Insights into Administration's Research Funding
"[The American Competitiveness Initiative] refocuses
the federal R&D portfolio by placing increased emphasis on fundamental
research in key areas of the physical sciences and engineering....
A broad consensus exists that these are the most important areas for
generating additional breakthroughs that drive the economy, and these
are also the areas of the federal R&D portfolio most in need of
additional resources. They deserve priority in the FY07 budget over
all other R&D, except perhaps for selected programs supporting
national and homeland security." - OSTP Director John Marburger
As explained in previous FYIs, President Bush's American Competitiveness
Initiative proposes doubling, within ten years, the combined budgets
of NSF, DOE's Office of Science, and NIST's core programs. Under the
FY 2007 request, NSF's budget would grow 7.9%, to $6,020.2 million,
while the Office of Science budget would grow 14.1% to $4,101.7 million,
and NIST's core budget would increase 24.0%, to $535 million, after
subtracting out earmarks. At a March hearing before the Senate Commerce
Subcommittee on Technology, Innovation and Competitiveness, John Marburger,
Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy,
provided some insights on why the Administration chose these specific
agencies and areas for enhanced funding.
WHY BASIC RESEARCH?
"The Administration designed the American Competitiveness
Initiative to prioritize and advance those scientific endeavors with
the highest marginal value for future economic competitiveness. Public
sector research funding that typically has the highest marginal value
is not directed toward specific products or technologies, but rather
fosters the generation of fundamental knowledge that has significant
spillover benefits that cannot be captured through intellectual property
protection. Economists have concluded that such research can generate
large public returns but does not usually provide a direct profitable
return for private sector performers."
WHY PHYSICAL SCIENCES AND ENGINEERING?
"Certain areas of physical science and engineering research
are strongly correlated with innovation and economic growth. The ACI
priority agencies each have special features that merit significant
attention even in a period of budgetary constraint.
"The DoE Office of Science (SC) is the nation's largest
sponsor of physical science research. It supports physical science
capabilities and infrastructure used by a large number of investigators
in nearly every field of science, and particularly those related to
economically significant innovations (e.g. nano-, bio-, info-tech,
energy, new materials and processes). Within DOE-SC, the new funding
from ACI is expected to improve facilities and support approximately
2,600 new researchers.
"The National Science Foundation (NSF) is the primary source
of support for academic research in the physical sciences. It funds
potentially transformative basic research in areas such as nanotechnology,
information technology, physics, materials science, and engineering.
The NSF is well-regarded for management of funding through competitive,
peer-reviewed processes. The NSF funding derived from the ACI initiative
is expected to support as many as 500 more research grants in 2007
and provide opportunities for upwards of 6,400 additional scientists,
students, post-doctoral fellows and technicians to contribute to the
"The DoC National Institute of Standards and Technology may be
the highest leverage Federal research agency supporting economically
significant innovations. Its world class team of scientists, recognized
by three Nobel prizes during the past decade, plays a critical role
in supporting standards development activities that are essential
for the commercial viability of new technology. In FY 2007, NIST will
seek to focus 3,900 scientists and engineers from government, industry
and universities an increase of 600 researchers over 2006
on meeting the Nation's most urgent measurement science and standards
needs to speed innovation and improve U.S competitiveness."
MAXIMIZING THE EFFECTIVENESS OF RESEARCH FUNDING
"The widespread support for actions such as proposed
in the President's American Competitiveness Initiative is deeply gratifying
to us in government who labor on behalf of science and engineering.
I want to take this opportunity to point out that the recommendations
of the many organizations that have spoken out on the need for such
an initiative express priorities for action in a very broad and general
way. When money is tight, and many needs compete for finite resources,
it is necessary to define priorities with much more specificity than
these otherwise excellent advocacy reports. The ACI responds to this
need to prioritize. It attempts to direct funds to agencies with well-defined
programs with a clear relevance to future economic competitiveness.
It does not attempt to expand support for every area of basic science,
nor even for every field within the physical sciences. It seeks the
maximum impact with the minimum of bureaucratic apparatus, taking
advantage of programs and processes already in place and working well."
Another witness at the March 29 hearing, Leonard Peitrafesa of North
Carolina State University, Raleigh, summed up why a competitiveness
initiative should focus on supporting basic research:
"By any measure, basic scientific research has made
monumental contributions to technology and to the national priorities
of the U.S. The bond between basic research and the development of
both novel and current technologies has been and is well in place.
Science and U.S. society must continue to co-evolve. The nature of
this evolution will certainly be affected by the extent to which this
Senate sets funding priorities. Hopefully this Senate will recognize
that the dependence of the development of successful novel technologies
on broadly supported basic research will lead to a future nation that
is healthier and more economically prosperous than at present. Because
of the unpredictability of the details of the new science and technology
that will evolve, the details of social evolution are also unpredictable.
But the future health and prosperity of this nation are inextricably
coupled to the investments made in basic research today.
"We see that we have no birthright to global economic
leadership and a high standard of living. These are things that we
have to continue to earn."
Audrey T. Leath
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics email@example.com