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FYI Number 145: December 6, 2001

Measurement of Federal Basic Research Programs Planned by OMB

Last week's meeting of the DOE/NSF Nuclear Science Advisory Committee included several presentations of particular interest to the wider science and technology community. Addresses by speakers from the Department of Energy, National Science Foundation, and the Office of Management and Budget discussed funding, the government's response to terrorism, and performance measurement. This FYI focuses on remarks concerning performance measurement, which echoed many of the points recently made in a speech by OMB Director Mitchell Daniels (see FYI #144.)

The Administration's emphasis on measurement was clearly evident in the presentations. "Management, metrics, and accountability" were identified as the major administrative thrusts of the Department of Energy. DOE applied research in Solar and Renewable Energy, Nuclear Energy, Clean Coal, Fossil Energy, and Energy Conservation will be measured using an "investment criteria" now under development (see FYI #117.) While this will not affect the DOE Office of Science in the FY 2003 budget cycle, measurement criteria will be implemented next fall as a planning tool for basic research programs in the FY 2004 budget. A strong focus of OMB's budgeting activity is program performance. In making the case for program funding it will be "absolutely important" that a program's objectives be clearly defined in understandable language, one of the speakers said. Also necessary will be an explanation of why the research is needed. A demonstration that progress is being achieved in the program will also be required.

The Administration is aware that the development of sensible, comprehensible, and accurate investment criteria for basic research will not be easy, and it is seeking input from the science community. That such criteria will be applied to basic research programs is a certainty, one of the speakers said, and will occur regardless of the level of involvement by the science community. Community participation in the development of investment criteria for basic research is a must, the advisory committee was told. Without measurement criteria it will be very difficult for basic research programs to compete for additional federal funding, or even keep the current level of funding, the committee was cautioned.

Efforts to develop program measurements are not new. During the Clinton Administration the Government Performance and Results Act was enacted. In 1999, a committee of the National Academy of Sciences developed a five-year measurement criteria centering on the quality of the research program, relevance to agency mission, and degree of international leadership (see 1999 FYI #29). At that time, the committee chairman described the Government Performance and Results Act and said "the law can become a tool of great value if working scientists understand its intention, help educate people about their work, and lend their expertise to the development of more accurate evaluations."

Judging by the comments made at the advisory committee meeting, those remarks made in 1999 seem to accurately reflect the Administration's position on the measurement of basic research programs that will occur in the fall of 2002. "Programs that are performing well will be rewarded," one of the speakers predicted.


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

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