The President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology
(PCAST) has prepared a draft letter to President Bush urging
significant increases in federal research funding for physical
sciences and some fields of engineering. The letter follows
the release of a PCAST report recommending "the R&D budget
adjusted upward for the physical sciences and engineering,
bringing them collectively to parity with the life sciences
over the next 5 budget cycles."
PCAST has 23 members from industry, educational institutions, and research
organizations. At its first meeting in early March, G. Wayne Clough,
President of the Georgia Institute of Technology, was appointed the
chair of a subcommittee on federal R&D that oversaw the development
of recommendations (see /fyi/2002/029.html.)
PCAST first contracted with RAND Corporation and AAAS to produce a
study reviewing R&D spending over the last twenty- five years. This
study was the basis for a 14-page draft report by PCAST member Erich
Bloch entitled "Assessing the U.S. R&D Investment" (http://www.ostp.gov/PCAST/AssessingRD82202%20final.pdf).
Bloch's report highlighted shifting allocations in R&D spending,
including changes in funding from the federal government to the private
sector that could reduce support for basic and applied research. This
report gave considerable attention to the declining share of funding
for physical sciences and other sciences in the federal R&D portfolio
as compared to the life sciences. This affects the number of graduate
and Ph.D. students, facilities, and interdependent disciplines.
The Bloch report recommends that the R&D budget for physical
sciences and engineering reach a parity with the life sciences
in the next five years. The report explains "the focus must
be to achieve a rebalance by increasing these disciplines and
not by decreasing the life sciences."
Other recommendations pertain to workforce issues, fragmented
R&D structures in the executive and legislative branches,
suggestions on how the executive branch can determine the
optimum distribution of R&D, and international competition and
Last week, PCAST members participated in a one-hour conference
call open to the (listening only) public. The members
reviewed an August 28 draft of a 3 1/2 page letter to President
Bush regarding the FY 2004 budget. The letter made six key
observations: "federal R&D funding as compared to GDP
continues to decline," "private sector R&D investments
sufficiently replace shrinking federal support," "inadequate
federal funding for physical sciences and engineering hurts
all scientific disciplines," "declining federal support for
science and engineering students jeopardizes economic growth,"
"complex management structure prevents a focused R&D vision,"
and "international competition is stronger than ever."
The draft letter made three recommendations. Regarding funding, it
stated: "Testimony from public and private sector representatives
indicated that 'of greatest concern to the scientific community is the
balance between the physical and life sciences.' Moreover, U.S. industry
representatives expressly stated that 'physical sciences need sustained
increases immediately'" to sustain economic competitiveness. "Consequently,"
this draft letter said, "we suggest that FY 2004 presents the appropriate
opportunity to double federal research investments in physical sciences,
and 4 major engineering fields (i.e., electrical, mechanical, chemical,
and metallurgy & materials) from the FY 2002 levels." The other
recommendations concerned the establishment of a major fellowship program
and a review of federal R&D spending. The full text of the letter
can be read at http://www.ostp.gov/PCAST/PCASTDraftLetterPublic2.pdf
The budget recommendation was the major topic of the one-hour PCAST
conference call. The call offered an unusual behind- the-scenes perspective
on how such recommendations are fashioned (the Federal Register notice
states that a transcript of the call will be posted on the PCAST web
site at http://www.ostp.gov/PCAST/pcast.html.)
OSTP Director John Marburger, a PCAST chair, stated that they wanted
to send the letter to President Bush to affect the FY 2004 budget. In
his remarks, the other PCAST chair, E. Floyd Kvamme, told his colleagues
that the "most common comment that we heard day in and day out"
during eight hours of hearings was the need to increase funding for
the physical sciences.
There was considerable discussion about the time frame for
increasing this funding, with a recommendation that it be
extended to FY 2006. Marburger cautioned that doubling is "a
politically charged word." There was discussion about framing
the rationale for an increase, with Marburger saying that it
has always been difficult to make an argument for a specific
amount. Yet, he said, "I think it would be a problem if we
did not have a basis for it," quickly adding, "we would like
to see as much of an increase as possible." Marburger later
advised that the President would "bristle" at "arbitrary
formulas" for increasing funding.
The final letter will be covered in FYI when it becomes