In recent presentations to the High Energy Physics Advisory Panel and
the Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committee, Patrick Looney, the OSTP
Assistant Director for Physical Sciences and Engineering, described
attempts within the Administration to take a broad view of the entire
federal science portfolio. OSTP, he explained, is seeking ways to assess
which areas deserve highest priority, which proposed facilities are
most valuable and timely, and how activities and instruments in one
field impact upon other fields of science. "Not looking at programs
across government as one larger program, in a coordinated fashion"
results in inefficiency, imbalance, and waste, Looney said. He quoted
from a June OSTP/OMB memo on FY 2005 funding priorities which states,
"Consistent with the President's Management Agenda, it is imperative
that, where appropriate, federal R&D investments be managed as a
portfolio of potentially interconnected activities to optimize scientific
discovery through interagency coordination of related research areas."
The June 5 memorandum was issued by OSTP Director John Marburger and
former OMB Director Mitch Daniels to heads of federal agencies, to provide
guidance on R&D priorities for fiscal year 2005. Entitled "FY
2005 Interagency Research and Development Priorities," the memo
lays out five areas of R&D that should "receive particular
attention" in preparation of the FY 2005 budget request. The priority
areas, with selected explanatory quotations from the memo, follow:
1. R&D FOR COMBATING TERRORISM: "Agencies are encouraged
to promote R&D efforts, with emphasis on applied technologies, to
address our nation's ability to detect, prevent, treat, remediate, and
attribute acts of terrorism." Seven research priorities are listed
under this heading: "enhancing detection, treatment and remediation
of chemical, biological and radiological threats;" "developing
and transitioning technology" to first responders; promoting development
of next-generation "vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics;"
converting intelligence data into "actionable knowledge;"
"assessing the social and behavioral aspects of terrorism;"
facilitating inspections at ports-of-entry; and "securing critical
2. NANOTECHNOLOGY: "The National Nanotechnology Initiative
(NNI) continues to offer great promise broadly across many scientific
fields and most sectors of the economy, and remains an Administration
priority. The NNI supports both fundamental and applied R&D in nanotechnology
and nanoscience across a broad range of areas, development of nanoscale
instrumentation and metrology, and the dissemination of new technical
capabilities to industry. Nanoscale R&D priority areas continue
to include material science and research relevant to medical care and
3. NETWORKING AND INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY R&D: "Efforts
that contribute to other interagency R&D priorities (research related
to critical infrastructure protection and cybersecurity, for example)
are especially important, and may also require broader coordination
with other NSTC [National Science and Technology Council] entities.
Research on networking is another high priority area."
4. MOLECULAR-LEVEL UNDERSTANDING OF LIFE PROCESSES: "Methods
for characterizing plants, animals and microorganisms have evolved from
observation at the level of the whole organism, to deconstruction and
manipulation at the cellular and molecular levels. New computer algorithms
permit the synthesis of sequence data with experimental evidence of
function across species.... The NSTC coordination process...will assist
in identifying R&D opportunities and needs to most effectively utilize
federal resources and take better advantage of current biological, computational
and bioinformatics technologies."
5. ENVIRONMENT AND ENERGY: Three areas of R&D are highlighted.
Climate Change: "The Administration's R&D investments responding
to the challenge of global climate change will increase our understanding
of climate change science to provide sound climate policy decision-making."
Environmental Observations: "A key goal of the Administration's
R&D investments is to enhance capabilities to assess and predict
key environmental systems." Hydrogen Fuel R&D: "Agency
research efforts should address key technology barriers such as lowering
the cost of hydrogen production, creating effective hydrogen storage,
and developing affordable hydrogen fuel cells."
"Science and technology," the memo states, "contribute
significantly to the highest priorities of this Administration: winning
the war on terrorism, securing the homeland, and strengthening the economy."
It continues, "The combination of limited resources and a multitude
of opportunities requires careful attention to funding priorities."
The memo calls for rigorous justification of new programs and reevaluation
of existing programs, and warns that "agencies should fund new,
high-priority activities by reallocating resources from lower-priority
or recently completed activities."
Regarding the balance between the life and physical sciences, the memo
has this to say: "The President's Council of Advisors on Science
and Technology has urged increased investment in certain areas of physical
science, citing opportunities for continued scientific discovery and
the fact that such discoveries often drive advances in other areas of
science. Budgetary proposals for these or any other area must be specific
regarding how the programs will expand scientific frontiers in a manner
consistent with stated agency missions and national goals and demonstrate
coordination with similar programs in other agencies. The desire to
achieve parity in funding levels among disciplines does not by itself
suffice to justify funding increases."
The memo also discusses the Administration's efforts "to build
upon lessons learned from previous and ongoing practice" to develop
"explicit R&D investment criteria." The memo states, "While
the criteria are intended to apply to all types of R&D, the Administration
is aware that predicting and assessing the outcomes of basic
research in particular is never easy. Serendipitous results are often
the most interesting and ultimately may have the most value. Taking
risks and working towards difficult-to-attain goals are important aspects
of good research management, and innovation and breakthroughs are among
the results. However, there is no inherent conflict between these facts
and a call for clearer information about program goals and performance
towards achieving those goals. The Administration expects agencies to
focus on improving the management of their research programs and adopting
effective practices, and not on predicting the unpredictable."
The full text of the memo can be found on the OSTP web site at: http://www.ostp.gov/html/OSTP-OMB%20Memo.pdf.