Introduction

In the early 1990s, shifting national priorities stemming from the end of the Cold War and strong pressures to eliminate the federal budget deficit began to reduce federal funding of research and development in real terms.1 The level of federal R&D funding decreased by 9.2 percent from FY 1992, its historical high, to FY 1996 and did not surpass its 1992 level until 2001.2 Defense R&D, funded mostly by DOD but also DOE, was most affected by the cuts. It decreased by 14.4 percent between 1992 and 1996. That trend raised concern about how cuts would be imposed by discipline and agency, given the decentralization of decisionmaking concerning federal R&D programs. In 1995, a National Research Council committee chaired by former National Academy of Sciences President Frank Press observed that historically DOD had provided the majority of federal funding for academic research and training in electrical engineering, metallurgy and materials, and computer science, and DOE was the largest federal contributor to materials science through its national laboratories. The committee said that all science and engineering depend critically on those fields, and cuts in Department of Defense and Department of Energy programs made for other purposes might well have significant and inadvertent impacts on diverse research and development programs conducted in many other agencies and having clear importance to the country.3

In 1999, the National Academies’ Board on Science, Technology, and Economic Policy sponsored a study of trends in federal funding of fields to see if, in fact, research in disciplines that received most of their federal funding from DOD and other agencies with reduced R&D budgets were being cut accordingly.4 At that time, data were available on actual funding of research obligations from FY 1990 through FY 1997, especially trends after 1993, when pressures to reduce the federal budget deficit and reductions in the defense budget had stopped real growth in federal research budgets for a 5-year period.5

The principal findings of the 1999 report were as follows:

  • In the period 1993–1997 the research fields with declining constant dollar support outnumbered the fields with growing support by 12 to 10. The support for four fields dropped by 20 percent or more. The reductions were concentrated in engineering (especially mechanical and electrical) and the physical sciences (especially physics and geology). Exceptions were computer science and materials engineering, whose support increased 39.4 and 12.6 percent, respectively. Other fields given substantial funding increases in the mid-1990s were medical sciences and oceanography.

  • Computer science and materials research, heavily supported by the Department of Defense (DOD), illustrated that fields may receive increased funding even though the overall research budgets of their principal

1  

Unless otherwise specified, all funding numbers in this report have been converted to constant (1999) dollars using GDP deflators in the OMB. 2001. Historical Tables, Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2002, Table 10.1. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office. The data are based on the federal fiscal year, which begins October 1 each year.

2  

American Association for the Advancement of Science, “Historical Data on Federal R&D, FY 1976–2002.” At www.aaas.org/spp/dspp/rd/hist02p2.pdf.

3  

National Research Council. 1995. Allocating Federal Funds for Science and Technology, pp. 8–9. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.

4  

Michael McGeary and Stephen A.Merrill. 1999. “Recent Trends in Federal Spending on Scientific and Engineering Research: Impacts on Research Fields and Graduate Training,” Appendix A in National Research Council, Securing America’s Industrial Strength. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.

5  

Before 1993 there had been a long period of real growth in research funding overall if not in all research fields or by all federal agencies supporting research.



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Trends in Federal Support of Research and Graduate Education Introduction In the early 1990s, shifting national priorities stemming from the end of the Cold War and strong pressures to eliminate the federal budget deficit began to reduce federal funding of research and development in real terms.1 The level of federal R&D funding decreased by 9.2 percent from FY 1992, its historical high, to FY 1996 and did not surpass its 1992 level until 2001.2 Defense R&D, funded mostly by DOD but also DOE, was most affected by the cuts. It decreased by 14.4 percent between 1992 and 1996. That trend raised concern about how cuts would be imposed by discipline and agency, given the decentralization of decisionmaking concerning federal R&D programs. In 1995, a National Research Council committee chaired by former National Academy of Sciences President Frank Press observed that historically DOD had provided the majority of federal funding for academic research and training in electrical engineering, metallurgy and materials, and computer science, and DOE was the largest federal contributor to materials science through its national laboratories. The committee said that all science and engineering depend critically on those fields, and cuts in Department of Defense and Department of Energy programs made for other purposes might well have significant and inadvertent impacts on diverse research and development programs conducted in many other agencies and having clear importance to the country.3 In 1999, the National Academies’ Board on Science, Technology, and Economic Policy sponsored a study of trends in federal funding of fields to see if, in fact, research in disciplines that received most of their federal funding from DOD and other agencies with reduced R&D budgets were being cut accordingly.4 At that time, data were available on actual funding of research obligations from FY 1990 through FY 1997, especially trends after 1993, when pressures to reduce the federal budget deficit and reductions in the defense budget had stopped real growth in federal research budgets for a 5-year period.5 The principal findings of the 1999 report were as follows: In the period 1993–1997 the research fields with declining constant dollar support outnumbered the fields with growing support by 12 to 10. The support for four fields dropped by 20 percent or more. The reductions were concentrated in engineering (especially mechanical and electrical) and the physical sciences (especially physics and geology). Exceptions were computer science and materials engineering, whose support increased 39.4 and 12.6 percent, respectively. Other fields given substantial funding increases in the mid-1990s were medical sciences and oceanography. Computer science and materials research, heavily supported by the Department of Defense (DOD), illustrated that fields may receive increased funding even though the overall research budgets of their principal 1   Unless otherwise specified, all funding numbers in this report have been converted to constant (1999) dollars using GDP deflators in the OMB. 2001. Historical Tables, Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2002, Table 10.1. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office. The data are based on the federal fiscal year, which begins October 1 each year. 2   American Association for the Advancement of Science, “Historical Data on Federal R&D, FY 1976–2002.” At www.aaas.org/spp/dspp/rd/hist02p2.pdf. 3   National Research Council. 1995. Allocating Federal Funds for Science and Technology, pp. 8–9. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press. 4   Michael McGeary and Stephen A.Merrill. 1999. “Recent Trends in Federal Spending on Scientific and Engineering Research: Impacts on Research Fields and Graduate Training,” Appendix A in National Research Council, Securing America’s Industrial Strength. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press. 5   Before 1993 there had been a long period of real growth in research funding overall if not in all research fields or by all federal agencies supporting research.

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Trends in Federal Support of Research and Graduate Education agency sponsors decline. By the same token, fields primarily funded by agencies with rising budgets do not necessarily fare accordingly. In the FY 1993–1997 period, medical sciences (up 14.4 percent) received far more from growth in the National Institutes of Health budget than did the biological sciences (up only 1.1 percent). In the constrained budget environment of the mid-1990s there was no consistent pattern of protecting support of university research relative to in-house research and research performed in the corporate sector. No single agency was serving as a “balance wheel” to ensure some stability of funding in fields whose support is declining elsewhere. In the 1990s, NSF, with the broadest research portfolio, appeared to be amplifying changes in other agencies, in most cases boosting funding for fields prospering elsewhere and reducing funding for fields being cut elsewhere. In the cases where direct comparisons can be made because of identical field nomenclature in different NSF surveys, changes in university research funding of a field corresponded to changes in the number of graduate students supported by federal fellowships, traineeships, and research assistantships in that field. Where research funding was down (e.g., chemical and mechanical engineering), the number of graduate students also declined. Conversely, the number of federally supported graduate students in computer science increased, as did federal research support. Based on those findings, the Board expressed its concern about the reduction in federal investment in fields important to such industries as electronics, software, and materials processing and concluded that the trends in federal funding, if they continued, merited “a careful assessment of their long-term implications and what steps, if any, should be taken to change them.”6 At about the same time, concern began to increase about the possible “imbalance” in the federal research portfolio based on the divergence between the declining support of the physical sciences and engineering and the growth of funding of biomedical research through the National Institutes of Health. In the fall of 2000 the STEP Board decided to revisit its analysis and conclusions for several reasons. The Board’s first motivation was the availability of additional data that were otherwise unlikely to be presented and interpreted in a form useful to policy makers. As a result of efforts by the NSF’s Science Resource Studies (SRS) Division to accelerate the availability of results of the Federal Funds and other surveys, data on agencies’ research obligations are now available within approximately 15 months of the end of the fiscal year. This enables examination of federal agencies’ spending on nearly two dozen research fields in FY 1998 and FY 1999 and their reasonably reliable estimates for FY 2000 by major field of research. Surprisingly, however, none of these data have been reported in the NSF’s publications of science and technology statistics—Science and Engineering Indicators, National Patterns of R&D Resources, or, with few exceptions, SRS’ periodic Data Briefs.7 Nor does the American Association for the Advancement of Science examine the subject of field allocation in its annual analyses of the current fiscal year federal R&D budget. A second motivation was curiosity about the effects on allocations among research fields of the marked turnaround in federal research funding in FY 1998. After 5 years of stagnation, FY 1998 research expenditures were up 4.5 percent in real terms from 1993 and even more (11.7 percent) in FY 1999. Even DOD’s research budget showed modest increases over FY 1997 (although it was still much smaller than in 1993), and increases in FY 2000–2001 federal R&D budgets ensure continuing incremental growth through most of 2001. In this improved funding environment, the question arises whether the disparities in how research fields fared in the mid-1990s have been eliminated or moderated. Third, recent articulations of the importance of “balance” in the publicly supported research portfolio by a number of executive branch and congressional policy makers makes the question of the relative growth in funding among research fields when R&D budgets are increasing even more compelling. What has been the impact of officials’ greater attention to how federal research money is being spent and their declared intention to correct any “imbalances”? Finally, the Board decided to extend the analysis of federal research spending in certain respects. First, although this report deals primarily with changes in (basic and applied) research spending through 1999, it also examines trends in basic research support and research conducted at universities by field.8 Second, the report looks in greater detail at the relationship between research funding and graduate student support by research field. Third, the report identifies which fields changed their structure of support (principal agency sponsors and their shares) in the 1990s and which did not and with what results. Finally, it considers trends in the composition of research support from nonfederal sources, principally states, philanthropies, and industry, to cast some light on the question of whether other sponsors of research are 6   National Research Council. 1999. Securing America’s Industrial Strength, pp. 4. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press. 7   An exception was Alan I.Rapoport. Feb. 17, 1999. “How Has the Mix of Federal Research Funding Changed Over the Past Three De-cades?” Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation. 8   Occasionally the report refers to trends in research and development expenditures, especially with regard to budgets after 1999 for which separate figures for research are not available.

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Trends in Federal Support of Research and Graduate Education following federal government priorities or supporting areas whose federal support is declining. The data sources used in this analysis and their principal features are described in the Appendix. Chapter 1 reviews aggregate support, while Chapter 2 addresses trends in federal support by field. Field trends in graduate education support are examined in Chapter 3, and agency trends in research and graduate education support in Chapter 4. Chapter 5 looks at trends in nonfederal research support. The key findings, conclusions, and recommendations of the study are presented in the final chapter. The Appendix provides a brief discussion of data sources while the Annexes contain data tables for Chapters 2 through 6, respectively.

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