Our challenge, now and in the
future, will be to maintain a steady flow of understanding-driven
scientific and engineering studies even in the face of limited
federal resources. Meeting this challenge means that priorities
for spending on science and engineering by the federal government
will have to be set.
House of Representatives, Unlocking Our Future
Science and technology are critically
important to keeping our nations economy competitive
and for addressing challenges we face in health care, defense,
energy production and use, and the environment. As a result,
every federal research and development (R&D) dollar
must be invested as effectively as possible.
Presidents Management Agenda, Fiscal Year 2002
The Federal Governments policy for investment
in science and technology over the last 50 years has yielded enormous
benefits to the economy, national security, and quality of life
in the U.S. The Federal share of total national science and technology
investment is critically focused in areas that would be inadequately
funded or not supported by the private sector. These include research
to support Federal missions; research that is high-risk or requires
long-term investment in the expectation of future high payoffs to
society; unique, costly, cutting-edge research facilities and instruments;
and academic research that, as a primary purpose, supports the education
of the future science and engineering workforce.
Over $90 billion (1) was allocated to Federal R&D
in the most recent budgetrepresenting a little more than a
quarter of all national R&D. With such a large investment of
public funds, policy makers in Congress and the Executive branch
are asking for convincing evidence of the effectiveness of Federal
investments in the form of hard data on benefits. There is general
recognition among policy makers that outstanding opportunities for
excellent research far exceed any reasonable level of funding by
the Federal government. Choices must be made. Wise, well-informed
choices among alternatives will sustain a strong, balanced research
infrastructure to enable the discoveries that will be a foundation
for future prosperity.
The current system for priority setting in the Federal research
budget lacks a coherent, scientifically based process for systematic
review and evaluation of the broad Federal investment portfolio
for effectiveness in achieving national goals. Moreover available
data and analyses are often ill suited for informing budget allocation
decisions that affect U.S. research infrastructure.
Decision makers must rely on the scientific community to provide
the best advice on the most promising research investment choices
for the future. The form and timing of such advice are also important.
Appropriate advice must include a reasonable estimate of the level
of funding that would be required for adequate support of a new
initiative over time, provide tradeoff options to enable funding
for priorities, and be available on a schedule compatible with the
Federal budget process.
No process now exists for weighing the available evidence on competing
research investment opportunities across broad fields of research.
It is critical that the choices among such opportunities be based
on a process that is transparent and credible with the scientific
communities and the general public and its representatives. Such
a function requires an organizational home, appropriate expert resources,
and adequate financial support.
Since the mid 1990s, the National Science Board has been actively
engaged in issues of priority setting for the Federal
research portfolio (2). In 1999, the Board charged its Ad Hoc
Committee on Strategic Science and Engineering Policy Issues to
undertake a study of research budget coordination and priority setting
methodologies across fields of science and engineering in the U.S.
and in other countries.
The study, Federal Research Resources: A Process for
Setting Priorities (NSB 01-156), which follows on recommendations
of the Boards previous working paper on Government Funding
of Scientific Research [NSB 97-186), responds to a request by the
House Appropriations Committee (3) and the encouragement
of the Office of Management and Budget. In its November 1998 Strategic
Plan (NSB-98-215) the Board identified this effort as a high priority
for national science policy.
The Committee on Strategic Science and Engineering Policy Issues
commissioned reviews of the literature in two areas.
(4) The first focused on Federal research budget coordination, priority
setting across fields of science and engineering, and available
data and analytical tools to support priority setting. A second
study of the same subject reviewed international models of S&T
budget coordination and priority setting. It also included a symposium
with presentations by S&T officials from eight foreign governments.
In addition to these studies, the Committee heard presentations
by invited experts who discussed a wide range of methodologies and
data to support budget allocation decisions for research. It also
received written comments on its draft recommendations by mail and
through the National Science Board website, and heard presentations
broadly representative of stakeholders in Federal research. Stakeholder
input culminated with a Symposium on May 21-22, 2001 on the Boards
preliminary findings and recommendations, with more than 200 participants.
- Federal priority setting for research occurs
at three levels: 1) establishing Federal goals for research, 2)
the budget allocation processes for research within the White
House and Congress that in the aggregate produce the Federal research
portfolio and 3) Federal agencies and departments in achieving
their missions in accord with the Presidents priorities
for research. This report focuses on the second level, that is,
the White House and Congressional processes that in the aggregate
produce the Federal portfolio of investments in research.
- The allocation of funds to national research goals
is ultimately a political process that should be informed by the
best scientific advice and data available.
- A strengthened process for research allocation
decisions is needed. Such allocations are based now primarily
on faith in future payoffs justified by past success. They are
difficult to defend against alternative claims on the budget that
promise concrete, more easily measured results and are supported
by large and vocal constituencies.
- The pluralistic framework for Federal research
is a positive aspect of the system and increases possibilities
for funding high-risk, high-payoff research. An improved process
for budget coordination and priority setting should build on strengths
of the current system and address weaknesses in data, analyses,
and expert advice.
- There is a need for regular evaluation of Federal
investments as a portfolio for success in achieving Federal goals
for research, to identify areas of weakness in national infrastructure
for S&T, and to identify a well-defined set of the top priorities
for major new research investments.
- Additional resources are needed to provide both
Congress and the Executive branch with data, analyses, and expert
advice to inform their decisions on budget allocations for research.
Implementation of a broad-based, continuous
capability for expert advice to both OMB and Congress during the
budget process would yield immediate benefits to decision makers.
There is also a long-term need for a regular, systematic evaluation
of the effectiveness of Federal investments in achieving Federal
goals for research through the Office of Science and Technology
Policy, drawing broad-based input from scientific experts and organizations
in all sectors. Complementing both would be improved analyses on
research opportunities, needs, and benefits to society; and timely
data that trace Federal research investments through the budget
process and beyond.
The Federal Government, including the White House,
Federal departments and agencies, and the Congress should cooperate
in developing and supporting a more productive process for allocating
and coordinating Federal research funding. The process must place
a priority on investments in areas that advance important national
goals, identify areas ready to benefit from greater investment,
address long-term needs and opportunities for Federal missions and
responsibilities, and ensure world class fundamental science and
engineering capabilities across the frontiers of knowledge. It should
incorporate input from the Federal departments and agencies, advisory
mechanisms of the National Academies, scientific community organizations
representing all sectors, and a global perspective on opportunities
and needs for U.S. science and technology.
Presently there is no widely accepted and broadly applied way for
the Federal Government to obtain systematic input from the science
and engineering communities to inform budget choices on support
for research and research infrastructure. The current system often
fails to produce advice and information on a schedule useful to
the budget process and responsive to needs for broad-based, informed
assessments of the benefits and costs of alternative proposals for
Federal support. A more effective system for managing the Federal
research portfolio requires adequate funding, staffing and organizational
A process should be implemented that identifies priority needs and
opportunities for researchencompassing all major areas of
science and engineeringto inform Federal budget decisions.
The process should include an evaluation of the current Federal
portfolio for research in light of national goals, and draw on:
systematic, independent expert advice from the external scientific
communities; studies of the costs and benefits of research investments;
and analyses of available data; and should include S&T priorities,
advice, and analyses from Federal departments and agencies. The
priorities identified would inform OMB in developing its guidance
to Federal departments and agencies for the Presidents budget
submission, and the Congress in the budget development and appropriations
The Executive Branch should implement a more robust advisory mechanism,
expanding on and enhancing current White House mechanisms for S&T
budget coordination and priority setting in OSTP and OMB. It is
particularly essential that the advisory mechanism include participants
who are experienced in making choices among excellent opportunities
or needs for research, for example, vice provosts for research in
universities, active researchers with breadth of vision, and managers
of major industrial research programs.
An Executive Branch process for ongoing evaluation
of outcomes of the Federal portfolio for research in light of Federal
goals for S&T should be implemented on a five-year
cycle. (5) A report to the President and Congress should be
prepared including a well-defined set of the highest long-term priorities
for Federal research investments. These priorities should include
new national initiatives, unique and paradigm shifting instrumentation
and facilities, unintended and unanticipated shifts in support among
areas of research resulting in gaps in support to important research
domains, and emerging fields. The report should also include potential
trade-offs to provide greater funding for priority activities. The
report should be updated on an annual basis as part of the budget
process, and should employ the best available data and analyses
as well as expert input. Resources available to OSTP, OMB and PCAST
should be bolstered to support this function.
There is no coherent congressional mechanism for considering allocation
decisions for research within the framework of the broad Federal
research portfolio. Though improvements in the White House processparticularly
expansion of activities and resources available to OSTPwould
benefit congressional allocation decisions, one or more congressional
mechanisms to provide expert input to research allocation decisions
are badly needed.
Congress should develop appropriate mechanisms to provide it with
independent expert S&T review, evaluation, and advice. These
mechanisms should build on existing resources for budget and scientific
analysis, such as the Congressional Budget Office, the Congressional
Research Service, the Government Accounting Office, and the National
Academies. A framework for considering the full Federal portfolio
for science and technology might include hearings by the Budget
Committees of both houses of Congress, or other such broadly based
High quality data and data systems to monitor Federal investments
in research would enhance the decision process. Such systems must
be based on definitions of research activities that are consistently
applied across departments and agencies and measured to capture
the changing character of research and research needs. Improving
data will require long-term commitment with input from potential
users and contributors, and appropriate financial support.
A strategy for addressing data needs should
be developed. Such a strategy supported by OMB and Congress and
managed through OSTP and OMB would assure commitment by departments,
agencies and programs to timely, accessible data that are reliable
across reporting units and relevant to the needs for monitoring
and evaluating Federal investments in research. Current data and
data systems tracking federally funded research should be evaluated
for utility to the research budget allocation process and employed
Both relative and absolute international statistical data and assessments
should be a major component of the information base to support Executive
Branch and Congressional research budget allocation decisions. International
benchmarking of U.S. research performance and capabilities on a
regular basis responds to the growing globalization of science and
technology and the need for the U.S. to maintain a world-class science
and engineering infrastructure.
Input to Federal allocation decisions should
include comparisons of U.S. research resources and performance with
those of other countries. National resources and performance should
be benchmarked to evaluate the health and vigor of U.S. science
and engineering for a range of macroeconomic indicators, using both
absolute and relative measures, the latter to control in part for
the difference in size and composition of economies. Over the long
term, data sources should be expanded and quality improved.
In addition to monitoring Federal expenditures for research, measuring
the benefits to the public of funded research is essential for prudent
management. Implementation of this recommendation should be coordinated
with Recommendation 3 on definitions and data systems.
The Federal Government should invest in the
research necessary to build deep understanding and the intellectual
infrastructure to analyze substantive effects on the economy and
quality of life of Federal support for science and technology. The
research should include improvements to methods for measuring returns
on public investments in research.
The Boards recommendations provide a framework for improving
the quality, content, and accessibility of science and engineering
expert advice, data, and analyses to inform decisions on priorities
in the White House and Congress for Federal investments across fields
of research. We are aware that implementing these recommendations
will be difficult and require long-term commitment and support.
In the interest of science and the Nation, we urge that the Federal
Government and its partners in the research community embrace this