DOE, as suggested in the committee’s earlier recommendation to benchmark the amount and length of NRI grants against such research programs.
The committee believes that the recommended increase in funding should take place incrementally as the various changes recommended earlier in this report are put into place. The ability to utilize large amounts of new funding effectively will be compromised unless recommended changes to the priority-setting process and NRI’s organization are implemented.
If implemented, the recommendations growing out of this third National Research Council review of the NRI (the other two were in 1989 and 1994) will re-energize the NRI and the nation’s food, fiber, and natural-resources research complex and will give USDA the opportunity to rediscover its fundamental research roots—where it began 120 years ago. In the committee’s opinion, the nation needs USDA to re-emerge as the research engine of the food, fiber, and natural-resources complex that has served the nation so successfully in the 20th century. There is no acceptable alternative. The food, fiber, and natural-resource system is too important and too fundamental to future national security and stability not to have its own research program that focuses explicitly on high-risk problems with potential long-term payoffs. The committee believes that an expanded and refocused NRI is the proper platform. Without a dramatically enhanced commitment to merit-based peer-reviewed food, fiber, and natural-resources research, the nation places itself at risk.