principal supporting agencies. Some of these fields were subject to reductions in support by agencies with growing budgets. Based on these findings, the Board expressed its concern about the long-term implications of reduced federal investment in fields important to such industries as electronics, software, networking, and materials processing and to advances in the life sciences.


The following findings form support the conclusions and recommendations of this study, based on trends through 1999:

  • Federal research funding in the aggregate turned a corner in FY 1998 after 5 years of stagnation. Total expenditures were up 4.5 percent in FY 1998 over their level in 1993. A year later, in FY 1999, they were up 11.7 percent over 1993. FY 2000 and FY 2001 saw continued growth in budget authority for research. These increases are accounted for primarily by NIH. Indeed, increases in NIH appropriations kept federal research funding from falling even lower in the mid-1990s and have dominated more recent growth in overall research funding (see Figure ES-1). Moreover, NIH is slated by the current administration for substantial increases in the next several years while most other agencies would receive flat or reduced funding for research.

  • Although federal research funding began to increase after 1997, the new composition of federal support remained relatively unchanged. In 1999, the life sciences had

FIGURE ES-1 Federal funding of research, by agency, FY 1993 and FY 1999 (constant dollars).

  • 46 percent of federal funding for research, compared with 40 percent in 1993. During the same period, physical science and engineering funding went from 37 to 31 percent of the research portfolio.

    • Whereas 12 of the 22 fields examined had suffered a real loss of support in the mid-1990s (four by 20 percent or more), by FY 1999 the number of fields with reduced support was seven. However, five of these—physics, geological sciences, and chemical, electrical, and mechanical engineering—were down 20 percent or more from 1993.6

    • The fields of chemical and mechanical engineering and geological sciences had less funding in 1999 than in 1997. Funding of some fields—including electrical engineering and physics—improved somewhat from 1997 to 1999 but not enough to raise them back up to their 1993 levels.

    • Other fields that failed to increase or had less funding after 1997 included astronomy, chemistry, and atmospheric sciences.

    • One field that had increased funding in the mid-1990s, materials engineering, experienced declining support at the end of the decade. Its funding was 14.0 percent larger in 1997 than in 1993, but that margin fell to 3.0 percent in 1998 and 1.5 percent in 1999.

    • The fields whose support was up in 1997 and has continued to increase include aeronautical, astronautical, civil, and other engineering;7 biological and medical sciences; computer sciences; and oceanography.

    • Fields that, like overall research expenditures, turned a corner were environmental biology, agricultural sciences, mathematics, social sciences, and psychology. Their funding, which was less in 1997 than in 1993, exceeded the 1993 level by 1999 (see Figure ES-2).

  • More recent actions on federal budgets for research, including the first installments in doubling of the NIH budget over the 5 years ending in FY 2003, will increase


From time to time, agencies responding to the NSF survey of federal funds for research and development change their procedures for classifying funding by field of research. In 1996, for example, NSF changed its classification of engineering and the environmental sciences research activities so that its support of mechanical engineering appeared to be much less and its funding of oceanography much greater. In this case, if NSF did not actually change what it was funding, the drop in overall federal funding of mechanical engineering was somewhat less than reported, and the apparent increase in oceanography may not be real. Most fine fields were not affected by such changes during the 1993–1999 period, and the broad trends documented in this report—expansion of life sciences funding relative to funding of the physical sciences and engineering—are not affected.


“Other engineering” includes agricultural, bioengineering, biomedical, industrial and management, nuclear, ocean, and systems engineering.

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