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The National Science Board - A History in Highlights, 1950-2000
Table of Contents | Preface | Acknowledgements | Former Members | Exec Secretaries/Officers | Timeline

Competing Priorities

McElroy had been one of NSF's early stars, supported for work on bioluminescence in the 1950s. Upon becoming Director in 1969, McElroy broke with the Waterman-Haworth tradition in which NSF Directors sailed close to the preferences of academic science. From his visits on Capitol Hill, McElroy knew that the Foundation was expected to expand its applied research portfolio, as had been requested by the 1968 Daddario amendments. The winds of change were not lost on the Board. In March 1970, after careful study, the Board agreed to establish Interdisciplinary Research Relating to the Problems of Society (IRRPOS). The next year, when the Foundation asked for $13 million for IRRPOS, Congress showered it with $34.2 million.

Photograph from the NSF Collection. Then on December 13, 1970, when Foundation officials were engaged in the yearly budget struggle, OMB told McElroy the President would ask for a multimillion dollar increase for FY1972 if the Foundation mounted an aggressive program to harness science to national needs. McElroy put the general idea to the Board on December 17; the Board "approved the Director's general organizational and program plans for expanding support in applied areas." Only after that meeting did McElroy tell the Board Chair the specific amount he had discussed with OMB: $81 million in a total proposed FY1972 budget of $622 million. Such a large applied program raised fears around the Foundation that the agency would be pulled away from its core mission in the basic sciences.

Sensing the unease but eager to gain the funding, McElroy appointed a task force that in some secrecy finished a plan on December 28 for a program entitled Research Applied to National Needs (RANN), encompassing applied projects meant to be of more immediate use to industry and the public. Board Chair Herbert E. Carter, a chemistry professor from the University of Illinois, personally approved the idea and the name on January 2, 1971.

Never warmly welcomed into the Foundation's scientist-dominated culture, RANN lurched forward until 1977, when it was discontinued at the recommendation of a special Board committee. Though it was supported by some colleges and universities whose students and administrators wanted more socially relevant research, RANN was constantly scrutinized by those who feared popular programs of applied research would reduce funding for basic research and graduate education. Historian Dian O. Belanger writes, "there was always at least a minority on the Board unhappy with RANN." In her view, "McElroy's failure to bring the NSB into the earliest policy- and program-forming process had to bear part of the blame.. [C]hange had been imposed, not negotiated, or even discussed."

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