• The availability of stable research funding through formula allocation reduces the proportion of researchers' time spent applying for competitive grants. Because grant application processes are time consuming and can have low rates of success, formula funding means that relatively more of a researcher's time can be devoted to actually performing the funded research (Huffman and Evenson, 1993).

On the other hand, noncompetitive funding, by formula or congressionally designated special grants, is inherently inequitable, inefficient, and lacking in accountability.

  • The exclusion of research institutions other than the experiment stations from more than $200 million in federal agricultural research funds is unfair. Equally important, it precludes a completely efficient process for matching those researchers uniquely qualified to address specific food and agricultural problems with the funding to address those problems (Alston and Pardey, 1995).
  • Formula funds and special grants have carried with them no effective means for accountability in terms of how they have been used by state institutions or whether they have been devoted to research issues that justify federal support. There is no generally accessible public record, including the CRIS system, that documents and provides a rationale for the specific uses of formula funds by the experiment stations.
  • Research conducted with formula and special grant funds is not automatically subject to peer review. Despite a large number of valid criticisms of the way peer review tends to operate, even its most vocal critics see peer review, at least as reformed to operate more equitably and efficiently, as the key to quality control in scientific endeavor (Chubin and Hackett, 1990).

The lack of competitive funds designated for agricultural research multiplies the incentive for experiment station and other food and agricultural scientists to seek such funds competitively from other sources. In 1992 experiment station research at 1862 LGCAs was supplemented by $226 million in funds from NIH, NSF, the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, and other federal funding sources (National Research Council, 1995a). A majority of these supplemental funds are presumed to be competitive as most are attributable to NIH and NSF, whose research allocation processes are almost exclusively project-based and competitive. There is some consternation within the agricultural community that, by virtue of the greater availability of these funds relative to funding designated for food and agricultural research, some of the best and brightest of the experiment station researchers have avoided food and agriculture system issues and research needs.

The committee concludes that there is a need to preserve the advantages offered by formula funding, particularly their facilitation of linked research, extension, and teaching programs (which is the basis for Recommendation 4). However, the relative lack of competitively awarded and peer-reviewed research specific to food and agricultural system issues places severe limitations on the ability of the land grant system and other research institutions to meet the research challenges of the future.

A large role for competitive funding in agricultural research would lessen the perception that agricultural research is separate and insulated from the rest of the scientific community.

RECOMMENDATION 9. The federal government should increase competitive funding of food and agricultural research projects. The funding level for competitive grants should be no less than the $500 million authorized by Congress for the National Initiative for Research in Agriculture, Food, and the Environment (NRI). Additionally, the share of total federal research support awarded competitively to projects and individuals (including teams) on the basis of peer-reviewed merit should be increased. Recognizing fiscal constraints, options for increasing the share include (a) directing funds to research from other USDA budget categories, particularly as a means of reinvesting savings on agricultural subsidies; (b) transferring to competitive grants programs

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