5
Priorities and Priority-Setting at the NRI

A number of studies have proposed more-rigorous procedures for setting federal research priorities (OTA, 1991; NRC, 1995; McGeary and Smith, 1996). Priority-setting challenges all federal research organizations because, at some level, it forces a ranking of research investments, and this can galvanize criticism from researchers whose projects are not among those most highly ranked (OTA, 1991). Even so, in all times, especially in times of decreasing or flat research budgets, priority-setting is an essential tool for federal decision-makers, who must make choices among highly ranked projects and programs.

Effective priority-setting also can be used by a research organization as a way to “market” its research programs to those who make funding-allocation decisions. A systematic and rigorous process that identifies major gaps in knowledge, estimates how research could close these gaps, and anticipates the long-term benefits of applying the new knowledge can be effective in convincing decision-makers to increase investments in some fields of research (McGeary and Smith, 1996). A rigorous priority-setting process also can be used to establish metrics useful in the context of the 1993 Government Performance Results Act (GPRA) (Kostoff, 1997).

This chapter presents the committee’s analysis of priority-setting at the NRI and suggestions for improving it. Throughout the chapter, the committee attempts to distinguish between the NRI priority-setting process (the procedures used to arrive at research priorities) and its research priorities themselves. The



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National Research Initiative: A Vital Competitive Grants Program in Food, Fiber, and Natural-Resources Research 5 Priorities and Priority-Setting at the NRI A number of studies have proposed more-rigorous procedures for setting federal research priorities (OTA, 1991; NRC, 1995; McGeary and Smith, 1996). Priority-setting challenges all federal research organizations because, at some level, it forces a ranking of research investments, and this can galvanize criticism from researchers whose projects are not among those most highly ranked (OTA, 1991). Even so, in all times, especially in times of decreasing or flat research budgets, priority-setting is an essential tool for federal decision-makers, who must make choices among highly ranked projects and programs. Effective priority-setting also can be used by a research organization as a way to “market” its research programs to those who make funding-allocation decisions. A systematic and rigorous process that identifies major gaps in knowledge, estimates how research could close these gaps, and anticipates the long-term benefits of applying the new knowledge can be effective in convincing decision-makers to increase investments in some fields of research (McGeary and Smith, 1996). A rigorous priority-setting process also can be used to establish metrics useful in the context of the 1993 Government Performance Results Act (GPRA) (Kostoff, 1997). This chapter presents the committee’s analysis of priority-setting at the NRI and suggestions for improving it. Throughout the chapter, the committee attempts to distinguish between the NRI priority-setting process (the procedures used to arrive at research priorities) and its research priorities themselves. The

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National Research Initiative: A Vital Competitive Grants Program in Food, Fiber, and Natural-Resources Research chapter begins with brief descriptions of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and NRI priority-setting processes and follows with the committee’s analysis of the NRI process. The committee then analyzes the NRI’s research priorities and offers its own suggestions for research of emerging importance. PROCESS Overview of USDA Priority-Setting Process Comprehensive planning and priority-setting have characterized the USDA Experiment Station System since the early 1980s, with the Joint Council on Agricultural Research, Education, and Extension serving as a mechanism for coordination of participating federal and state partners. The planning and priority-setting process was modified during an agencywide restructuring of USDA in 1995, which created a new USDA National Advisory Committee. The Advisory Committee’s role includes the responsibility to oversee and facilitate priority-setting in research and education. The involvement of stakeholders (including research users) that had characterized the priority-setting processes before 1995 was formalized and enhanced by the restructuring legislation. In response to USDA restructuring and GPRA, the Research, Education, and Economics (REE) Mission Area of USDA established five goals toward which the planning of research and education programs will be directed and against which program performance will be measured. The goals are intended to bring together the interests of stakeholders in setting priorities by striving for An agricultural production system that is highly competitive in the global economy. A safe and secure food and fiber system. A healthy, well-nourished population. Greater harmony between agriculture and the environment. Enhanced economic opportunity and quality of life for Americans. Those broad goals were established within the context of food, fiber, and natural-resources research and education. The land grant university colleges of agriculture and other research institutions and agencies are linked to the goals through various funding mechanisms administered by the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service, one of the four agencies that make up the USDA REE Mission Area. NRI Priority-Setting Process Priority-setting at the NRI is broadly shaped by the legislative authority that established the program. The original legislation established six broad NRI

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National Research Initiative: A Vital Competitive Grants Program in Food, Fiber, and Natural-Resources Research divisions.1 Within the divisions, NRI scientific staff (primarily the division directors) play an important role in setting priorities among research needs. NRI staff rely on a variety of mechanisms for receiving external input to help shape priorities. For example, some attend scientific and professional meetings to gain understanding of current scientific trends and emerging research issues. Some use periodic input from science forums, user workshops, and communication with other federal agencies. Additional input can be sought from various research consortia, policy groups, and trade organizations and from the policy committees of the Experiment Station System. The NRI scientific staff, the NRI chief scientist, and agency administrators are responsible for assimilating input from many diverse groups into an annual program description designed to solicit the best possible research proposals. In consultation with the NRI chief scientist, division directors, and deputy administrator, NRI scientific staff recommend changes or modifications in existing programs annually. Recommendations for the consolidation of programs or the creation of new research areas within the six divisions may be prepared by the chief scientist, division directors, program directors, or the deputy administrator. Final consensus recommendations emerge from a process chaired by the chief scientist and are presented to the NRI Board of Directors for approval. Researchers also play an important role in the priority-setting process through the issues addressed in the proposals they choose to submit. Similarly, the peer-review panels contribute to priority-setting through their funding recommendations for proposals judged most worthy with respect to relevance and scientific merit. In this manner, the processes of planning, priority-setting, and accountability are inherently linked. NRI funding also helps to build future research capacities in high-priority areas through the support of new scientists, graduate students, and postdoctoral appointments. Analysis of NRI Priority-Setting Process The NRI staff and leadership have made substantial efforts and invested much intellectual capital to orient the annual program descriptions and requests for proposals to major, emerging issues that could not necessarily be clearly forseen when the authorizing statute was established. At the same time, however, parts of the priority-setting process used by the NRI staff seem unstructured, appear to be unevenly administered across NRI divisions, and are not explicitly linked to the goals and other strategic planning elements of the REE Mission Area. For example, although some NRI divisions hold user workshops regularly to solicit input on research priorities, other divisions have no discernable or regular mechanism of external input. The committee found that in some cases, changes in program areas and priorities appear to have 1   Two other major research areas, Agricultural Systems (established in FY 1994) and Pest Biology and Management (established in FY 1995), are managed outside the six original divisions, and are essentially at the division level.

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National Research Initiative: A Vital Competitive Grants Program in Food, Fiber, and Natural-Resources Research occurred primarily in response to the urging of vocal stakeholders rather than as the result of a deliberative priority-setting process. The committee also found that mechanisms are not well established to evaluate the effectiveness of NRI-funded research as time passes and progress occurs or to delineate how key research outcomes correlate with guiding research goals. The priorities of the NRI do not appear to be linked closely with the priorities of the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and Economic Research Service (ERS), perhaps because the potential cross-functional nature of present research programs is not fully appreciated in either the ARS or the NRI administration. The committee believes that these issues need to be addressed through revisions of the NRI priority-setting process. The process of setting priorities should be a continuing activity that promotes a view of the future in order to anticipate emerging research issues and to ensure adequate and continuing resources rather than a one-time effort. A successful priority-setting process should recognize the effects of research accomplishments and push the transfer of the results into practice. A clear process for setting priorities, combined with transparent communication of the resulting priorities, could demonstrate that USD A is exercising leadership in the husbanding of scarce resources to solve major food, fiber, and natural-resources problems in an era of tight federal budgets and public accountability. The agency will then also serve its stakeholders by ensuring that research programs are in place to address major issues before they become crises. NRI RESEARCH PRIORITIES Because the NRI does not have a formal strategic plan, the committee has ascertained the NRI research priorities on the basis of its analysis of the funding history of the six main divisions and the numbers and types of research programs that have been supported since the NRI was initiated in 1991. Funding History of the NRFs Six Divisions Congress established the following six divisions when it authorized the NRI in the Food, Agriculture, Conservation and Trade Act of 1990: Natural Resources and the Environment. Nutrition, Food Quality, and Health. Animal Systems. Plant Systems. Engineering, New Products, and Processes. Markets, Trade, and Policy. Competitive grants are awarded in those six major research areas to support basic and applied research that focuses on both national and regional research needs (and methods to transfer such research to on-farm or in-market practice).

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National Research Initiative: A Vital Competitive Grants Program in Food, Fiber, and Natural-Resources Research A list of high-priority research areas mandated by Congress in 1990 is provided in table 5–1 (see also appendix A). Table 5–2 lists the major stakeholders for each of the six divisions. Funding histories for the divisions and some of the additional targeted programs from 1991 to 1997 are provided in figure 5–1 and summarized briefly below. The funding history of the NRI and its six congressionally-mandated divisions is complicated. Awards have been made in as many as 26 programs—within a division, in multiple divisions, or mostly outside the divisions. The names of divisions have been altered over time to reflect the changes in their program areas. Awards are also made to special initiatives and “earmarks”—for example, Binational Agricultural Research and Development (BARD)—that lie wholly outside the six divisions but are funded by the NRI. The NRI’s lack of a standardized grant-tracking and budgeting system, however, makes accurate reconstruction of the funding history of the divisions nearly impossible. Lack of such a system is a shortcoming in the NRI infrastructure. Appendix I outlines the details of a standardized tracking system that would be beneficial both for tracking of outcomes and for making the NRI’s programs more transparent to stakeholders. The retrospective analysis provided here relies heavily on budget information given in the publicly available NRI annual reports. The reconstruction of the funding history is an approximation of the actual dollars awarded through the program since 1991. The NRI Plants Division was created from the Plant Science Program and the Biotechnology Program, both of which existed in the USDA Competitive Grants Research Office (CRGO) before 1987. The Plants Division maintained the largest and most constant funding level between 1991 and 1997, ranging from $33.2 million to $37.8 million from 1991 to 1994. It has supported as many as 11 program areas simultaneously and now supports nine program areas. The apparent decline in funding to $21 million in 1995 was due to the excision of Pest Biology and Management from the Plants Division (figure 5–1) and into a separate free-standing major research area (see below). The Plants Division also experienced nearly continuous funding of individual programs during the 7-year period—this is generally not the case for other divisions. The actual program foci and their names in the Plants Division have probably changed less than those in any other NRI division. Programs in the Animals Division were based on pre-existing programs in animal-science research under the auspices of CRGO. Those programs underwent a major reorganization with the advent of the NRI in 1991. Funding in this division is second only to that in the Plants Division and has been less consistent, ranging from $15.5 million in 1995 to $23.5 million in 1993. From 1993 to 1995, the Animals Division has supported up to five program areas. Most of the program areas have maintained constant funding support throughout the history of the NRI. The Nutrition, Food Safety, and Health Division had a long history within CRGO before 1991. Support for human-nutrition research had existed in CRGO since 1978. The Human Nutrient Requirements Program was moved directly from CRGO into the NRI, and Congress designated funding for food-safety research in a new Food Safety Program. This division has experienced

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National Research Initiative: A Vital Competitive Grants Program in Food, Fiber, and Natural-Resources Research TABLE 5–1 Summary of Congressionally-Mandated High-Priority Research Areas (1990) Division (Research Area) Research Programs ‘Plant Systems Plant genome structure and function Molecular and cellular biology Plant biotechnology Plant-pest Biocontrol Crop plant stress Improved nutrient qualities New food and industrial uses Animal Systems Aquaculture Animal reproduction, growth, disease, health—molecular Basis Nutrition Animal production and husbandry Animal well-being Natural Resources and the Environment Ecosystems Sustainable production Minimizing soil loss Effects of global climate change on agriculture Forestry Biodiversity Markets, Trade, and Policy International market share Decision-support systems Choices and applications of technology Technology assessment Rural economic development Nutrition, Food Quality, and Health Microbial contaminants Pesticide residues linked to human health Diet and health Bioavailability of nutrients Postharvest physiology Improved processing Engineering, New Products, and Processes New uses of and new products from crops, animals, byproducts, and natural resources Robotics Energy efficiency Computing Expert systems New hazards and risk assessment Water quality and management

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National Research Initiative: A Vital Competitive Grants Program in Food, Fiber, and Natural-Resources Research TABLE 5–2 NRI Research Divisions and Stakeholders’ Needs Division Stakeholders for Research Product Plant Systems Farmers, agricultural biotechnology companies, seed companies, ornamental- and forest-product companies, consumers Animal Systems Livestock producers, dairy farmers, meat packers, consumers Natural Resources and the Environment Consumers, farmers, food- and wood-processing plants, forest managers, environmental policy-makers, wildlife managers Markets, Trade, and Rural Development Farmers, commodity companies, state departments of agriculture Nutrition, Food Quality, and Health Domestic and international consumers, food-processing companies. Engineering Products and Processes Consumers, specialty-chemical companies, food-processing companies FIGURE 5–1 Congressional appropriations for NRI divisions and special initiatives, 1991–1997 NRE=Natural Resources and Environment; NFSH=Nutrition, Food Safety and Health; MTRD=Markets, Trade and Rural Development; EVAFP=Enhancing Value and Use of Agricultural and Food Products; Ag.Sys.=Agricultural Systems; PBM=Pests, Biology and Integrated Pest Management. Source: USDA, NRI Office, 1999

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National Research Initiative: A Vital Competitive Grants Program in Food, Fiber, and Natural-Resources Research considerably less funding support in the NRI than most of the others, ranging from $3.7 million in 1991 to $6.8 million in 1994 (figure 5–1). Only two programs (Human Nutrition and Food Safety) have maintained continuous funding. Of all the divisions in the NRI, the Natural Resources and the Environment (NRE) Division probably has the most complicated history. Funding in the division has ranged from $12 million in 1997 to $20.6 million in 1994. The division has sponsored four programs, except for a reduction to three in 1998. The 1998 programs include Water Resources and Protection (WRAP), Soils and Soil Biology (SSB), and Plant Responses to the Environment. The latter began in 1985 as part of the now-defunct Biotechnology Program. It is the only consistently offered program in the NRE Division. Programs of WRAP, SSB, and Ecosystems are on a rotating basis for funding in this division. The Enhancing Value and Use of Agricultural and Forest Products Division has had relatively stable funding ranging from $3.8 million in 1992 to $8.3 million in 1995. It now supports three programs. The Markets, Trade, and Rural Development Division was first funded in 1992 and has maintained continuous funding since then for its two programs: the Markets and Trade program and the Rural Development program. It has the lowest funding of the six divisions. Funding has ranged from $3.2 million to $3.8 million. Two other research areas in the NRI are outside the six divisions and are essentially at the division level themselves. Pest Biology and Management was split out from the Plants Division in 1995 and is now funded under a separate budget. Agricultural Systems was formed as a free-standing research area in 1994 to help foster interdisciplinary food and fiber research involving the natural, physical, and social sciences. All NRI divisions now help to fund Agricultural Systems. Such interagency programs as Collaborative Research in Biology ($135,331 in 1997), Terrestrial Ecology and Global Change ($887,666), and the Arabidopsis thaliana Genome Sequencing Project ($6.5 million) require funds from the NRI. Strengthening awards (1997 awards)—which include career enhancement awards ($0.3 million), equipment grants ($1 million), seed grants ($2 million) and standard strengthening awards ($6.7 million), in addition to postdoctoral fellowships ($2.4 million) and new investigator awards ($4.1 million)—also draw funds from the NRI. Figure 5–1 shows that funding has always been unevenly allocated among NRI divisions. The figure also shows that no substantial changes in the proportion of funding allocated to each division have occurred, although the nature of food, fiber, and natural-resources research has changed since 1991. Funding allocations do not appear to have distinguished between traditional and emerging fields in food, fiber, and natural-resources research.

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National Research Initiative: A Vital Competitive Grants Program in Food, Fiber, and Natural-Resources Research History of NRI Research Programs The current portfolio of NRI research programs by division is given in figure 5–2. An important observation about the research programs in figure 5–2 is that most are organized around subdisciplines or “categories” rather than specific issues or problems that need to be solved. The development of the current 26 programs in the six main divisions can be understood in the context of the historical evolution of the NRI research agenda. The Gantt chart in figure 5–2 summarizes the initiation and consolidation of specific programs throughout the NRI’s history. The chart illustrates several important points. First, several changes in program direction (such as program initiation followed by program cessation) have occurred over 4- to 6-year time frames that are shorter than would be required for the supported research to have an impact (at least 8 or 10 years). That suggests a lack of long-term strategic planning in some cases. Second, some divisions (such as the Plants and Animals Divisions) have been relatively stable programmatically since their inception, whereas other divisions (such as Natural Resources and the Environment) show a large number of program starts and stops. In general, programs with higher and more stable funding have demonstrated consistency and stability in their operations. Analysis The six main NRI divisions reflect potentially large, identifiable groups of stakeholders (table 5–2) and are thus a logical, first-order organizing scheme for the NRI. However, the committee believes that subdivision into the existing NRI programs solely by research “category” in the absence of an overall strategic plan is partly responsible for a lack of “critical mass” among the NRI’s natural stakeholders, particularly inasmuch as the recommended increases in research funding to $550 million did not materialize. Many of the programs listed in figure 5–2 do not have strong natural constituencies among stakeholders of the food, fiber, and natural-resources system. The mismatch between NRI programs and target stakeholders can be illustrated through an analysis of some of the entries in figure 5–2. For example, the programs listed for the Plant Systems Division do not explicitly target research on the use of genetically modified organisms that would allow a decrease in the use of chemicals in crop production—an issue that would be of great interest to both farmers and consumers. The programs in the Nutrition, Food Quality, and Health Division, do not explicitly target research on technologies to produce crops that could potentially help to prevent particular diseases; such research would be of great interest to consumers, food-processing companies, and farmers. In the Natural Resources and the Environment Division, the programs do not explicitly target research on the effects of animal-production systems on water quality—an important issue for farmers and consumers, especially in rural areas. It should be noted that the lack of explicit targeting of such issue-based research problems does not preclude NRI support

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National Research Initiative: A Vital Competitive Grants Program in Food, Fiber, and Natural-Resources Research FIGURE 5–2 NRI Programs, 1987–1998 (Gantt Chart)2 2   *Current program **Includes Plants and Animals Divisions.

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National Research Initiative: A Vital Competitive Grants Program in Food, Fiber, and Natural-Resources Research of proposals on such topics. Rather, it simply reduces the likelihood that a substantial group of research proposals would be submitted on such issues. The list of research issues in figure 5–2 appears to have been the result of grouping research proposals into categories representing subdisciplines rather than the result of a deliberative, priority-setting process. The committee believes that the lack of a clear perception of the logic of annual requests for proposals across the 26 programs is partly responsible for the NRI’s inability to attract increased research budgets for its programs. The committee believes that a more logical priority-setting process that relates NRI programs to USDA goals and emerging issues in the food, fiber, and natural-resources system might be effective in demonstrating the importance of NRI-supported research and lead to increased research budgets. The NRI would be much more effective if more of its programs were organized on the basis of high priority research issues or problems rather than by traditional subdisciplines. That is not to say that the NRI should focus exclusively on “applied” research—in fact, the committee sees fundamental research as an important emphasis of the NRI (see discussion of “applied” versus “fundamental” research in chapter 4)—but simply that the NRI should organize more of its programs around research issues or problems rather than subdisciplines. Such issue-organized research would be more easily understood by stakeholders, could be more effectively related to the rest of USDA research and to the research agendas of other federal agencies, and would encourage multidisciplinary research. Reorganization should not lead to the elimination of all the NRI programs now organized around subdisciplines, however. The human-resource building and fundamental discipline-based research that the programs build within subdisciplines is essential and should be maintained. As McGeary and Smith (1996) point out, a healthy R&D portfolio should be driven by a mixture of disciplinary research agendas, multidisciplinary problems, agency missions, and emerging high-priority national problems. A shift in priority-setting along the lines suggested might lead to a change in the types of research supported by the NRI. For example, past NRI funding has focused extensively on preharvest research, where 73.5% of the $87.8 million was spent in 1997. The expansion of private research funding and the increasing fundamental knowledge in preharvest (seed) technology being accumulated by industry suggest that the NRI re-examine the allocation of its resources. The stop-start nature of some NRI funding commitments over its short history (figure 5–2) indicates that the NRI has been unable to sustain funding support for some high-risk areas with long-term payoffs—the types of research for which the NRI is ideally suited. The committee believes that there are unique opportunities for moving into long-term, fundamental research in postharvest technologies, as well as in the health and safety of the food and fiber system, that will help to add value to genetically engineered food and fiber products. The committee briefly discusses some of these areas with potential for high payoffs in the next section.

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National Research Initiative: A Vital Competitive Grants Program in Food, Fiber, and Natural-Resources Research RESEARCH OPPORTUNITIES The 1989 National Research Council report Investing in Research: A Proposal to Strengthen the Agricultural, Food, and Environmental System included a detailed list of areas for fundamental research in food, fiber, and natural resources. The committee reviewed the list and found it to be as relevant now as it was 10 years ago. The years have only added to the list of concerns. As part of its own study, the committee developed list included in appendix H and summarized in table 5–3. Although this list is not as exhaustive and does not provide as much detail as the one in the 1989 report, it is generally consistent with the 1989 conclusions. The committee’s list reflects the impacts of rapidly increasing consumer interests in health, nutritional value, and safety; the advent of bioengineering; globalization of the economy; increased awareness of environmental degradation; and the social consequences of the industrialization of the agricultural sector. In comparison with attitudes of 10 years ago, consumers and researchers alike in 2000 have heightened concern about all subjects. The committee’s list is intended to be an illustrative, not comprehensive, example of how some NRI programs could be organized around research issues rather than subdisciplines. If the NRI adopted this approach, a logical way to develop the list of programmatic issues would be to have an advisory committee for each division create a similar list of emerging research issues (such advisory committees are discussed in chapter 7). SUMMARY FINDINGS On the basis of analysis of data submitted in various forms by NRI staff, the committee presents the following findings regarding the relationship between priority processes and funding allocations within the NRI. Priority-Setting Process The priority-setting process used by NRI staff seems unstructured, is unevenly administrated across NRI divisions, and is not explicitly linked to the goals and other strategic planning elements of the REE Mission Area. For example, although some NRI divisions hold user workshops regularly to solicit input on research priorities, other divisions have no discernable or regular mechanism of external input. Changes in program areas and priorities appear to have occurred primarily in response to the urging of vocal stakeholders rather than as the result of a deliberative priority-setting process. Mechanisms are not well established to evaluate the effectiveness of NRI-funded research as time passes and progress occurs or to delineate how key research outcomes correlate with guiding research goals. The priorities of the NRI do not appear to be linked closely with the priorities of ARS and ERS,

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National Research Initiative: A Vital Competitive Grants Program in Food, Fiber, and Natural-Resources Research perhaps because the potential cross-functional nature of present research programs is not fully appreciated in either the ARS or the NRI administration. TABLE 5–3 Committee’s List of Emerging Research Issues Division Research Issuesa Plant Systems Gene and genome interactions and bioinformatics Transgenic plants for improved production Mechanisms of pest-plant and plant interactions with beneficial organisms Development of the knowledge base to facilitate a new generation of biologically based materials Engineering of plant biosynthetic and metabolic pathways Animal Systems Gene and genome interactions and bioinformatics Functional foods and nutrient research Transgenic and cloned animals Animal reproduction Animal nutrition Animal-rangeland interactions Animal health Animal growth and development Consumable animal products Immunology Construction of novel microorganisms Gene-based pharmaceuticals and gene therapy Evolution of biologic systems Natural Resources and the Environment Water quality Animal-waste handling Environmental impacts Impact of biotechnologic modifications of plants and animals on the microbial ecology of reasulting food products Bioprocess engineering Biodiversity Weather and climate interactions in agricultural systems Global change and agriculture Nitrogen-use efficiency Wildlife in agricultural systems Space research

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National Research Initiative: A Vital Competitive Grants Program in Food, Fiber, and Natural-Resources Research Markets, Trade, and Policy Development of a knowledge base to prepare for biologic terrorism Globalization of the economy Identification of the economic and social consequences of environmental regulation Improvement of farm income and risk-management tools Examination of the impacts of the changing farm and agribusiness structure Evaluation of trade policies and barriers Development of effective economic and rural community development programs Assess how changes in consumer demand affect health, nutrition and food safety Analysis of economic and social impacts of consolidating research and extension programs Examination of current and emerging information technologies and communication systems Improved understanding of economic and social impacts of biotechnology Investment in human capital development Nutrition, Food Quality, and Health Research on nutrient-drug interactions Assessment and characterization of the impact on consumers of phytochemical substances New and resurgent pathogens in foods Pasteurization and sterilization of foods Identification and modification of allergens in foods Probiotic development Enhancing Value and Use of Agricultural, Food, and Forest Products Development of analytic microtechnology Impacts of organic farming Bioprocess engineering of agricultural products Metabolic pathway analysis and structure See appendix H for more-detailed discussion of each issue. Research Priorities Funding has been unevenly allocated among NRI divisions from the beginning. No substantial changes in the proportion of funding allocated to each division have occurred, even though the nature of food, fiber, and natural-resources research has changed since 1991. Funding allocations do not appear to have distinguished between traditional and emerging areas in the food, fiber, and natural resources research. The subdivision of the NRI’s six main research areas into existing NRI program areas by research category in the absence of an overall strategic plan could be partly responsible for a lack of critical mass among the NRI’s natural

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National Research Initiative: A Vital Competitive Grants Program in Food, Fiber, and Natural-Resources Research stakeholders, inasmuch as the recommended increases in research funding to $500 million did not materialize. A shift in priority-setting might lead to a change in the types of research supported by the NRI. In general, programs with higher and more stable funding have been more consistent in their operations, whereas other divisions show a large number of program starts and stops during the NRI’s history. Several short-term changes in program direction (over 4- to 6-year time frames) have occurred in research areas that would otherwise need at least 8 or 10 years to have an impact. That suggests a lack of long-term strategic planning in some cases. The lack of a clear perception of the logic of annual requests for proposals across the 26 programs is partly responsible for the NRI’s inability to attract increased research budgets for these programs. The committee believes that a more logical priority-setting process that relates NRI programs to USDA goals and emerging issues in the food, fiber, and natural-resources system might be effective in demonstrating the importance of NRI-supported research and lead to increased research budgets. Overall, the process of NRI priority-setting appears to be reactive, not active. Change has come about because vocal groups advocated areas of scientific opportunity (NRI leadership and principal-investigator constituency) rather than because of clear mission focus and research strategy. Systems to relate to all constituencies regularly to share input and review mission have been ad hoc. The committee believes that there is ample room in the six congressionally mandated divisions to redefine a consistent focus for funding and to adjust that focus as the long-term priorities of the food, fiber, and natural-resources systems change. As a major, peer-review-based research-funding mechanism, the NRI should have its programs more closely linked to the overall goals, planning, and evaluation procedures of the food, fiber, and natural-resources system. The linkage should reflect the NRI’s mission relative to other funding mechanisms and programs (see “Complementarity” in chapter 4). Included in the NRI’s role should be strong emphases on fundamental and multidisciplinary research and mission-linked and single-discipline approaches (see “Scientific Objectives” in chapter 4).