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Rebuilding the Research Capacity at HUD 4 Evaluation of Technology Research Development of new technology for housing and urban development has been treated as a disciplinary activity separate from social and economic policy research in the research community generally and within PD&R specifically. The committee therefore, reviews PD&R’s technology research separately, although a segregated approach is usually not optimal: addressing future housing and urban development challenges will require a systems approach that combines societal and technological considerations. This chapter first briefly discusses the role of the federal government in technological research on housing. It then looks at Operation Breakthrough and small directed research activities in the 1980s and 1990s. The bulk of the chapter considers the Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing (PATH), which is by far the largest of HUD’s technological activities. The committee’s assessment, conclusions, and recommendations complete the chapter. THE FEDERAL ROLE The federal government has long recognized the importance of technological innovation in housing. As early as the 1930s, the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) issued technical bulletins and circulars on home construction and established minimum property standards for new homes as a requirement for FHA mortgage insurance. Research on building technology was explicitly authorized in the Housing Act of 1948 (P.L. 80-901, Title III). This and several later authorities were repealed as part of Title V of the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1970 (Section 503), which codified
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Rebuilding the Research Capacity at HUD the research authorities of HUD and, as noted above, remains the legal basis under which HUD conducts research. Section 502 authorized research on building technology. There are several reasons for a federal role in building technology research. Private and public investment to develop new housing technology has historically been small. The fragmented nature of the construction industry and the small scale of production for individual builders make it difficult for innovators to capture private benefits to any great extent. Consequently, the construction industry is not naturally disposed to support the types of fundamental research that have proven so important to generating rapid technological breakthroughs in other economic sectors. In addition, innovation and adoption of new technology in housing has often been hindered by the fragmented nature of the construction industry. Technological change is uncertain, and is typically not a well-planned activity (Nelson and Langlois, 1983). The construction industry therefore devotes little in the way of resources to research—less than 0.5 percent of revenue, compared with 3.5 percent for industry as a whole (Teicholz, 2004). Housing is an important sector of the American economy. Residential investment and housing consumption account for about 15 percent of gross domestic product, 5 percent and 10 percent, respectively. Buying a home is the largest single investment made by most households. Technology directly affects the cost and quality of homes, as well as maintenance and operating costs. Despite the importance of housing in the economy, the federal government spends little on building technology. In fiscal 2007, of the total federal nondefense research and development (R&D) funding of $61 billion, less than $5 million was devoted to housing (U.S. Office of Management and Budget, 2008). Similarly small amounts have been appropriated or spent annually since the early 1970s. Perhaps as a result of this lack of investment in research, labor productivity in building has gradually declined since 1964, while productivity in other manufacturing industries has increased significantly (Teicholz, 2004).1 Today the technology of housing, like other technologies, is changing rapidly. Substitute products such as wood-plastic composites are entering the marketplace without certification processes and regulations to ensure performance. The green building movement, with a growing variety of political and sometimes nontechnical participants, is presenting new technical requirements. HUD can guide the nation’s housing policies through this change by understanding the use and potential of technology combined with an informed social perspective. 1 Productivity has increased slightly since about 1999 but much more slowly than for all manufacturing.
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Rebuilding the Research Capacity at HUD There are three challenges for a government role in technology-based research: (1) to enable and facilitate the foundational research by which new innovations can be developed and commercialized by others; (2) to provide the leadership, awareness, and participation in the regulatory and code development processes in order to foster the introduction of strategic innovation in the nation’s housing stock and provide the basis for sound policy making; and (3) to avoid endorsements, product application, or other roles that interfere or appear to interfere with marketplace decisions. The remainder of this chapter reviews PD&R’s most significant technological activities, focusing principally on PATH. PATH has been the subject of several previous National Research Council reports, which are also summarized below. The committee then offers its own assessment of the current state of PD&R’s technology research and presents its conclusions and recommendations. TECHNOLOGY ACTIVITIES: 1969-1990s Operation Breakthrough Operation Breakthrough, which was established in 1969, was designed to create innovative, manufactured, large-scale housing “systems.” It was conceived with the intention that the cost of housing could be substantially reduced by industrializing aspects of construction and moving away from reliance on on-site construction. This intention was tied with regulatory waivers to hasten the implementation of the new technology. A series of demonstration houses were constructed, but most of the proposed systems did not advance to commercialization. Overall, the initiative proved ineffective and ended in the late 1970s. In citing Nelson and Langlois (1983), the National Research Council (2000, p. 7) noted: “the lessons learned from Operation Breakthrough and other federal R&D projects are that successful programs have the following characteristics: association with government procurement or some other well defined public-sector objective; support of defined, nonproprietary research guided by a scientific community; and an institutional structure that allows potential users to guide the program.” Operation Breakthrough’s failure was attributed to the attempt by government to introduce technologies in an arena in which it had no procurement interest. However, one generally unrecognized success of Operation Breakthrough is the recent marketplace acceptance that increased factory production of housing improves construction efficiency, quality, and affordability. Factory production can be achieved not only by complete factory production of housing units as in manufactured housing, but also with factory production of increasingly sophisticated building components that are then
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Rebuilding the Research Capacity at HUD assembled in the field into traditional single and multifamily housing. The latter concept of factory production has grown dramatically in the last two decades. The structural building component industry consisting primarily of factory-built wood trusses and walls has grown in sales in a decade by over 120 percent, from approximately $6.9 billion in 1996 to $15.3 billion in 2006 (SBC Legislative, 2007). The leadership shown in developing an idea that has continued to grow in the housing industry can be viewed as an Operation Breakthrough success. But, it is important not to overlook the lesson that the government’s role in sponsoring research and technological leadership has boundaries that must be compatible with marketplace conditions. Small Directed Research Activities in the 1980s and 1990s During the 1980s and 1990s, the focus of PD&R’s technology group was a number of small directed research activities. These activities included (but were not limited to) work to advance understanding alternatives to wood framing, to develop lead paint regulations, and to support improved regulations for the manufactured housing industry. During a time of particularly volatile lumber prices, alternatives to conventional wood framing for housing were examined through external contracts to review the advantages and disadvantages of structural insulated panels and concrete insulating forms. PD&R was involved in the development of lead paint regulations prior to the establishment of the Office of Lead-Based Paint in 1991. By far the most significant of these small directed activities was the development of regulations for manufactured homes, which then and now provide an important source of unsubsidized affordable housing. From the 1950s to the mid-1970s, manufactured housing (originally, “trailers”) was constructed without any building regulatory approval. Because of the lack of a permanent foundation, the structures were considered something between a vehicle and a building, and they were sometimes designed and built to survive initial transportation rather than to fulfill functional housing requirements. In 1974, HUD received congressional approval to enforce construction code requirements for this type of housing. The development of these requirements was a critically important step to the advance and acceptance of manufactured housing. Yet the work was not a profound technical research project for PD&R that required the discovery of new information; instead, the requirements were largely a matter of developing regulations from a compilation of known acceptable practices based on the experience and knowledge of industry and government engineers. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, development work was undertaken for an important update of the standards, which were promulgated in 1994. Small targeted studies were undertaken by PD&R in support of
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Rebuilding the Research Capacity at HUD this effort. One achievement, for example, was the development of the Permanent Foundations Guide for Manufactured Housing, first developed in 1989 and updated in 1996. This publication provided a tool for designers and installers nationwide and has been a very popular download from HUD USER. Industry users have complained that such works are not sufficiently maintained and updated. For example, the current Permanent Foundations Guide for Manufactured Housing (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 1996a), developed out of PD&R, is now more than 10 years old and relies on a 1993 load standard (ASCE 7-93) that is now several versions out of date. Furthermore, the supporting software was written for MS Windows 95, an operating system that is now obsolete. PD&R’s small technical staff—consisting of two engineers and one architect—undoubtedly cannot sustain such efforts. PATH In 1994, under the banner of “national construction goals” and involving a variety of federal agency and private entity partnerships, the activities of what later would be known as PATH commenced. In 1998, these activities were reformed by the White House and U.S. Congress as the Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing. PATH recognized the problem of the diversity of housing technology and created a program designed to bring different technology partners together to facilitate interactions among them. The goals of the program evolved over time but the primary intent was to create a cooperative environment for bringing together industry, government, academic, and consumer stakeholders to achieve common goals and to coordinate the limited public and private funding for research and development. The PATH Program is, as the name implies, first and foremost, a technology innovation partnership led by HUD. The partnership as originally developed included a steering committee of 10 industry partners and five broad working groups that involved approximately another 140 government agencies, industry associations, and product companies. The program was initially envisioned as an annual program of activities for $8 to $10 million. From this program came a broad range of large and small research contracts and grants to address development and adoption of innovative housing technology. When President Clinton launched the PATH Program in 1998, he charged PATH with developing technologies, housing components, designs, and production methods that would reduce by 50 percent the time needed to move quality technologies to market, by the year 2010 (see National Research Council, 2000). From this charge, four goals were proposed to be achieved by 2010:
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Rebuilding the Research Capacity at HUD Reduce the monthly cost of new housing by 20 percent or more. Cut the environmental impact and energy use of new homes by 50 percent or more, and reduce energy use in at least 15 million existing homes by 30 percent or more. Improve durability and reduce maintenance costs by 50 percent. Reduce by at least 10 percent the risk of death, injury, and property destruction from natural hazards, and decrease by at least 20 percent illnesses and injuries to residential construction workers. A series of tasks to achieve the objectives were developed under the headings of technology needs assessment, technology development, technology adoption, and resource coordination. Evolution and Prior Reviews of PATH The PATH Program has been regularly reviewed and assessed since its inception. In particular, the National Research Council (NRC) has conducted a series of independent assessments and reviews of the PATH Program and issued four reports spanning the years 2000 to 2006. These reports describe the evolution and direction of the program from year to year. The first report (National Research Council, 2000) lauded the partnerships that were created; the recommendations centered on the conclusion that the organization and funding level of the PATH Program were not commensurate with a rather ambitious set of goals. The report recommended more realistic and achievable goals for the program. Other recommendations were targeted toward assessing the impact of the program, placing greater emphasis on demonstration projects, and measuring the near-term impact of the program on housing construction. The review noted that the building codes and standards community seemed to be underrepresented, despite the fact that building codes and standards were considered one of the main barriers to the adoption of new technologies. In the first year PATH had its own program office in HUD, but by 2001 it had been merged into PD&R and has continued in PD&R since then. Once in PD&R in 2001, the goals of the program were dramatically simplified and rephrased as tasks as follows: Remove barriers and facilitate technology development and adoption. Improve technology transfer, development, and adoption through information dissemination. Advance research on housing technologies and foster development of new technology.
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Rebuilding the Research Capacity at HUD Administer the PATH Program to achieve its mission, goals, and objectives. Soon thereafter, the NRC issued a letter report reiterating “that the PATH Program provides a unique opportunity to further societal goals by encouraging and supporting partnerships between government, industry, and academic institutions—and reaffirms its belief that these partnerships should be continued” (National Research Council, 2002b, p. 2). The NRC conducted a more comprehensive review the following year, leading to its third report (National Research Council, 2003). The NRC committee reviewed how the PATH Program’s goals had evolved from a focus on improvement of housing performance to development and diffusion of technology in housing. The evaluation examined each of the 56 PATH activities initiated between 1999 and 2001 and devoted special attention to those activities that seemed likely to have the greatest impact on the program’s goals. This report placed greater emphasis on the importance of demonstration, diffusion, and communication of new technologies for the housing industry rather than concentrating solely on technological advance and development. There was a significant shift in this report from a broader spectrum of basic and applied technology research to activities directed toward the process of technology adoption. New emphasis was placed on expanding demonstration and evaluation projects in an attempt to remove barriers to new technology. In 2006 the NRC held a 1-day workshop in response to HUD’s request for review and comment on its 2005 draft document PATH Program Review and Strategy, Performance Metrics, and Operating Plan. Although the resultant proceedings (National Research Council, 2006) did not contain a concise set of consensus conclusions or recommendations, there was a general sense among the meeting participants that PATH had been responsive to previous NRC evaluations and recommendations. In addition, there was a general sense among the participants that all three substantive goals of the PATH Program were worth pursing rather than placing particular emphasis on any one of them. Assessment There is no question that PATH has been the single most significant technology-related contribution by PD&R and arguably the most significant housing technology innovation program in U.S. history. It began in the midst of a growing expansion in housing starts, and thus its impact was leveraged by the contribution of housing to the economy and the nation’s focus on a strong housing market. PATH provided risk money for research investment that the industry was unwilling or unable to assume in a highly
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Rebuilding the Research Capacity at HUD competitive environment. It may be unrealistic to expect a research and technology program to make immediate impacts in an industry in which it has historically taken 10 to 25 years for technology to penetrate the market, but it appeared the program advisors nonetheless felt pressured to do so. Because of the complexity of technology development and the inherent nature of a technology partnership, a clear cause-and-effect relationship of PATH initiatives and accomplishments can be difficult to identify. The list of PATH technology products is long (ToolBase Services, n.d.). Examples of more notable PATH accomplishments include development of several codes, products, and activities: prescriptive building codes for structural insulated panels; a contractor quality program now being marketed and implemented by the research center of the National Association of Home Builders that has a growing list of company participants; code provisions for the use of insulating concrete forms and light gauge steel framing that provide an alternative to wood framing; a knowledge base for the performance of caulking used in construction to improve the durability of building envelopes; an academic competitive research grant program that generated over 40 university-based projects, resulting in a much broader academic support for housing technology instruction and research activities than existed prior to PATH; and lean production methods for manufactured housing—approximately 50 percent of the manufactured housing plants use lean methods today. Despite these positive results, interviews with members of the PATH Industry Steering Committee and other PATH participants revealed concern about the shift in focus from a broad spectrum of research objectives to a primary focus on technology demonstrations and reducing barriers to technological acceptance in the marketplace. In 2001, PATH appeared to walk a fine line between activity that affected the housing product marketplace by developing and demonstrating certain technologies or material systems at the expense of others, and activity that focused on basic enabling research that industries could build. Repeating the words of Dr. Chris White of the Building and Fire Research Laboratory of the National Institute of Standards and Technology at the 2006 NRC workshop, the challenge with information transfer versus direct funding of research is that “the only source of funding for housing technology research is PATH. If PATH stops funding research, the only information PATH will have to disseminate will be product literature from manufacturers” (National Research Council, 2006, p. 40).
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Rebuilding the Research Capacity at HUD TABLE 4-1 PATH Annual Budget Relative to the PD&R Total Budget (thousands of dollars) Year PD&R Budget PATH Budget PATH as Percentage of PD&R Budget (%) 1999 47,500 10,000 21 2000 45,000 10,000 22 2001 53,382 9,978 19 2002 50,250 8,750 17 2003 46,694 7,451 16 2004 46,723 7,456 16 2005 45,136 6,944 15 2006 55,786 4,950 9 2007 50,087 NA NA NOTES: PD&R budget figures are after rescissions and do not include Office of University Partnerships funds. NA = Not available. SOURCE: Unpublished data from HUD, Office of Policy Development and Research. Assessments of the quality of a research program have to be made in the context of the funds available for the research and the allocation methods by which the funds are expended. The funding of PATH relative to the PD&R budget is shown in Table 4-1. While the PATH Program initially represented 21 percent of the PD&R budget in 1999, over time that percentage decreased, to around 9 percent in 2006. Further, as discussed in Chapter 2, the total funding level has decreased for both PD&R and PATH over that period. Between 1999 and 2006, approximately 17 percent of PATH funds were devoted to research with federal government partners, including the National Institute of Science and Technology, the Department of Energy, the Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service, and the National Science Foundation (NSF). NSF received 7 percent of PATH funding in 1999-2006, yet still engaged universities in 43 separate grants that would be viewed as basic research. NSF solicitations occurred in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2005, with $750,000 per year of the PATH HUD budget matched by NSF to create a $1.5 million research program administered by NSF.2 The program was competitive, and independent expert panels ranked the scientific quality of the proposals. Typically, the 5 to 10 highest ranking proposals were awarded grants. In the 2000 and 2001 solicitations, each NSF award was limited to $150,000 over a 2-year period with the stipulation that these funds must be awarded to academic institutions, and partnerships with other entities were encouraged (National Science Foundation, 2000, 2001). Research 2 In 2005 the total was $3 million to cover both 2004 and 2005.
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Rebuilding the Research Capacity at HUD proposals were to be based on the original, unrealistic, quantitative goals set for the program and were accepted over a wide range of subject areas. The solicitation emphasized the opportunity and need for investments in fundamental research to help achieve PATH goals. The 2002 and 2003 solicitations were for $300,000 per award over a 3-year period and again awarded to academic institutions (National Science Foundation, 2002, 2003). These solicitations included a mandatory partnership that required collaboration among an academic institution, a private-sector organization, and a state or local government entity. Proposals were restricted in these solicitations to one of three areas: information technology to streamline home building, advanced panel systems, or whole house design. These requirements overlaid the general NSF review criteria of high scientific merit and significant broader impacts including the integration of research and education. The final NSF PATH solicitation in 2005 restored the potential for a broader range of proposals, including social science-based research, building on an NSF-sponsored housing research workshop held during 2004 (National Science Foundation, 2005). The workshop brought experts from academia, government (including PD&R), and industry to identify future research needs in housing. Up to 10 grants were to be awarded at $300,000 each for up to 3 years. The NSF funding brought housing technology to the attention of a significant number of university programs for the first time and was successful in initiating increased academic involvement in the technology of housing. But each year the requirements pushed toward more immediate implementation. The mandated partnerships with industry and government became increasingly difficult to fulfill given the size and timeline of the grants and the overarching NSF requirements of scientific rigor and broad impact. The mandate also began to shift the emphasis from more basic research toward quick turnaround efforts that could be quickly demonstrated with an industry partner. Unfortunately, the five solicitations that ended in 2005 could not sustain the progress that had been made, and many academic programs have pulled back from their initial efforts in housing research. Almost half of the total PATH funds over the 1999-2006 period were awarded in external contracts to five private entities, two of which each received almost 20 percent of the total PATH funding. These entities received funds through the indefinite quantity contracts that provided a practical expediency to the contracting process, but they effectively prevented participation that would capture a wider buy-in of interested parties and a continued involvement of a diverse set of experts. Given the broad scope of
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Rebuilding the Research Capacity at HUD PATH, the concern about whether funding was sufficient for such a scope and the objective to build partnerships, it is difficult to understand how funding concentrated in a relatively few private entities could best advance the PATH agenda. Industry and academic partners who were enthusiastic participants in the early years became less interested over time, and the impact of some research reports received less attention and acceptance in the wider housing community over time. Approximately 2 percent of the total PATH budget was devoted to manufactured housing. About the same time that PATH was formed, the manufactured housing sector formed the Manufactured Housing Research Alliance (MHRA). PATH was a catalyst to the manufactured housing industry to take a serious look at research and self-improvement. As indicated above, important PATH products included the development and implementation of lean manufacturing concepts and fundamental new knowledge on interior moisture control in manufactured housing. Although they received only 2 percent of the overall budget, the manufactured housing industry considered the PATH Program combined with their own MHRA to be a transformational period for innovation in the industry. More recently, HUD has been conspicuously absent from another endeavor. The National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) is a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization bringing together representatives of government, the professions, industry, labor, and consumer interests to focus on the identification and resolution of current and potential problems that hamper the construction of safe, affordable structures for housing, commerce, and industry throughout the United States. NIBS recently initiated the formation of a High Performance Building Council bringing together different industry associations and government entities. HUD has not been present at these meetings even though other federal government entities with less focus on building technology have been present. HUD’s absence is especially striking given that NIBS had previously received a limited amount of PATH funding. New initiatives with federal funding seem to surface frequently, yet a coherent plan that brings the elements together to benefit housing and urban development is not apparent in the community of researchers and industry. Furthermore, during the past 10 years, the United States has moved from a patchwork of building codes to essentially one set of model building codes under the auspices of the International Code Council and embodied in the International Building Code and International Residential Code. These codes are becoming increasingly more sophisticated to provide better durability and safety against earthquakes, high winds, and floods. PD&R has not participated extensively in these activities. Green building, sustainability, and energy issues are becoming increasingly urgent. Tech-
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Rebuilding the Research Capacity at HUD nological leadership and involvement by an adequately staffed and funded PD&R will be critical to addressing these and other new problems in housing and urban development. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS The PATH Program has exhibited both shortcomings and successes. The shortcomings include: (1) overly ambitious, unrealistic goals that could not be achieved in a short time and early expectations of visible and nearly immediate return on research investment; (2) mission drift away from longer range generic research appropriate for federal government support toward demonstrations and information dissemination that have been too closely tied to proprietary interests; and (3) the concentration of a significant portion of available funds in a relatively few private entities, possibly because of the absence of an unbiased panel in the contracting process. Over time, these shortcomings began to compromise the partnership that was the essential piece needed to remove barriers to new technology and succeed in diffusion. If government does not have a strong procurement interest, a successful research strategy involves conducting or promoting generic research that is a “step or two removed” from commercial application (Nelson and Langlois, 1983, p. 816). History repeatedly shows that government-sponsored research efforts that attempt to pick commercial winners are not successful. As PATH has moved into the realm of demonstrations and diffusion, it has treaded into the arena of, at worst, attempting to “pick winners” and, at best, simply conveying manufacturers’ product data. At the same time, PATH has been extremely successful in creating partnerships and exercising leadership, for which PD&R staff are to be commended. The program initiated and brought a focus to technology-based housing research. The NSF-HUD research program was successful in greatly expanding the partnership with a relatively small investment. The grant program was open and competitive, and recommendations were made by a third-party expert panel. The students who later became professionals and the basic research that resulted from the program may not immediately affect commercialized housing technology, but they will provide a benefit over time. In particular, the modest funding directed toward manufactured housing resulted not only in producing tangible products, but also in improving an entire industry that provides an important source of affordable housing. The decline of PATH funding has led to PD&R’s relinquishing its developing leadership position in housing technology. Currently, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) funds building science research under the Building America Program, a partnership sponsored by the DOE that
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Rebuilding the Research Capacity at HUD conducts research to find energy-efficient solutions for new and existing housing that can be implemented on a production basis, with the goal of developing cost-effective “net zero energy homes” by 2020 (U.S. Department of Energy, 2007). PD&R through PATH has an affiliation with this program, but its involvement now appears minor. Although DOE funding levels have always dwarfed those of the PD&R technology effort, the PATH mandate and funding empowered PD&R with a basis for coordination and housing research leadership. Based on the early experience with PATH, it is clear that HUD—even with minimal technical staff—can assume a leadership position in guiding technology related to housing. Furthermore, even with a limited budget for external technology research, PD&R can bring to the table and provide direction and leadership to a large variety of housing technology stakeholders. What is needed is a sustained and stable effort that is open and competitive, does not drift or constantly change course, and is not under unrealistic pressure to show measurable impact in too short a timeframe. Technology grant and contract programs can foster fundamental advance of housing technology that is removed from proprietary products and labels, is unbiased, and can involve a variety of interested industry partners. Effective enabling technology research is not product development. But product development conducted by the private sector can build on and use enabling technology research. PD&R should provide enabling research that is both fundamental, perhaps through a continued partnership with NSF and at times applied with a wider variety of vendors in an open competitive contract process. Product development and the acceptance of products, material types, and particular technologies, other than that associated with regulating for safety, sustainability, or another strategic interest should be left to the marketplace and industry. The PATH Program had been successful in several aspects, especially in demonstrating the effectiveness of PD&R’s technological leadership role for housing, but a broader-based technology program more integrated into the missions of PD&R would better serve HUD and the nation. Major Recommendation 2: PD&R should actively engage with policy makers, practitioners, urban leaders, and scholars to frame and implement a forward-looking research agenda that includes both housing and an expanded focus on sustainable urban development. Recommendation 4-1: PD&R should expand its direct involvement in housing and urban development technology research. Recommendation 4-2: PD&R should provide small research grant competitions, perhaps in partnership with the National Science Foundation, that
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Rebuilding the Research Capacity at HUD focus on basic and enabling research in technology and maintain a distance from implicit product endorsement or demonstration. Grants or contracts should be awarded in an open competitive process in which proposals are evaluated and priorities set through an independent expert panel. Recommendation 4-3: As HUD programs develop to address new emerging problems—such as sustainable housing or sustainable urban development—PD&R should adopt a systems approach that brings together in-house social science and technology expertise to guide and implement such programs; technology research should support HUD policy development. Recommendation 4-4: PD&R should partner with other federal agencies and philanthropic foundations to fund major studies of significance in technology.