebtedness to the staff—consummate professionals who know as much about science policy issues as any in Washington, and without whose participation the report would be much diminished.

Frank Press

Chair

Committee on Criteria for Federal Support of research and Development

Copyright © 1995, National Academy of Sciences.
Bookshelf ID: NBK45561

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