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News Release 17-031

Federal research funding up in FY 2015

But total R&D funding falls by 1%

Department of Defense research obligations decreased slightly.

Department of Defense research obligations decreased slightly.

April 10, 2017

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

Federal funding for research and development (R&D) and R&D plant (facilities and fixed equipment) totaled $131.4 billion in Fiscal Year (FY) 2015, a 1 percent decrease from the previous year, according to a new report from the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES).

NCSES reported that within the R&D total, research obligations -- a category of transactions including orders placed, contracts awarded and services received -- increased by 1 percent to $63.6 billion. At the same time, development funding fell by 4 percent to $64.9 billion and R&D plant rose a substantial 27 percent to $2.8 billion.

The NCSES report breaks down research funding amounts for the top federal agencies, including:

  • Department of Health and Human Services (HHS): At $30.2 billion, HHS had the largest share of total federal research obligations. However, HHS research funding represented a 1 percent decrease ($390 million) from the previous year. The department's funding obligations were split evenly between basic and applied research. At $25.2 billion, life sciences was the research category that received the biggest share of HHS' research obligations.
  • Department of Energy (DOE): DOE research obligations rose to $8.6 billion, an increase of 7 percent. About 52 percent of its obligations went toward basic research, and 48 percent went toward applied. Engineering received the biggest share of DOE research obligations, at $3.7 billion.
  • Department of Defense (DOD): DOD's research obligations decreased by $12 million, to $6.7 billion. About 32 percent of DOD's obligations went toward basic research, and 68 percent went toward applied. Engineering received the biggest share of DOD research obligations, at $2.7 billion.
  • National Science Foundation (NSF): NSF's research obligations grew to $5.7 billion, representing a 5 percent increase. Almost all NSF research obligations -- 88 percent -- go toward basic research. NSF spreads its research support more evenly across all science and engineering fields than any other agency, with 21 percent ($1.2 billion) going toward environmental sciences, 18 percent ($1 billion) toward mathematics and computer science, 18 percent ($1 billion) for engineering, 16 percent ($900 million) for physical sciences and 12 percent ($700 million) for life sciences.
  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA): NASA research obligations totaled $5.5 billion, a 4 percent increase. About 58 percent of NASA's funding went toward basic research, and 42 percent went toward applied research. NASA directed 87 percent of its funding to three fields: engineering ($2.1 billion), physical sciences ($1.5 billion) and environmental sciences ($1.3 billion).

For more information, including the top 10 state or location recipients for federal R&D funding, read the full report.


Media Contacts
Stanley Dambroski, NSF, (703) 292-7728, email:

Program Contacts
Michael Yamaner, NSF, (703) 292-7815, email:

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2023 budget of $9.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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