Character of Work
R&D Scientists and Engineers

Character of Work

The Nation will spend an estimated $29.8 billion on basic research in 1996, $38.8 billion on applied research, and $115.8 billion on development (chart 15). These totals represent small changes from preliminary estimates of 1995 levels: a 0.9 percent decrease, in real terms, for basic research; a 1.0 percent increase for applied research; and a 1.5 percent increase for development. As a share of all 1996 projected R&D performance expenditures, basic research represents 16 percent, applied research 21 percent, and development 63 percent.

See appendix table C-6, C-9 and C-12.

The expected 1996 percentage shares differ from those reported in earlier periods. For example, in 1980 basic research accounted for 13 percent, applied research for 22 percent, and development for 65 percent. The methodology for imputing character-of-work estimates for industry's R&D performance, however, was changed for 1986 and later years. Consequently, data after 1985 are not strictly comparable with data for 1985 and earlier years. The revised approach resulted in relatively higher estimates for basic and applied research and lower estimates for development expenditures. Furthermore, the improved sampling of industry's R&D activity beginning in 1992 also resulted in notably higher basic research estimates than had previously been presented. (See appendix A for further details.)

Basic Research

By preliminary calculations, the average annual real growth in basic research performance between 1986 and 1996 was 2.9 percent, in contrast with 4.8 percent real annual growth between 1980 and 1985.

In terms of support, the Federal Government provided the majority of funds used for basic research. However, the Federal share of funding for basic research dropped as a proportion of all funding—from 70 percent in 1980 to a preliminary 58 percent ($17.2 billion in current dollars) in 1996. This decline does not reflect a diminution in Federal funding for basic research (in fact, it rose an estimated 57 percent in real terms between 1980 and 1996), but instead reflects the growing tendency for such funding to come from other sectors (up 173 percent over the 16-year period).

With regard to performance, universities and colleges account for the largest share (51 percent) of the projected basic research total for 1996. When the performance of university-administered FFRDCs is included, the academic sector's share of total climbs to 61 percent. In 1996, basic research performance of universities—excluding FFRDCs—will reach an estimated $15.1 billion in current dollars, representing a 0.8 percent increase from 1995 in real terms. The Federal Government is expected to provide a preliminary 63 percent of the basic research funds used by the academic sector in 1996. Non-Federal sources, including industry and State governments, will provide the remaining 37 percent.

Applied Research

Over the 1986-96 period, national applied research spending grew at an estimated average annual rate of 0.6 percent in real terms. Increases in industrial support are responsible for most of this gain.

Federal support in 1996 accounts for 36.4 percent ($14.1 billion in current dollars) of the Nation's support for applied research. During the 1980s, Federal support for applied research was intentionally deem-phasized in favor of support for basic research. Even with the current administration's push to increase its support of generic/precompetitive applied research, preliminary estimates of Federal support in 1996 for applied research are only 82 percent of that for basic research ($14.1 billion in current dollars versus $17.2 billion, respectively).

Performance by industry accounts for 65 percent ($25.3 billion in current dollars) of the 1996 preliminary total for applied research. Non-Federal sources will account for most ($21.0 billion) of these funds; Federal sources will provide the rest ($4.3 billion).

For the Nation's nonindustrial applied research in 1996, preliminary data indicate that most will be performed by universities and colleges ($5.7 billion in current dollars) and by the Federal Government ($4.9 billion). Approximately 24 percent of the projected Federal intramural applied research will be performed by DOD, another 20 percent by HHS, and 8 percent by NASA.24 Total Federal applied research performance has been remarkably level over the past 30 years, experiencing only 0.3 percent average annual growth in real terms since 1966.


The Nation's annual funding for development has changed little since the mid-1980s. From 1980 to 1985, development grew, on average, by 6.8 percent per year in real terms as increasingly larger shares of the national R&D effort were directed toward defense R&D, which tends to be approximately 90 percent development. Between 1986 and 1996, development performance in real terms grew at an average annual rate of 1.2 percent, climbing from, in constant 1987 dollars, $78.3 billion in 1986 to $83.4 billion in 1990; it fell to $80.9 billion in 1991 and 1993 before rising, by preliminary calculations, to $88.4 billion in 1996. Growth in both industry's and the Federal Govern-ment's development funding slowed considerably, the latter reflecting the fiscal constraints placed on overall defense spending. Of the expected 1996 national funding of development, industry will provide 73 percent and the Federal Government, 26 percent.

In terms of performance, industry will account for 88 percent ($102 billion in current dollars) of the Nation's 1996 development activities. Federal performance will account for 8 percent ($8.8 billion in current dollars).

R&D Scientists and Engineers

NSF sponsors a variety of surveys designed to collect data on the human resources devoted to science and technology in the United States, including information on worker inputs for R&D. Surveys directed at employers or institutions focus on the amount of time devoted to the performance and management of R&D. These data are reported in terms of person-years, or full-time-equivalent R&D jobs. Surveys directed at individuals collect data on self-reported primary work activity; that is, the activity on which a scientist/engineer spends the largest proportion of time but that is not necessarily full time. The 1994 National Patterns was the first to include revised estimates of the total number of scientists and engineers engaged primarily in R&D activities. The national totals include an FTE count of S&Es employed by industry, the total number of Federal employees whose primary work activity is research or development, an FTE estimate of graduate students' research activity, and the number of doctorate-holding S&Es working in educational or nonprofit organizations who self-report their primary work activity as research, development, or (up to 1993) the management of R&D work. These concepts are further described in appendix A.

National Estimates of R&D Scientists and Engineers

Approximately 962,700 scientists and engineers were employed in 1993 on R&D activities in the United States (table C-18). This figure reflects virtually no change (a 0.2 percent increase) from the 1991 level of 960,400. It reflects only a 20.1 percent increase over the 1985 figure of 801,900, the first year for which revised national tabulations are derived.25 In 1993, industry employed 79.4 percent of these R&D personnel. Companies classified under nonmanufac-turing industries accounted for the single largest industry share—25.3 percent of the industry total of 764,500 S&Es. This stands in sharp contrast to only 6 years earlier, 1987, when the transportation equipment industry was the largest employer of industry R&D scientists and engineers, and had nearly twice as many R&D S&Es as nonmanufacturing (187,800 versus 99,200, respectively). The Federal Government employed 6.2 percent (60,000) of the Nation's R&D S&Es in 1993, while the academic and nonprofit sectors accounted for the rest. Although the sector-specific survey methodologies differ considerably, the data indicate that a much higher percentage of Federal R&D S&Es in 1993 were employed in development activities (58.2 percent) than the percentage of academic R&D S&Es holding doctorates (3.2 percent).

In 1981, the number of scientists and engineers engaged in R&D per 10,000 labor force was just under 62 (table C-20). This ratio climbed continually through the 1980s, reached a peak of 75.7 per 10,000 in 1991, and dropped slightly to the most recent reported level of 74.3 per 10,000 in 1993.

In 1993, the Nation spent an average of approximately $139,000 (constant 1987 dollars) on R&D per R&D scientist and engineer; this includes salaries, fringe benefits, materials, supplies, and overhead for R&D activities. The comparable figure for 1985 was about $150,000 (constant 1987 dollars). (See table C-36 for industry-specific ratios.)

Surveys of Doctoral Scientists and Engineers

In 1993, the latest year for available data, there were approximately 462,870 doctoral scientists and engineers employed in the United States (table C-19). This total represents a 34.6 percent increase over the 344,000 reported for 1981. Holders of doctorates in sciences greatly outnumbered holders of doctorates in engineering—388,000 versus 75,000—with the number for sciences including 137,000 under "social and related sciences."

Forty-one percent of all science and engineering doctorate-holders reported R&D as their primary work activity in 1993. Basic research as a primary activity accounted for 14 percent of all scientists and engineers holding doctorates; applied research accounted for 20 percent; development, 5 percent; and design 2.3 percent. 26 Teaching as a primary activity accounted for 22 percent of doctoral scientists and engineers; the remaining 37 percent were distributed among management/sales/administration (18 percent), computer applications (4 percent), and other professional services (15 percent).

Scientists holding doctorates in 1993 were more likely to have basic research as their primary activity (16 percent) than engineers holding doctorates (5 percent). Consequently, scientists holding doctorates were less likely than engineers to have applied research, development, or design as their primary activity. The respective proportions for doctoral scientists and engineers with regard to these primary activities were 19 percent versus 25 percent for applied research; 4 percent versus 12 percent for development; and 1.3 percent versus 7 percent for design.

Doctoral engineers reported more involvement in management, sales, and administration as a primary work activity (21 percent) than doctoral scientists (17 percent). In contrast, scientists reported more involvement in teaching than engineers—23 percent versus 16 percent (chart 16).

See appendix table C-19.


24These percentages were derived from preliminary Federal obligations as reported in NSF, Federal Funds for Research and Development: Fiscal Years 1994, 1995, and 1996, NSF 97-302.

25See appendix A for details on the FTE R&D scientists and engineers series.

26The category of R&D called "design" here refers to an engineering activity—e.g., the design of equipment, processes, structures, and prototype models—rather than a managerial activity—e.g., the design of a research program.

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