Allocating Federal Funds for Science and Technology, a National Academy of Sciences (NAS) (1995) report, addresses mechanisms for allocating federal research funds. The authoring committee recommends that federal science and technology funding should give preference to projects and people, rather than institutions, and that the awarding of grants should be based on competitive merit review. That report concludes (p. 25) that in relation to merit review of academic research,

… merit review of in-house (that is, intramural) research is much more difficult because federal research scientists and engineers are in the civil service and still retain salary and benefits even if they are not productive or their area has lower priority or has become obsolete. That problem is a perennial one in the periodic reviews of federal laboratories.

Although the NAS committee recognized the important role for federal laboratories in a balanced program of federal science and technology, this conclusion underpinned its recommendation that federal funding should generally favor academic institutions because of their flexibility and inherent quality control.

Encouraging Participation and the Potential for Success

The committee also recognizes that as funds are redirected over time toward competitive grants programs, some experiment stations and colleges of agriculture will be at a disadvantage. As indicated in the Profile report (National Research Council, 1995a), the experiment stations that garner the largest shares of their research expenditures from competitive grants programs (administered by USDA, NIH, NSF, etc.) tend to be those associated with large research universities. Many LGCAs and experiment stations do not fit this description. The committee believes that competitive grants programs for food and agricultural research must be structured and administered so as to encourage participation by and potential for success to all institutions, particularly small and mid-sized institutions and those not among the top 100 universities and colleges receiving federal funds for science and engineering. One way to do this is to continue and further strengthen the role of USDA in the federal government's Experimental Program for Stimulating Competitive Research (EPSCoR).3

RECOMMENDATION 10. USDA should continue its role in enhancing participation and success in competitive grant programs by all institutions in order to build human capital nationwide in food and agricultural research. For example, it should (a) continue to designate 10 percent of the enlarged competitive grants pool for institutions in USDA-EPSCoR states; (b) allocate 5 percent of competitive grants for 1890 institutions, while maintaining capacity building grants; and (c) streamline the federal competitive grants application process without sacrificing accountability or the adequacy of information on which to judge scientific merit.

2  

In theory there are unique and distinct roles for the intramural research agency, the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), and the state agricultural experiment stations. In practice, however, these roles become blurred. One way to increase efficiency in the public food and agricultural research system is to ensure that the respective roles of ARS and the experiment stations (or colleges) are carefully delineated and synergistic, to avoid replication. For example, maintenance research and emergency response to crop pest infestations and livestock disease are important shared activities.

3  

EPSCoR is a National Science Foundation program designed to bring participant states' science and engineering research endeavors at academic institutions to nationally competitive levels. In each qualifying state, NSF's role is to stimulate local investment in the research infrastructure as well as to provide federal investment funds. USDA-EPSCoR states are currently those that have had a funding level from the USDA NRICGP no higher than the 38th percentile of all states, based on a 3-year rolling average, and all U.S. territories and possessions, including the District of Columbia. For FY 1996, the following states fall into this category: Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming.



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