The budget process can be confusing. The federal government is currently
operating with FY 2002 funding. Congress is drafting the FY 2003 appropriations
bills. And the Bush Administration is beginning work on the FY 2004
Budget-forecasting often involves looking for clues in the pronouncements
of key Members of Congress or senior Administration officials. Occasionally
a document becomes available that makes the outlook clearer. That is
the case with a May 30 White House memorandum from OSTP Director John
Marburger and OMB Director Mitchell Daniels entitled "FY 2004 Interagency
Research and Development Priorities."
This 14-page memo to the heads of executive departments and agencies
"provides guidance on the types of R&D programs the Administration
will favor when making fiscal year 2004 investment decisions, identifies
priority activities requiring significant interagency coordination,
and sets forth R&D investment criteria that departments and agencies
should observe and implement." It lists the Administration's six
S&T priorities and later spells out three "tests" that
R&D managers should apply to their programs. Notably, it does not
provide the "guidance levels" that OMB gave these S&T
managers about the parameters of the budget request they will submit
to Congress in early 2003.
Not included in this list are those "priorities that fall within
the purview of a single agency. Agencies with responsibilities for specific
fields of science and engineering should consider the impact of their
research investments on the sustained viability of these disciplines
for national priorities." Also, "OSTP . . . will evaluate
how best to ensure the availability of instrumentation and facilities
for priority science and technology needs."
The major portion of the memo is devoted to Research and Development
Investment Criteria. "One way the Administration intends to improve
R&D program management and effectiveness is through the application
of explicit R&D investment criteria, as directed by the President's
Management Agenda," is how the memo introduces this concept. The
focus is not to be on how much money an agency is spending, "but
rather on what we are getting for our investment." The memo provides
considerable detail about three tests, initially described as follows:
"Relevance. R&D programs must be able to articulate why
this investment is important, relevant, and appropriate. Programs must
have well-conceived plans that identify program goals and priorities
and identify linkages to national and 'customer' needs."
"Quality. R&D programs must justify how funds will
be allocated to ensure quality R&D. Programs allocating funds through
means other than a competitive, merit-based process must justify these
exceptions and document how quality is maintained."
"Performance. R&D programs must have the plans and management
processes in place to monitor and document how well this investment
is performing. Program managers must define appropriate outcome measures
and milestones that can be used to track progress towards goals, and
assess whether funding should be enhanced or redirected."
There has been considerable discussion how the investment criteria
would be applied to basic research programs. The memo addresses these
concerns, and states, "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 entire text of this memorandum may be viewed at: http://www.ostp.gov/html/ombguidmemo.pdf
Federal investment in R&D was a topic of discussion at this week's
second open meeting of the President's Council of Advisors on Science
and Technology. Several PCAST members have formed a panel to examine
the U.S. R&D portfolio over the last twenty-five years. This panel,
chaired by G. Wayne Clough, President of the Georgia Institute of Technology,
will examine both federal and non-federal investment in R&D, including
changes in its size, composition, and trends. Workforce issues and the
position of the U.S. as compared to other nations will also be examined.
The panel wants its report to impact the FY 2004 budget request, and
so will complete its work by November. The RAND Corporation has been
contracted to write the actual report, with input to be provided through
meetings and hearings with industry, universities, federal agencies,
and other parties. AAAS will also be involved in the production of the
reports. Other PCAST panels are working on broadband communications,
energy efficiency, and counter-terrorism.
A FINAL NOTE: We will soon compile the responses from our FYI readership
survey. If you have not completed this survey, please do so. It is important
that we hear from as many readers as possible. You can find the survey