Recent Statistics on Federal R&D Funding

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Publication date: 
19 October 2004

The National Science Foundation has a legislative mandate to serve as a clearinghouse for the collection, interpretation, and analysis of data on science and engineering funding and resources. From the data collected by its Division of Science Resources Statistics, NSF not only puts out major reports but also short "InfoBriefs" that highlight recent findings. Two recent InfoBriefs look at projections of how much the federal government spent on R&D during fiscal year 2004, and how the amount available for the government to spend on R&D would change under the administration's proposed FY 2005 budget.


Total federal obligations for R&D and R&D plant have increased steadily for most of the past decade and, according to preliminary estimates, climbed to $105.2 billion in FY 2004. This represents an increase of approximately 4 percent over the FY 2003 level, or 3 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars. This information is provided in a NSF InfoBrief entitled, "Federal Obligations for R&D and R&D Plant Expected to Reach Over $105 Billion in FY 2004" (NSF04-331, July 2004).

The InfoBrief projects that, of the $105.2 billion total, 51 percent ($54.1 billion) will be used for research, 45 percent ($47.0 billion) for development, and 4 percent ($4.2 billion) for R&D plant. The share of the total devoted to research has grown an average of 6 percent annually since FY 1990. The share devoted to development, after decreasing since FY 1990, is estimated to grow 9 percent between FY 2003 and FY 2004, while the share going to R&D plant is projected to drop 21 percent.

The federal obligation for research in FY 2004 is projected to be almost evenly split between basic research ($26.6 billion) and applied research ($27.4 billion). Six departments and agencies are expected to account for 93 percent of research obligations in FY 2004: the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, NASA, NSF, and the Department of Agriculture.

The life sciences, according to the InfoBrief, are expected to account for over one-half of the total research funding (54.3 percent). Engineering is projected to receive the next highest amount (16.9 percent), followed by physical sciences (10.0 percent), environmental sciences (7.0 percent), mathematics and computer sciences (5.2 percent), social sciences (2.2 percent), and psychology (1.9 percent), with "other sciences" receiving 2.5 percent.


Another NSF InfoBrief, entitled "Federal R&D Funding Requests for FY 2005" (NSF04-337, September 2004) looks at the administration's proposed support of R&D for the 2005 fiscal year. Amounts in this brief are presented in terms of budget authority (the authority given by Congress to federal agencies to spend money) instead of money obligated. This brief does not take into account any congressional action on FY 2005 appropriations bills, but compares the administration's FY 2005 requests with preliminary estimates of budget authority provided by Congress for FY 2004.

This brief highlights the continuing trend for an increasing share of total R&D budget authority to be devoted to defense R&D (which includes some, but not all, R&D supported by the Department of Homeland Security). Under the administration's proposal for FY 2005, defense R&D would be increased to 58.4 percent of total R&D budget authority, and nondefense R&D, while experiencing a slight increase in absolute terms, would drop to 41.6 percent of the total.

"For FY 2005," the brief states, "the administration proposed a total budget authority of $127.1 billion for federally supported R&D." This would be a 4.1 percent increase over preliminary estimates of the FY 2004 R&D total of $122.0 billion (or a 2.8 percent increase when adjusted for inflation).

Of that total, $74.2 billion would be devoted to defense R&D, and $52.9 billion would go to nondefense R&D.

Six categories account for 92 percent of the nondefense-related R&D budget authority: Health, Space, General Science, Environment, Transportation, and Agriculture. Health R&D, under the administration's proposal, would rise 2.8 percent to $29.0 billion, which would represent 22.8 percent of the total proposed R&D budget authority for FY 2005. Space R&D would grow 2.3 percent to $7.8 billion, or 6.1 percent of the total. General Science R&D would grow 1.3 percent to $6.5 billion, or 5.1 percent of the total. Environmental R&D would drop by 3.1 percent, to $2.2 billion, or 1.7 percent of the total. Transportation R&D would drop by 1.3 percent, to $1.9 billion, or 1.5 percent of the total. Agriculture R&D would drop by 10.1 percent, to $1.6 billion, or 1.3 percent of the total. Other R&D would drop by 1.3 percent, to $4.1 billion, or 3.2 percent of the total. (Numbers have been rounded off and may not sum to totals).

Of course, the amount of federal budget authority available for R&D will ultimately depend on congressional action on the FY 2005 appropriations bills and, although the 2005 fiscal year began on October 1, only three of the 13 appropriations bills have been signed into law so far. All other federal programs are now operating at FY 2004 levels under a continuing resolution through November 20.

These and other NSF InfoBriefs are available at

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