In an August 12 memorandum to federal department and agency heads,
OSTP Director John Marburger and OMB Director Joshua Bolten set out
the Bush Administration's R&D budget priorities. Among these priorities
in this five-page memo were nanotechnology research and fundamental
research in the physical sciences.
Even though it will be weeks, and perhaps months, before Congress finalizes
the budget for the fiscal year starting on October 1, the Administration
is hard at work on the FY 2006 budget submission. While the OSTP/OMB
document contains few surprises, it helps to illuminate what is traditionally
the "black box" process involved in drafting the budget request.
At the outset, the memorandum cites "an extensive, continuous
process of consultation" with the President's Council of Advisors
on Science and Technology (http://ostp.gov/pcast/pcast.html
) and collaboration with the interagency National Science and Technology
Council in the development of the Administration's R&D funding priorities.
Also mentioned were three documents: "A 21st Century Frontier
for Discovery: The Physics of the Universe" (http://www.aip.org/fyi/2004/075.html)
and two climate change reports (http://www.aip.org/fyi/2003/101.html).
The FY 2006 R&D budget priorities closely parallel the guidance
released last summer (http://www.aip.org/fyi/2003/107.html
.) Both the FY 2005 and FY 2006 documents identify homeland security
as the first priority; with the new memorandum explaining, "winning
the war on terror and securing the homeland continue to be the highest
of national priorities." In addition to a list of specific threats
for which desired technologies are listed, Marburger and Bolten stated
"fundamental R&D should be considered to address and counter
new or novel threats."
"Networking and Information Technology R&D" and nanotechnology
are the second and third listed priorities in the new memorandum, which
switched positions as compared to last year's document. Nanotechnology
is described as a "top Administration priority," and both
documents cite the importance of the National Nanotechnology Initiative's
support of fundamental and applied R&D. This year's memorandum explains
that "because research at the nanoscale offers natural bridges
to interdisciplinary collaboration, especially at the intersection of
the life and physical sciences, the Administration encourages novel
approaches to accelerating interdisciplinary and interagency collaborations."
A new section this year describes "Priorities of the Physical
Sciences." The full text of this section of the August 12 memorandum
"Investments in the physical sciences likely to lead
to or enable new discoveries about nature or strengthen national economic
competitiveness continue to be important. Priority will be given to
research that aims to close significant gaps in the fundamental physical
understanding of phenomena that promise significant new technologies
with broad societal impact. High- temperature and organic superconductors,
molecular electronics, wide band-gap and photonic materials, thin
magnetic films, and quantum condensates are examples of novel atomic
and molecular-level systems with such gaps where coherent control
holds great potential.
"In addition, the development or enhancement of instruments
and facilities can extend our scientific reach in ways that often
have broad impact. The range of such investments is large, from bench-top
devices such as the scanning tunneling microscope to the national-scale
synchrotron and neutron user facilities. Priority will be given to
those instrument- or facility- related investments with the greatest
promise for the broadest scientific impact. Of particular interest
are investments leading to the development of next-generation light
sources. In their budget submissions, agencies should seek to coordinate
their investments in instrumentation, upgrades, and user programs
at national scientific user facilities.
"Within discovery-oriented physical sciences investments,
priority will be given to those projects and programs that are demonstrably
well coordinated with related programs in other agencies or other
countries. Examples of well coordinated, inter-agency investments
in the discovery- oriented sciences are described in the interagency
working group report, A 21st Century Frontier for Discovery:
The Physics of the Universe.'"
Not found in this year's memorandum were words similar to those from
last year's document which stated, "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."
This year's memorandum next lists "biology of complex systems"
as a priority area. The document explains that "Agencies should
target investments toward the development of a deeper understanding
of complex biological systems through collaborations among physical,
computational, behavioral, social, and biological researchers and engineers."
Concluding the priority list in both memorandums is what this year's
document calls "climate, water, and hydrogen R&D." The
August 12 memorandum calls for agencies to implement the 2003 "Strategic
Plan for the U.S. Climate Change Science Program" identified above.
Also identified as a high-priority concern "is the ability to measure,
monitor, and forecast the U.S. and global supplies of fresh water."
Regarding hydrogen, the memorandum states, " Finally, agencies
should continue research efforts in support of the President's Hydrogen
Fuel Initiative; this includes research outside of the subset of activities
currently counted as part of the Initiative. Agency efforts should address
the critical technology barriers of on-board hydrogen storage density,
hydrogen production cost, and fuel cell cost, as well as distributed
production and delivery systems. R&D should focus on novel materials
for fuel cells and hydrogen storage (including nanostructured materials),
durable and inexpensive catalysts, and hydrogen production from renewable
energy, nuclear energy, biological and electrochemical processes, and
fossil fuels with carbon sequestration."
The August 12 OSTP/OMB memorandum can be viewed at: http://www.ostp.gov/html/m04-23.pdf
Richard M. Jones
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics