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).

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