Draft PCAST Letter Calls for Funding Parity

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Publication date: 
22 January 2003

One of the handouts at the January 16 public meeting on the forthcoming Department of Energy Office of Science Strategic Plan was an October 10 draft of a letter to the PCAST co-chairs from the chair of the PCAST Panel on Federal Investment in Science and Technology and Its National Benefits. In this letter, G. Wayne Clough, the Panel's chair, states: "We recommend that beginning with the FY04 budget and carrying through the next four fiscal years, funding for physical sciences and engineering across the relevant agencies be adjusted upward to bring them collectively to parity with the life sciences."

In his opening remarks, DOE Office of Science Director Ray Orbach said that the letter was within days of being finalized, and would be forwarded to the President. The work of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) was, Orbach stated, critical in efforts to highlight funding imbalances in the federal R&D portfolio.

A draft version of this letter was first discussed publicly at a hastily scheduled PCAST conference call in late August 2002. During this call PCAST co-chair and OSTP Director John Marburger stressed the importance of sending this letter to the President promptly so that it could inform the development of the FY 2004 budget request. The budget will be sent to Congress in less than two weeks. During the August call, there was considerable discussion about the wording on physical sciences funding. See /fyi/2002/101.html for more information on this draft, the full text of which is posted on the PCAST web site at http://www.ostp.gov/PCAST/PCASTDraftLetterPublic2.pdf.

There are notable differences between the August and October draft letters. The August draft was addressed to President Bush. The October version is addressed to the PCAST co-chairs, Marburger and E. Floyd Kvamme. The first draft states, "we suggest that FY 2004 presents the appropriate opportunity to double federal research investments in physical sciences, and 4 major engineering fields . . . from the FY 2002 levels." The new draft recommends a four year schedule for achieving parity; the word "double" is not to be found.

The October draft cites the final report of the panel, "Assessing the U.S. R&D Investment" (see /fyi/2002/121.html.) Selections from this letter regarding funding matters follow. The letter also makes recommendations regarding the establishment of a "major programs of fellowships . . . in fields of science and engineering that support critical national needs" and the assessment and analysis of "federal R&D investments in light of national interests, international competition and human resource needs." The funding selections from the October 10 draft follow:

"This report explores issues regarding federal investments in science and technology that PCAST believes need attention as the Administration formulates the FY2004 budget."

"Activities emanating from R&D investments that produced new economic growth have never been higher, including increasing numbers of patents and discovery disclosures. Clearly, federal funding has enabled this growth, as 40% of patents cite federal research as their source. PCAST is appreciative of the President's personal commitment to strong investment in R&D, exemplified by the FY03 federal investment package for R&D exceeding $100 billion for the first time in our nation's history.

"However, after two decades of shifting priorities and new programs, we believe we must redress R&D funding patterns to guarantee that our federal investments in science and technology ensure economic strength, national security, and prosperity and health for our citizens.

"Based on the information we have collected and been privy to in the course of our work the key recommendations we suggest are:

"Recommendation 1. All evidence points to a need to improve funding levels for physical sciences and engineering. Continuation of present patterns will lead to an inability to sustain our nation's technical and scientific leadership. We recommend that beginning with the FY04 budget and carrying through the next four fiscal years, funding for physical sciences and engineering across the relevant agencies be adjusted upward to bring them collectively to parity with the life sciences."

The letter explains that the recommendations were based on "background studies and dialogue with the public and private sector, during which a number of concerns emerged." They include "Federal R&D funding as compared to GDP continues its decline;" "Private sector R&D investments are generally of a different nature than federal support;" Federal funding for physical sciences and engineering benefits all scientific disciplines;" "Federal support for science and engineering students enhances economic growth;" "Complex management structure prevents a focused R&D vision;" and "International competition is stronger than ever."

Regarding "Federal funding for physical sciences and engineering benefits all scientific disciplines," the letter states: "PCAST's aforementioned commissioned studies have shown that from 1993 to 2000, federal support for the physical sciences and certain areas of engineering remained relatively flat, and in some instances decreased (with FY02 bringing only modest increases for engineering). While it makes sense that biological and life sciences support has increased given fundamental advances in this field and the heightened interest in health issues, long-term breakthroughs in biological and life sciences will also rely on strengthening the physical sciences and engineering as well. Further research in these areas will be important for new developments needed in the defense of our nation and in economic sectors such as semiconductors, advanced materials and engineering efficiency. Testimonials from U.S. scientific societies and industry associations consistently supported this view."

Later the letter cites the PCAST report and its recommendations, noting: "The recommendation most widely supported by both the private and public sector is to strengthen the federal government funding of research for the physical sciences and engineering." The letter continues, "To accomplish this goal we note that research funding for the physical sciences and engineering derives from multiple federal agencies, including the National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, and NASA. Therefore, a cross- agency plan is needed to insure the needed balance is obtained."

The Bush Administration sends its FY 2004 budget request to Congress on February 4. Yesterday, OMB Director Mitch Daniels said that the overall increase in discretionary spending, including that for the Defense Department and homeland security, will be 4%.

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