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BOX 6-1

Another Point of View: Research Funding

The committee heard commentary from several respondents who believe that current R&D funding is robust and that significant additional federal funding for research is unjustified. Their arguments include the following:

  • Overall, research and development spending in the United States is high by international standards and continues to increase. Total R&D spending (government and industry) has remained remarkably consistent as a percentage of the gross domestic product, indicating that R&D spending has kept pace with the relatively rapid growth of the US economy. The fraction of the US federal domestic discretionary budget devoted to science has remained practically constant for the last 30 years.

  • Annual nondefense research spending by the federal government has nearly doubled in real terms since 1976 and exceeds $56 billion per year—more than that in the rest of the G-7 countries combined. Government funding of overall basic research is increasing in real dollars and holding its own as a percentage of GDP.

  • Additional federal funds should not be committed without better programmatic justification and improved processes to ensure that such funds are used effectively. Increases in federal R&D funding should be based on specific demonstrated needs rather than on a somewhat arbitrary decision to increase funds by a given percentage.

Some critics also worry about the challenges of implementing a rapid increase in research funding. For example, they say that doubling the NIH budget was a precipitous move. It takes time to recruit new staff and expand laboratory space, and by the time capacity has expanded, the pace of budget increases has\ve slowed and researchers have difficulty in readjusting. Others fear that reallocating additional funds to basic research will draw resources away from the commercialization efforts that are a critical part of the innovation system.

doubled; funding for the physical sciences, engineering, and mathematics has remained relatively flat for 15 years (Figure 6-2).

The case of the National Science Foundation (NSF) illustrates the trends. Despite the authorization in 2002 to double NSF’s budget over a 5-year period, its funding has actually decreased in recent years.4 This af-


American Association for the Advancement of Science. “Historical Data on Federal R&D, FY 1976-2006.” March 22, 2005. Available at:

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