Federal funding for physics research declined 24.6% from FY 1993 to
1999, according to a report recently released by the National Research
This is but one number in a report containing literally hundreds of
numbers that illustrate the way in which the level and composition of
the federal research portfolio changed during the last decade. The 161-page
report, "Trends in Federal Support of Research and Graduate Education"
has not yet been published, although it is available for viewing on
the National Academies
web site. Dale Jorgenson, a professor of Economics at Harvard University,
chaired the committee that authored the report.
This report offers many insights - far too many to summarize in this
FYI. Other fields discussed include astronomy, geology, and engineering.
Policy recommendations are offered. The following selections from this
report are some of the more pertinent concerning federal support for
"Federal research funding in the aggregate turned a
corner in FY 1998 after five years of stagnation. Total expenditures
were up 4.5 percent in FY 1998 over their level in 1993. A year later,
in FY 1999, they were up 11.7 percent over 1993."
"There is cause for concern about the allocation of
funding among fields in the federal research portfolio, in particular
with respect to most of the physical sciences and engineering whose
funding, in contrast with the biomedical sciences, has with few exceptions
stagnated or declined."
"Federal funding of [total] research in the physical
sciences was $4.1 billion in 1999, compared with $4.9 billion in 1993
(measured in 1999 dollars). The bulk of the decline occurred in physics
research. Federal funding was $2.2 billion, compared with $2.9 billion
in 1993. Astronomy also had less funding in 1999 than in 1993 ($757.9
vs. $766.0 million), as did chemistry ($814.9 vs. $941.1 million).
"The major cuts in physics research were made by DOE
and DOD. DOE reduced its support by $461.7 million (-25.3 percent)
and DOD by $308.3 million (-57.8 percent), compared with the 1993
funding level. NSF also reduced its level of support, by $8.6 million
(-4.7 percent). Some agencies (NIH, DOC, NASA, and others) increased
funding, but the total of $75.4 million did little to offset the large
cuts at DOE and DOE." [sic]
"In physics, federal agencies obligated 5.2 percent
less for basic research in 1999 than they had in 1993, compared with
a decrease in 24.6 percent in total research."
"In 1993, physics research received 62 percent of its
funding from DOE and 18 percent from DOD.... Both DOE and DOD reduced
funding, by 28 and 63 percent ($506 and $335 million), respectively,
in 1997 compared with 1993. The next largest funder, NSF, also cut
funding of physics research, by 27 percent ($49 million). There were
small increases from NASA, DOC, NIH, and other agencies, but overall
there was 28 percent less funding ($818 million) in 1997 compared
with 1993. DOE, DOD, and NSF increased their support some after 1997,
but physics research funding was still 25 percent less in 1999 than
in 1993. DOE still accounted for most of the federal funding of physics
research (61 percent in 1999 compared with 62 percent in 1993), indicating
that physics was not able to change its base of support."
"The fields that grew [in funding] despite reliance
on a shrinking agency [budget base] - e.g., computer science, metallurgy/materials
engineering - diversification of support explains their success in
large part. For the fields such as electrical engineering and physics
that were dependent mainly on an agency with a shrinking budget and
that were not able to diversify saw their funding decline significantly."
"Federal funding for university physics research declined
by 7.4 percent from 1993 to 1999. During this period, the number of
full-time physics graduate students declined steadily and substantially,
by 22.1 percent .... Federally supported graduate students declined
by 22.6 percent and federally supported graduate research assistants
(RAs) declined by 20.8 percent. The average annual decrease for federally
supported physics graduate students was 4.2 percent and for those
with nonfederal funding was 4.0 percent."