questions of national importance linked to more-applied problems. All types were designed to strengthen US Department of Agriculture (USDA) research efforts.
In this chapter, the committee presents its views on the role and scope of NRI research within the bounds established by Congress—the NRI’s niche within federal, state, and private-sector research in the food, fiber, and natural-resources system. We begin by discussing some of the scientific objectives of the NRI, such as supporting fundamental, applied, and multidisciplinary research. We then discuss some of the NRI’s objectives related to training and education. Finally, we discuss the complementarity of the NRI to other federal research programs and the private sector.
Research programs are commonly classified as supporting either fundamental (also referred to as basic) or applied (also referred to as mission-linked) research or both. The 1995 National Research Council report Allocating Federal Funds for Science and Technology defined basic research as having the following characteristics: “creates new knowledge; is generic, nonappropriable, and openly available; is often done with no specific application in mind; and requires a long-term commitment”. The same report defined applied research as having the following characteristics: “uses research methods to address questions with a specific purpose; pays explicit attention to producing knowledge relevant to producing a technology or service; overlaps extensively with basic research; and can be short- or long-term”.
Even though there is extensive overlap between the two types of research and the distinction between basic and applied research is often unclear (see also box 4-1), the original National Research Council proposal to establish the NRI and the enabling legislation for the program referred explicitly to the two general types. In particular, the enabling legislation required that “not less than 20% [of appropriations] shall be available to make grants for research to be conducted by persons conducting mission-linked systems research.” More recently, the Agricultural Research, Extension, and Education Reform Act of 1998 increased the minimum for mission-linked research, requiring that “not less than 40 percent [of appropriations] shall be available to make grants for research … directly applicable to producers and agricultural production systems.” NRI annual reports show that for the period FY 1991–1999 funding for mission-oriented research ranged from 26% to 50% of total research expenditures, and the data show a monotonic increase of about 4 percentage points per year in research perceived to be “mission-oriented” over this period.
NRI stakeholders seem to recognize the value of the NRI program in supporting both fundamental and applied research. The committee’s survey shows that the NRI is widely perceived to be USDA’s premier basic-research program, whereas USDA formula funds are perceived as supporting applied