administrators of all the USDA intramural research agencies and the under secretary for research, education, and economics, who is the board chair.
The NRI has six divisions organized according to the six mandated programs authorized by Congress: Animal, Plants, Food and Nutrition, Marketing and Trade, Natural Resources and Environment, and Food Processing. The scientific staff consists of the chief scientist, division directors, program directors, and the rotating panel managers recruited from the research community to administer NRI review panels.
In 1997, USDA asked the National Research Council’s Board on Agriculture (now the Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources) to conduct an independent assessment of the NRI program. Specifically, USDA asked the Board to (1) perform a retrospective assessment of the quality and value of research funded by the program, (2) determine if the science and technology priorities with the major NRI programs are defined appropriately, (3) assess how NRI activities complement other USDA programs and those of other federal agencies and state programs in the private sector, (4) 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. The committee conducted a series of surveys and interviews and solicited testimony from several constituent groups. Former chief scientists, deans and directors of land grant and non-land grant universities, and recipients and nonrecipients of NRI grants 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 stakeholder1 groups. Every effort was made to gain the views of individuals or groups that had had contact with the NRI and were therefore knowledgeable as to 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 a public workshop.
Early in the study the committee recognized that the NRI did not maintain a systematic record of direct research results (for example, publications, patents) or a running evaluation of the originality and significance of current applications and renewals. The committee therefore based its assessment of the “quality and value of research funded by the program” (its first task) largely on surveys, testimony, and its own experience. To supplement these subjective evaluations, the committee chose to expand the scope of its investigations to evaluate how well the NRI program has met the goals that were set forth in the 1989 NRC report and the original congressional authorization, some of which involve