NAS/NAE Report: Recommendations for Federal S&T Funding

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Publication date: 
8 December 1995
Number: 
172

The NAS/NAE Committee on Criteria for Federal Support of Research
and Development, in its November 29 report, makes 13 specific
recommendations to improve the federal process of planning
investments in science and technology, selecting priorities among
programs, and reallocating funds for better use.  It defines an
FS&T budget as the part of the federal investment in science and
technology "spent annually on expanding fundamental knowledge and
creating new technologies."  The document, "Allocation of Federal
Funds for Science and Technology," is summarized in FYI #171.  The
committee's recommendations are listed below, along with some
explanatory quotes:

RECOMMENDATION 1.  "The President should present an annual
comprehensive FS&T budget, including areas of increased and reduced
emphasis.  The budget should be sufficient to serve national
priorities and foster a world-class scientific and technical
enterprise."  Currently, the report points out, the R&D budget "is
never considered as an integrated whole" by either the
Administration or Congress.  This "disaggregated approach is less
suitable when major cutbacks must be made," it says, because R&D
programs are interdependent, and cuts in one area "might well have
significant and inadvertent impacts" on other areas.

RECOMMENDATION 2.  "Departments and agencies should make FS&T
allocation decisions based on clearly articulated criteria that are
congruent with those used by the Executive Office of the President
and by Congress."

RECOMMENDATION 3.  "Congress should create a process that examines
the entire FS&T budget before the total federal budget is
disaggregated into allocations to appropriations committees and
subcommittees."

RECOMMENDATION 4.  "The President and Congress should ensure that
the FS&T budget is  sufficient to allow the United States to
achieve preeminence in a select number of fields and to perform at
a world-class level in the other major fields."  The committee
believes the U.S. "should strive for clear leadership in the most
promising areas...and those deemed most important to our national
goals.  In other major fields, [it] should perform on par with
other nations."  The report describes the process to be used in
determining the U.S. position in a field and reallocating funds
where necessary.

RECOMMENDATION 5.  "The United States should pursue international
cooperation to share costs, to tap into the world's best science
and technology, and to meet national goals." 

RECOMMENDATION 6.  "Research and development conducted in federal
laboratories should focus on the objectives of the sponsoring
agency and not expand beyond the assigned missions of the
laboratories.  The size and activities of each laboratory should
correspond to changes in mission requirements."  While admitting
that the labs "have an important role in a balanced program," the
committee suggests that downsizing the lab system may be necessary.

RECOMMENDATION 7.  "FS&T funding should generally favor academic
institutions because of their flexibility and inherent quality
control, and because they directly link research to education and
training in science and engineering."

RECOMMENDATION 8.  "The federal government should encourage, but
not directly fund, private-sector commercial technology
development, with two limited exceptions:
     -Development in pursuit of government missions, such as
weapons development and spaceflight; or
     -Development of new enabling, or broadly applicable,
technologies for which government is the only funder available."
The report states that "the government should not subsidize
specific private firms for projects that they would undertake
anyway.... In many cases, however, no one firm can capture the full
benefits of its investment.  This is generally the case for
investment in basic research and can also apply in development
related to emerging technologies."

RECOMMENDATION 9.  "FS&T budget decisions should give preference to
funding projects and people rather than institutions.  That
approach will increase the flexibility in responding to new
opportunities and changing conditions."  The report calls for "a
presumption against establishing new permanent institutions" in the
future.

RECOMMENDATION 10.  "Because competition for funding is vital to
maintain the high quality of FS&T programs, competitive merit
review, especially that involving external reviewers, should be the
preferred way to make awards."  The committee concedes, though,
that "there is benefit to having a variety of approaches to
supporting FS&T."

RECOMMENDATION 11.  "Evaluations of research and development
programs and of those performing and sponsoring the work also
should incorporate the views of outside evaluators."  But the
report warns that "most measures are incomplete, and mindless
application actually can undermine the very functions such measures
are intended to improve."

RECOMMENDATION 12.  "Research and development should be well
managed and accountable but should not be micromanaged or hobbled
by rules and regulations that have little social benefit."

RECOMMENDATION 13.  "The federal government should retain the
capacity to perform research and development within agencies whose
missions require it.  The nation should maintain its resulting
flexible and pluralistic system of support.  The executive and
legislative branches should implement the procedures outlined in
the committee's Recommendations 1 through 4 to ensure a more
coherent FS&T budget process whether or not a Department of Science
is established."  The committee is cool to the idea of a Science
Department.  Advising that R&D relevant to agency missions should
be retained where it is, the committee notes that this would limit
any Department of Science "to activities that fall outside existing
mission agencies."  This would not necessarily do much to improve
the coordination and integration of the research budget.  The
committee believes "that its recommendation will contribute more to
planning, coordinating, and evaluating federal science and
technology than either the current system or a Department of
Science."

The report can be purchased from the National Academy Press at
1-800-624-6242.  It is also available at no charge on the World
Wide Web at http://www.nas.edu/anp/online/

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