Record Federal Support for Academic S&E Activities

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Publication date: 
10 August 2004

An NSF survey shows that federal support to universities, colleges, and nonprofit institutions for science and engineering activities reached a new peak in fiscal year 2002, with the Department of Health and Human Services providing over 50 percent of that support. According to NSF, "Federal agencies obligated a new high of $24.4 billion for academic science and engineering (S&E) activities in FY 2002." This is an increase of $1.9 billion, or more than 8 percent, over the FY 2001 level of $22.5 billion. The previous year's growth was even higher, climbing13 percent from FY 2000 to FY 2001. This information is reported in a four-page June 2004 NSF InfoBrief entitled "Federal Science and Engineering Obligations to Academic and Nonprofit Institutions Reached Record Highs in FY 2002" (NSF04-324).

NSF's survey of federal academic obligations for science and engineering included the following six categories: R&D; R&D plant; facilities and equipment for S&E instruction; fellowships, traineeships and training grants; general support for S&E; and other S&E activities. NSF found that in the past decade, support for R&D has accounted for 84 to 87 percent of total federal academic S&E obligations. In FY 2002, according to the InfoBrief, federal academic R&D support also "reached a new high of $21.1 billion," a 9 percent increase over FY 2001. Most other categories also saw record highs except for R&D plant, which declined by 25 percent. The InfoBrief says that "Most of the decrease [in R&D plant] resulted from reduced funding by...NASA and NSF."

Of the 18 federal agencies surveyed, the leading provider of federal academic S&E obligations in FY 2002 was the Department of Health and Human Services, which provided $14.5 billion, or 59 percent of the total. NSF was the second-leading provider at $3.6 billion, followed by DOD ($2.3 billion), NASA ($1.2 billion), USDA ($1.1 billion), DOE ($0.7 billion), and "Other agencies" ($0.9 billion). Funds obligated for academic S&E by the Department of Health and Human Services, NSF, DOD, and NASA increased from FY 2001 to FY 2002, while those of USDA, DOE, and "Other agencies" declined.

The leading recipient of the funds was Johns Hopkins University (including the Applied Physics Laboratory), followed by the University of Washington, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Michigan, and the University of California at Los Angeles in the top five. The top twenty university recipients accounted for 35 percent of all federal academic S&E obligations in FY 2002, and the top twenty list remained unchanged from FY 2001.

According to NSF, federal S&E obligations to independent nonprofit institutions also increased "by 42 percent, to a new high of $5.3 billion" in FY 2002, with Massachusetts General Hospital topping the list of recipients. Of the top ten nonprofit recipients, seven are hospitals or medical research institutes.

All NSF InfoBriefs for 2004 and previous years are accessible on the NSF web site at

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