Planning Ahead: The Administration's R&D Budget Priorities for FY 2008

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Publication date: 
21 July 2006

Congress still has considerable work to do on finalizing the FY 2007 program budgets of interest to the physics and astronomy community. On the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, work is underway on the budget request that President Bush will send to Congress next February for FY 2008, which will start on October 1, 2007. Last month, OSTP Director John Marburger and OMB Director Rob Portman outlined the Administration's research and development budget priorities in a six-page memorandum to the heads of executive departments and agencies ( The following are selections from this June 23 memorandum:

The memo begins: "This memo highlights the Administration's research and development (R&D) priorities and emphasizes improving management and performance to maintain excellence and leadership in science and technology. The memo highlights the President's American Competitiveness Initiative, provides general guidance for setting priorities among R&D programs, identifies interagency R&D efforts that should receive special focus in agency budget requests, and reiterates the R&D Investment Criteria that agencies should use to improve investment decisions for and management of their R&D programs."

The memo immediately reaffirms the Administration's commitment to the American Competitiveness Initiative. While interest has been expressed on Capitol Hill that other federal research agencies should be considered for inclusion in this initiative, the ACI continues to be focused in FY 2008 on NSF, the DOE Office of Science, and NIST's core activities. When describing the ACI earlier this year, the Administration explained that the sum total of the three agencies' budgets would double over ten years. The memo takes a somewhat different approach by stating that "overall annual increases for these three agencies will average roughly seven percent." Note that the last sentence of the following paragraph states "similarly high-impact basic and applied research of the Department of Defense should be a significant priority." The entire (unedited) paragraph follows:

"Presidential Priority: The American Competitiveness Initiative
"To build on America's unparalleled economic success and to remain a leader in science and technology, President Bush has proposed the American Competitiveness Initiative. The centerpiece of the American Competitiveness Initiative is the President's strong commitment to double investment over ten years in key Federal agencies that support basic research in the physical sciences and engineering that has potentially high impact on economic competitiveness. President Bush plans to double investment by the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy's Office of Science, and the Department of Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology core activities. To achieve this doubling within ten years, overall annual increases for these three agencies will average roughly seven percent. Specific allocations will be based on research priorities and opportunities. In addition to the doubling effort at these three agencies, similarly high-impact basic and applied research of the Department of Defense should be a significant priority."

The memo then outlines, in a section entitled, "General R&D Program Guidance," that "the combination of finite resources, the commitment to the American Competitiveness Initiative, and a multitude of new research opportunities requires careful attention to funding priorities and wise choices by agency managers." The memo outlines the type of federal R&D investment that the Administration favors (i.e., "support high-leverage basic research to spur technological innovation, economic competitiveness and new job growth.") Regarding new programs, the memorandum states, "Agencies may propose new, high-priority activities, but these requests should identify potential offsets by elimination or reductions in less effective or lower priority programs or programs where Federal involvement is no longer needed or appropriate."

Under this section, the memorandum discusses scientific openness and the approach that federal agencies and their employees should practice in the following (unedited) paragraph: "This Administration values science as a basis for effective action in its service to the public, and regards the timely, complete and accurate communication of scientific information an important part of that service. It is also essential for agencies to be aware of and coordinate within their organizations, and with other appropriate offices, the disclosure of information likely to have high public interest or impact on markets, regulatory affairs, or public health and safety. Accordingly, agencies have already been asked to develop, revise or re-emphasize policies related to scientific openness and to ensure that employees and management understand their rights and obligations under these policies. All federal employees, including scientists, are obliged to distinguish their personal views from the official positions of their agencies, and procedures should be in place to ensure that such distinctions are clearly drawn."

The memorandum then addresses the interagency National Science and Technology Council, touching on the stewardship of Federal scientific collections. It also discusses the "linkages between R&D investments" and societal benefits: "Determining the effectiveness of Federal science policy requires an understanding of the complex linkages between R&D investments and economic and other variables that lead to innovation, competitiveness, and societal benefits. An interagency process has been established and is now encouraged to promote and coordinate individual agency and collaborative actions needed to develop [a] ‘new science of science policy' for better assessing the impact of R&D investments, defining appropriate metrics for measuring this impact, understanding the effect of the globalization of science and technology, and improving the basis for national science policy decisions."

Under "Interagency R&D Priorities," which are "areas [that] require strong interagency coordination," the memo lists six "interagency R&D priorities [that] should receive special focus in agency budget requests." They are Homeland Security, Energy Security, Advanced Networking and High-End Computing, National Nanotechnology Initiative, Understanding Complex Biological Systems, and Environment. Selections from some of the accompanying descriptions follow:

Energy Security: "Agencies should seek ways to support the AEI [Advanced Energy Initiative] through fundamental research targeting scientific and technical breakthroughs in two vital areas: diversifying energy sources for American homes and businesses; and increased vehicle efficiency and acceleration of the development of domestic, renewable alternatives to gasoline and diesel fuels. . . . carbon sequestration processes, new semiconducting materials that more efficiently convert sunlight directly to electricity, wind energy dynamics, and clean and safe nuclear energy. Numerous opportunities for alternative fuels range from bio-based transportation fuels such as ethanol, to advanced battery technologies to extend the range of hybrid vehicles and make possible ‘plug-in' hybrids and electric cars, to hydrogen as promoted through the President's Hydrogen Fuel Initiative."

National Nanotechnology Initiative: ". . . support both basic and applied research in nanoscience, develop instrumentation and methods for nanoscale characterization and metrology, and disseminate new technical capabilities, including those to help industry advance nanofabrication and nanomanufacturing. 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. Activities such as joint programs utilizing shared resources or leveraging complementary assets, as well as support for interdisciplinary activities at centers and user facilities should receive higher relative priority. To ensure that nanoscience research leads to the responsible development of beneficial applications, high priority should be given to research on societal implications, human health, and environmental issues related to nanotechnology and agencies should develop, where applicable, cross-agency approaches to the funding and execution of this research."

Understanding Complex Biological Systems: "Agencies should target investments toward the development of a deeper understanding of complex biological systems, which will require collaborations among physical, computational, behavioral, social, and biological scientists and engineers who will, among other things, need to develop the data management tools and platforms necessary to facilitate this research. . . ."

Environment: (paragraphs combined, and marked with //) "Global earth observations support research in a wide range of sciences important for society. The ‘U.S. Strategic Plan for an Integrated Earth Observations System' provides guidance for agencies contributing to these efforts and establishes six Near Term Opportunities that serve as the focal point of U.S. R&D activities. Agencies are encouraged to align their R&D programs in this area with the recommendations in the U.S Group on Earth Observations' annual report, ‘Development of the U.S. Integrated Earth Observations System: Progress and Recommendations for the Way Forward.' // Investments in global climate change science and technology continue to improve our understanding of climate variability and change, provide the basis for sound long-term climate policy decision-making by helping to reduce uncertainty in climate projections, and enable the development of new technologies. Agencies should continue to support the goals of the 2003 ‘Strategic Plan for the U.S. Climate Change Science Program' and continue to work together to develop the Synthesis and Assessment Reports called for in that report. // Agencies are encouraged to continue implementing activities outlined in the Administration's 2004 U.S. Ocean Action Plan, to continue to participate in the development of an Ocean Research Priorities Plan and Implementation Strategy and to begin aligning their budgets to match the emerging priorities that will be finalized this year, and to integrate U.S. ocean observing efforts into the Global Earth Observation System of Systems. // U.S. and global supplies of fresh water continue to be critical to human health and economic prosperity. Agencies, through the NSTC process, are developing a coordinated, multi-year plan to improve research aimed at understanding the processes that control water availability and quality, and to improve collection and availability of the data needed to ensure an adequate water supply for the future. Agencies should participate in the finalization of this plan and in its subsequent implementation."

The memo concludes with a discussion of the President's Management Agenda.