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FYI Number 70: June 8, 2001

Allocating Scientific Resources: National Science Board Issues Report

There has been considerable discussion about how the federal government should best allocate funding for the conduct of scientific research. Over the years, various federal and non- federal committees have issued reports on making this process more methodical. The National Science Board recently convened a symposium to discuss its draft report, "The Scientific Allocation of Scientific Resources," which makes five major recommendations to improve this process.

At this symposium, National Science Board Chairman Eamon Kelly spoke of demands for better accountability for federal investment, as well as greater coherence in making decisions regarding the adequacy and balance of investments in various sectors. He described the allocation process as "difficult and controversial." The issuance of the twenty-page draft report followed two years of literature review and discussion, and was, Kelly said, "only a framework for discussion." Kelly is the Chair of the NSB Committee on Strategic Science and Engineering Policy Issues that wrote the report.

"Today's environment demands more effective management of the Federal portfolio for research, including a sustained advisory process that incorporates systematic participation by the science and engineering communities," the report states in its introduction. This is particularly true for investments in long-term, high-risk research. The introduction also states a point made repeatedly during the symposium (see FYI #68): "Critics and supporters alike note the need for a clearly articulated and compelling rationale for Federal investments in science and technology equivalent in persuasive powers to the rationale of the Cold War."

"Ultimately, the Federal budget for research rests on aggregated political decisions in thirteen congressional appropriations subcommittees," the report states. Following an overview of the executive and legislative branch allocation process, the authors conclude, "To enhance the effectiveness of Federal investments in achieving long-term goals for research, a regular, credible process that relies in part on expert input from the science and engineering communities is essential for priority setting among competing investment choices." Crucial to such priority setting are "more and credible data and analyses," although the report cautions that such data and analyses may be difficult to achieve

The report makes a series of well-considered recommendations to improve the allocation of federal funding for science and technology. The Keystone Recommendation is as follows:

"The Federal government, including the White House, Federal departments and agencies, and the Congress should cooperate in developing and supporting a more productive process for allocating and coordinating Federal research funding. The process must place a priority on investments in areas that advance important national goals, identify areas ready to benefit from greater investment, address long-term needs and opportunities for Federal missions and responsibilities, and ensure world class fundamental science and engineering capabilities across the frontiers of knowledge."

The draft report may be viewed here.

  Richard M. Jones
Public Information Division
American Institute of Physics
(301) 209-3095

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