In recent presentations to the High Energy Physics Advisory Panel and the Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committee, Patrick Looney, the OSTP Assistant Director for Physical Sciences and Engineering, described attempts within the Administration to take a broad view of the entire federal science portfolio. OSTP, he explained, is seeking ways to assess which areas deserve highest priority, which proposed facilities are most valuable and timely, and how activities and instruments in one field impact upon other fields of science. "Not looking at programs across government as one larger program, in a coordinated fashion" results in inefficiency, imbalance, and waste, Looney said. He quoted from a June OSTP/OMB memo on FY 2005 funding priorities which states, "Consistent with the President's Management Agenda, it is imperative that, where appropriate, federal R&D investments be managed as a portfolio of potentially interconnected activities to optimize scientific discovery through interagency coordination of related research areas."
The June 5 memorandum was issued by OSTP Director John Marburger and former OMB Director Mitch Daniels to heads of federal agencies, to provide guidance on R&D priorities for fiscal year 2005. Entitled "FY 2005 Interagency Research and Development Priorities," the memo lays out five areas of R&D that should "receive particular attention" in preparation of the FY 2005 budget request. The priority areas, with selected explanatory quotations from the memo, follow:
1. R&D FOR COMBATING TERRORISM: "Agencies are encouraged to promote R&D efforts, with emphasis on applied technologies, to address our nation's ability to detect, prevent, treat, remediate, and attribute acts of terrorism." Seven research priorities are listed under this heading: "enhancing detection, treatment and remediation of chemical, biological and radiological threats;" "developing and transitioning technology" to first responders; promoting development of next-generation "vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics;" converting intelligence data into "actionable knowledge;" "assessing the social and behavioral aspects of terrorism;" facilitating inspections at ports-of-entry; and "securing critical infrastructure."
2. NANOTECHNOLOGY: "The National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) continues to offer great promise broadly across many scientific fields and most sectors of the economy, and remains an Administration priority. The NNI supports both fundamental and applied R&D in nanotechnology and nanoscience across a broad range of areas, development of nanoscale instrumentation and metrology, and the dissemination of new technical capabilities to industry. Nanoscale R&D priority areas continue to include material science and research relevant to medical care and homeland security."
3. NETWORKING AND INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY R&D: "Efforts that contribute to other interagency R&D priorities (research related to critical infrastructure protection and cybersecurity, for example) are especially important, and may also require broader coordination with other NSTC [National Science and Technology Council] entities. Research on networking is another high priority area."
4. MOLECULAR-LEVEL UNDERSTANDING OF LIFE PROCESSES: "Methods for characterizing plants, animals and microorganisms have evolved from observation at the level of the whole organism, to deconstruction and manipulation at the cellular and molecular levels. New computer algorithms permit the synthesis of sequence data with experimental evidence of function across species.... The NSTC coordination process...will assist in identifying R&D opportunities and needs to most effectively utilize federal resources and take better advantage of current biological, computational and bioinformatics technologies."
5. ENVIRONMENT AND ENERGY: Three areas of R&D are highlighted. Climate Change: "The Administration's R&D investments responding to the challenge of global climate change will increase our understanding of climate change science to provide sound climate policy decision-making." Environmental Observations: "A key goal of the Administration's R&D investments is to enhance capabilities to assess and predict key environmental systems." Hydrogen Fuel R&D: "Agency research efforts should address key technology barriers such as lowering the cost of hydrogen production, creating effective hydrogen storage, and developing affordable hydrogen fuel cells."
"Science and technology," the memo states, "contribute significantly to the highest priorities of this Administration: winning the war on terrorism, securing the homeland, and strengthening the economy." It continues, "The combination of limited resources and a multitude of opportunities requires careful attention to funding priorities." The memo calls for rigorous justification of new programs and reevaluation of existing programs, and warns that "agencies should fund new, high-priority activities by reallocating resources from lower-priority or recently completed activities."
Regarding the balance between the life and physical sciences, the memo has this to say: "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."
The memo also discusses the Administration's efforts "to build upon lessons learned from previous and ongoing practice" to develop "explicit R&D investment criteria." The memo states, "While the criteria are intended to apply to all types of R&D, the Administration is aware that predicting and assessing the outcomes of basic research in particular is never easy. Serendipitous results are often the most interesting and ultimately may have the most value. Taking risks and working towards difficult-to-attain goals are important aspects of good research management, and innovation and breakthroughs are among the results. However, there is no inherent conflict between these facts and a call for clearer information about program goals and performance towards achieving those goals. 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 full text of the memo can be found on the OSTP web site at: http://www.ostp.gov/html/OSTP-OMB%20Memo.pdf.