The nation has benefited significantly from an enduring federal system for funding and sustaining world-class science and engineering. This tremendously productive system has contributed importantly over the last half-century to economic growth, innovation, and advancing national goals in space exploration, defense, energy security, health, and the environment.

In the 1990s, this system faced important challenges. Changes brought about by economic globalization, the end of the Cold War, the rapid growth of information technology, and emerging changes in the way scientists and engineers carry out their work suggested new priorities for federal funding in science and technology. Policy makers began to discuss how best to allocate funding across science and technology programs in light of these shifting priorities, particularly because short-term pressure for reining in government spending meant that trade-offs between programs would be necessary as funding was reallocated. The large federal budget deficits of the early 1990s led to very tight limits on FS&T increases across agencies, including NIH.

In the mid-1990s, the National Academies addressed the need for establishing explicit national goals for science and technology in this new era and the means for allocating resources to meet those goals through two reports, Science, Technology, and the Federal Government: National Goals for a New Era (1993) and Allocating Federal Funds for Science and Technology (1995). These reports and their recommendations are described below.

Leadership in Science and Technology

In Science, Technology, and the Federal Government: National Goals for a New Era, published in 1993, the Academies' Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy (COSEPUP) recommended two national goals for science that could guide future federal investment in science and technology:

First, the United States should be among the world leaders in all major areas of science. Achieving this goal would allow this nation quickly to apply and extend advances in science wherever they occur.

Second, the United States should maintain clear leadership in some areas of science. The decision to select a field for leadership would be based on national objectives and other criteria external to the field of research.2

The National Science Board, in a recent review of the process for allocating resources for federally funded research entitled Federal Research Resources: A Process for Setting Priorities, echoed these goals by recommending that this process “place a priority on investments in areas that advance important national goals, identify areas ready to benefit from greater investment, address long-term needs and opportunities for federal missions and responsibilities, and ensure world-class fundamental science and engineering capabilities across the frontiers of knowledge.”3

Both National Goals and Federal Research Resources recommended assessing the performance of U.S. research in a major field compared with research undertaken by scientists in other countries, a task known as international benchmarking. Such assessments would provide the information needed to determine whether the U.S. investment in a field is adequate for ensuring that the United States is at least world-class in that field. Societal concerns and needs, as determined through priorities established by the political process, would determine whether U.S. investment should be increased above this world-class level to attain clear leadership in a field.

Allocating Federal Funds for Science and Technology

The National Goals report concluded also that the implementation of its goals for science required a more coherent federal budgetary process. In 1994, the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations asked the National Academies to issue a report that outlined what this new process might look like. Specifically, the Committee asked


National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, Science, Technology, and the Federal Government: National Goals for a New Era, Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1993.


National Science Board, Federal Research Resources: A Process for Setting Priorities (NSB 01-156), Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation, 2001, p. 4.

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