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Federal R&D Funding Down in FY 2007

NSF 08-303 | February 2008 | PDF format PDF  

by Melissa Pollak[1]

The National Science Foundation (NSF) tracks federal funds obligated annually for research and development and R&D plant. The most recent data, for FY 2007, show an estimated $116.4 billion in total obligations, almost the same level ($116.9 billion) reported for the previous year. However, when the data are adjusted for inflation, they reflect a nearly 3% decrease in R&D and R&D plant obligations, the first such decline since FY 2000 (table 1). Both research ($55.1 billion) and development ($57.7 billion) are expected to be down from prior-year totals—2.2% and 3.5%, respectively—after adjustment for inflation.

TABLE 1. Federal obligations for research and development and R&D plant, by character of work: FY 1990–2007.

  Table 1 Source Data: Excel file

Data presented here are from the NSF Survey of Federal Funds for Research and Development FY 2005–07. FY 2005 figures in this report are actual data, FY 2006 figures are preliminary, and FY 2007 figures are projections provided by the agencies surveyed. For the remainder of this report, discussions of changes in funding across years will be in terms of inflation-adjusted (or constant) dollars, and discussions of 2007 funding levels will be in current dollars.

Federal Funding for Research and Development

Federal research obligations have dropped each year since FY 2004, when these obligations were at their peak. Total research obligations dropped an estimated 7.2% between FY 2004 and FY 2007, with the largest decline attributable to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). HHS is the leading federal agency in terms of research support, accounting for an estimated 52% of the total federal research budget in FY 2007. Estimated HHS obligations for research in FY 2007 are 5.6% below FY 2004 (figure 1, table 1). Research obligations of most federal agencies have dropped or shown negligible increases between FY 2004 and FY 2007.

FIGURE 1. Federal and HHS research obligations: FY 1997–2007.

  Figure 1 Source Data: Excel file

In addition to HHS, with an estimated $28.8 billion in total FY 2007 research obligations, the leading research-funding agencies are Defense ($6.5 billion), Energy ($6.0 billion), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration ($4.1 billion), the National Science Foundation ($4.0 billion), and Agriculture ($1.8 billion). Together, these six agencies account for 93% of projected FY 2007 federal research dollars (table 2).

TABLE 2. Federal obligations for research, by agency: FY 1990–2007.

  Table 2 Source Data: Excel file

Basic Research

After adjusting for inflation, no growth is expected in federal obligations for basic research between FY 2004 and FY 2007—in contrast to the periods FY 1998–2001 and 2001–04, when basic research obligations rose at average annual rates of 10.2% and 3.7%, respectively. Basic research obligations account for about one-fourth (24.3%) of total projected R&D and R&D plant in FY 2007, several percentage points higher than levels registered throughout the 1990s, but less than the 26.3% share recorded in FY 2002.

Applied Research

Federal obligations for applied research show a trend similar to that for basic research. After periods of substantial increases, especially during the early part of this decade, an average annual decline of 3.3% is expected between FY 2004 and FY 2007. Applied research obligations, as a percentage of the entire federal R&D and R&D plant budget, are expected to fall from a peak of 27.1% in 2001 to 23.0% in 2007.


FY 2007 obligations for development are expected to decline slightly to a level of $57.7 billion. DOD accounts for most of federal development funding—an estimated 86.4% (or $49.9 billion), due mostly to DOD's major systems development projects, which are expected to amount to $44.1 billion in FY 2007. DOD's funding of advanced technology development ($5.8 billion) is expected to account for 10% of total federal development obligations. NASA is the second largest supporter of development ($4.0 billion), followed by DOE ($1.9 billion). After several years of substantial growth, averaging 10.8% per year between FY 2002 and FY 2005, obligations for development increased an estimated 2% between FY 2005 and 2006 and are expected to fall 3.5% in FY 2007 (table 1).

Agencies' Funding for Research


During the late 1990s and early 2000s, HHS obligations for research experienced several years of annual double-digit percentage increases, reflecting the government's goal during that period to double the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget between FY 1998 and FY 2003.[2] Because of shifting R&D budget priorities, those gains seem to have ended. HHS has accounted for more than half of all agency-funded research since FY 2003, up from about one-third in 1990. Nearly all (96.2%) of the HHS research total is slated for the NIH (table 3); 82% ($23.6 billion) of FY 2007 HHS research funding is planned in support of the life sciences (table 4).

TABLE 3. Federal obligations for research, by top agency funders: FY 2005–07.

  Table 3 Source Data: Excel file

TABLE 4. Federal obligations for research, by field of science and engineering and agency: FY 2007 projected.

  Table 4 Source Data: Excel file

Department of Defense

Federal research dollars obligated by the Department of Defense (DOD) are expected to increase about 5% between FY 2005 and 2006 but then drop by approximately 2% between FY 2006 and 2007, continuing a general pattern of decline that began in FY 2002. DOD's share of total agency-funded research dropped from about 15% in FY 2001 to 11% in FY 2003, where it remained until FY 2005. It is expected to be up slightly in FY 2007 to 12%.

The Departments of the Air Force, Army, and Navy and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency account for most (92%) of DOD research dollars (table 3). Of total FY 2007 DOD research funding, 57% ($3.6 billion) is planned in support of engineering (table 4).

Defense research in FY 2007 (defense research funding from both DOD and the Department of Energy) is expected to account for $8.4 billion (15%) of the federally funded research total, about the same as the FY 2006 estimate ($8.5 billion) (table 3).

Department of Energy

Department of Energy (DOE) obligations for research are expected to reach $6.0 billion in FY 2007, up slightly over the expected 2006 level. DOE obligations grew each year between FY 1996 and FY 2005 but are expected to be nearly level between FY 2005 and FY 2007 (table 2). Most of the department's research dollars are obligated by the Office of Science ($3.2 billion in FY 2007) and various defense programs ($2.0 billion). These two components account for 54% and 32%, respectively, of the department's projected total FY 2007 research obligations (table 3). Most of the money is slated to support research in the physical sciences ($2.4 billion) and in engineering ($2.0 billion), which together account for nearly three-fourths of the department's total research budget (table 4).

National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Federal funds obligated for research by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) are expected to increase about 4% between FY 2005 and FY 2007. These increases follow a 20% decline in FY 2005. NASA estimated it would provide 87% of its total FY 2007 research funding in support of engineering ($1.5 billion), physical sciences ($1.1 billion), and environmental sciences ($1.0 billion) (table 4).


NSF obligations for research are expected to grow 4% in FY 2007 after declines in FY 2005 (-4%) and FY 2006 (-2%). Of total FY 2007 NSF research funding, 21% is planned in support of mathematics and computer science ($840 million), 19% for physical sciences ($766 million), 17% for engineering ($694 million), 16% for environmental sciences ($646 million), and 14% for life sciences ($583 million) (table 4).

Data Collection and Availability

Definitions of research, development, and R&D plant as used in this InfoBrief are provided in the technical notes section of the detailed statistical tables reports for this survey. For the prior-year report, see http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/nsf06313/.

The 30 federal agencies that report R&D obligations to the NSF Survey of Federal Funds for Research and Development submitted actual obligations for FY 2005 and preliminary data for FY 2006 and FY 2007. Data were requested from agencies beginning in February 2006. Agencies later revise the preliminary data on the basis of actual changes in the funding levels of R&D programs. Further, agencies may provide changes in prior-year data to reflect program reclassifications or other data corrections.

In FY 2000 NIH reclassified as research the activities that it had previously classified as development. Also in FY 2000, NASA reclassified Space Station as a physical asset, reclassified Space Station Research as equipment, and transferred funding for the program from R&D to R&D plant. NIH and NASA data for FY 2000 forward reflect these changes.

In FY 2004 NASA implemented a full cost budget approach, which includes all of the direct and indirect costs for procurement, personnel, travel, and other infrastructure-related expenses relative to a particular program and project. NASA's data for FY 2004 and later years may not be directly comparable to its data for FY 2003 and earlier years.

Transition to the new system has delayed NASA's reporting of R&D data to NSF. Revisions in their methods of reporting R&D dollars have also delayed NIH and DOD responses to the survey. NIH has revised its financial database, and new records no longer contain information regarding field of science and engineering. The research required to ascertain this information has slowed NIH's response to the survey. Beginning in FY 2004 DOD started requiring its reporting agencies to adhere to a new set of DOD standards when providing data to the survey. This new reporting method has slowed DOD's response time.

The full set of detailed tables from this survey will be available in the forthcoming report Federal Funds for Research and Development: Fiscal Years 2005, 2006, and 2007 at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/fedfunds/. Individual detailed tables from the 2005–07 survey may be available in advance of the full report. For further information, or for details on the survey methodology used, please contact Melissa Pollak.


[1] Melissa Pollak, Research and Development Statistics Program, Division of Science Resources Statistics, National Science Foundation, 4201 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 965, Arlington, VA 22230 (mpollak@nsf.gov; 703-292-7808).

[2] National Science Foundation, Division of Science Resources Statistics. 2002. Proposed FY 2003 Budget Would Complete Plan to Double Health R&D Funding, Considerably Expand Defense R&D. InfoBrief NSF 02-326. Arlington, VA. Available at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/infbrief/nsf02326/.

National Science Foundation, Division of Science Resources Statistics
Federal R&D Funding Down in FY 2007
Arlington, VA (NSF 08-303) [February 2008]

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