1980s, the way to sell the need for university funding was to assert that everything supports economic development. Congress took that to heart, and earmarking mushroomed. Rhetorical strategies can have consequences, because people may be more credulous or respond differently than those who design the strategies initially expect.
Another point is that we have a large set of measurements in the research arena, but they are primarily input measurements. How much money do we spend? How many people do we hire? How many Ph.D.s do we use? What we are lacking are measures of output and outcome, and the focus needs to be on that. NSF began publishing science and engineering indicators in 1971 with the purpose of establishing a long time series of data that could be useful to research managers and educators. That has been done, but essentially with indicators of input. The indicators thus also ought to include a few metrics that gauge output and outcome.
A set of metrics needs to be developed that can track and help explain the reasons for changing the research portfolio—why something is being dropped or added, or why the relative weight of something that relates to the creation of knowledge or advances in technology is changing. The Foundation should think about how to do that more effectively, because Congress and the research community have always wanted the answers to such questions.