In 1997, USDA asked the National Research Council Board on Agriculture (now the Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources) to conduct an independent assessment of the NRI program. Specifically, USDA asked the Research Council to: perform a retrospective assessment of the quality and value of research funded by the program; determine whether the science and technology priorities in the major NRI programs are defined appropriately; assess how NRI activities complement other USDA programs, those of other federal agencies, and state programs in the private sector; and recommend the nature and content of changes for the future. The Research Council appointed a 14-member committee in early 1998 to carry out this study.

To respond to USDA’s four-point charge, the committee gathered impressions and systematic data on the performance of the NRI. It conducted a series of surveys and interviews and solicited testimony from several constituent groups. Former chief scientists, deans and directors of land grant and other universities, and recipients of NRI grants, and others were included in mail surveys as a first comprehensive effort to assess the functioning of the NRI. In addition, the committee devoted a full day to receiving testimony from interested stakeholder2 groups. Every effort was made to gain the views of individuals and groups that had had contact with the NRI and were therefore knowledgeable about its activities. The committee found a great deal of consistency in findings from the survey, interviews with the chief scientists, and testimony presented by stakeholders at the public workshop.


This report summarizes the results of the committee’s analysis. Chapter 2 summarizes the value of food, fiber, and natural resources-research to the United States, focusing on economic contributions and rates of return of food and fiber research. The committee’s analysis of the quality, value, fairness, relevance, and responsiveness of the NRI competitive grants program is presented in chapter 3. Chapter 4 presents the committee’s analysis of the role and scope of the NRI, including its scientific objectives, its value in training and education, and its complementarity with other research activities. The committee’s analysis of NRI’s priority-setting process and its research priorities is given in chapter 5. The committee’s analysis of organizational and funding issues is given in chapter 6. Chapter 7 presents the committee’s recommendations to improve the effectiveness of the NRI program. Additional supporting materials are found in appendixes A through I.


The term stakeholder is used in this report to refer to all individuals and organizations that have an interest in the operations and outcomes of the NRI.

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