changing—everything. They are literally altering our physical and mental landscapes.

But I’m not here today to discuss the social implications of biotech and computing—although they must be kept in mind—but rather to focus on the federal government’s role in advancing these two fields.

As everyone here knows, the federal government has had an enormous role in spawning and supporting these two fields. And the good news is that this support can be expected to continue.

The trickiest questions do not concern whether the federal government should support research in these areas. Rather, the open issues are how much money the federal government should devote to research, how the government should balance its research portfolio, and how the government should structure its research arrangements. Let me give you a sort of “status report” on where the policy debate stands on each of those questions, and then, hopefully, you’ll spend the next day-and-a-half moving that debate forward.

On the state of the overall research budget, I can bring you good news and bad news. The good news is that research programs, at least non-defense research programs, have fared pretty well over the past decade. Despite the vagaries of the budget process and the shifting power structure of Washington, non-defense R&D spending (which is mostly R) accounted for a slightly higher share of the federal budget in fiscal 1998 than it did in fiscal 1990—and of course, in 1998, that was a share of a larger budget.

A major reason for that relatively strong showing is that support for research spending in Congress is broad, if not necessarily deep. There is no faction in Congress out to make its reputation by eviscerating research programs, which are widely viewed as “the goose that laid the golden egg” —or to use another popular metaphor, as our “seed corn,” which I guess is what is fed to the goose.

That generous assumption about research is holding true this year even as Congress and the Administration have hunkered down for a protracted war of words over the budget. Last week, the President signed the VA-HUD-Independent Agencies appropriations bill, for example, which included a 7 percent increase for the research programs at the National Science Foundation (NSF). That increase, by the way, included major new funding initiatives in biotechnology and computing.

So then what’s the bad news? I think it is twofold. One is that a few programs have been notably excluded from the pattern of growth, particularly basic research programs at the Department of Defense, which have been so important historically in bolstering mathematics, engineering, and computing research.

The second piece of bad news is only relatively bad news, which is that I think it’s unrealistic to expect a significant acceleration in the growth of research dollars. When the research community starts banking on a doubling of science

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement