KEY SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING INDICATORS: 2010 DIGEST

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U.S. R&D: Federal Portfolio

Why is this important?

The distribution of R&D funds by the U.S. federal government provides insight into the nation's broad mission priorities for public expenditures.

Key observations:

Federal R&D funds, by type of work: 1986–2008

($ BILLIONS)
NOTE: 2008 data are preliminary.
SEI 2010: R&D by Character of Work, Chapter 4; appendix table 4-19. See also NSF Survey of Federal Funds for Research and Development: 2007–09.

Type of work

Federal funding of R&D has more than doubled over 20 years (not adjusting for inflation). Federal basic and applied research funds have grown more rapidly than funds for development work. Consequently, research now makes up about half of federal R&D funds.

Federal basic and applied research funds, by S&E field: 1986–2008

($ BILLIONS)
NOTE: 2008 data are preliminary.
SEI 2010: Federal Spending on Research by Field, Chapter 4.

Support for S&E fields

The life sciences account for half of the federal portfolio of basic and applied research (development funds cannot be sorted into S&E fields), up from about 40% two decades earlier. Funding for physical, environmental, and social sciences and funding for engineering has increased at below average rates.

Distribution of federal agencies' research support portfolios, by field: 2008

(PERCENT)
NOTE: 2008 data are preliminary; excludes ARRA stimulus funds.
SEI 2010: Federal Spending on Research by Field, Chapter 4.

Agency support

Agencies of the federal government fund R&D that supports the attainment of agency goals.

The Department of Health and Human Services funds 85% of research in the life sciences ($29.7 billion in 2008), primarily through the National Institutes of Health. The Departments of Defense and Energy and the National Science Foundation support 77% of research in math/computer sciences and physical sciences ($8.5 billion). NSF supports research across the range of S&E fields, principally basic academic research.

DOD, DOE, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration support about 71% of engineering research ($9.4 billion in 2008).

Federal R&D budget, by national objectives: 1990–2008

($ BILLIONS)
NOTES: 2008 data are preliminary. Budget authority.
SEI 2010: Federal R&D Budget by National Objectives, Chapter 4.

Focus

The Department of Defense, long the largest federal R&D funding agency, has increased its R&D support strongly in recent years. More than half of the federal government's R&D investment is devoted to defense. More than half of nondefense R&D is related to health, largely funded by the Department of Health and Human Services, primarily through the National Institutes of Health.

Federal spending on R&D, by performer: 1986–2008

($ BILLIONS)
NOTES: 2008 data are preliminary. Federal government is intramural only.
SEI 2010: Federal Spending on R&D by Performer, Chapter 4.

Performers

Different institutions bring different perspectives and approaches to R&D. Academic and nonprofit institutions, which tend to concentrate on basic research, have received steadily increasing federal support. Industry, heavily focused on development and applied research, has recently seen rising federal funding after a decade of no growth.

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