7
Recommendations

Since the late 1800s, the publicly supported system of food, fiber, and natural-resources research and education in the United States has served as a model for directing scientific and financial resources to improve societal well-being. Payoffs from this research and education system have consistently been high. Moreover, the US system has been emulated successfully by many other countries. As we enter the 21st century, however, this traditional system has evolved to include a broader set of issues that can be addressed through high-quality fundamental research, technology transfer, outreach, and education.

The modern system attempts to integrate food, fiber, and natural-resources issues and increased economic opportunities to enhance the quality of life of families and communities. Fundamental research is vital to provide the depth and breadth of knowledge needed for solving societal problems and creating new opportunities to improve the quality of life. Issues high on most agendas for food, fiber, and natural-resources research include a safe, nutritious, and affordable food supply; global competitiveness; a cleaner environment; and prudent conservation of natural resources.

The committee believes that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Research Initiative Competitive Grants Program (NRI), although operating well below its intended level, is a platform on which a re-energized national initiative for research in food, fiber, and natural resources can be



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National Research Initiative: A Vital Competitive Grants Program in Food, Fiber, and Natural-Resources Research 7 Recommendations Since the late 1800s, the publicly supported system of food, fiber, and natural-resources research and education in the United States has served as a model for directing scientific and financial resources to improve societal well-being. Payoffs from this research and education system have consistently been high. Moreover, the US system has been emulated successfully by many other countries. As we enter the 21st century, however, this traditional system has evolved to include a broader set of issues that can be addressed through high-quality fundamental research, technology transfer, outreach, and education. The modern system attempts to integrate food, fiber, and natural-resources issues and increased economic opportunities to enhance the quality of life of families and communities. Fundamental research is vital to provide the depth and breadth of knowledge needed for solving societal problems and creating new opportunities to improve the quality of life. Issues high on most agendas for food, fiber, and natural-resources research include a safe, nutritious, and affordable food supply; global competitiveness; a cleaner environment; and prudent conservation of natural resources. The committee believes that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Research Initiative Competitive Grants Program (NRI), although operating well below its intended level, is a platform on which a re-energized national initiative for research in food, fiber, and natural resources can be

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National Research Initiative: A Vital Competitive Grants Program in Food, Fiber, and Natural-Resources Research established. Substantive research contributions have originated in the NRI The NRI is facing operating challenges largely as a consequence of inadequate funding, which has prevented it from crossing a threshold to sustainability and growth. But after some 20 years of merit-based peer review in the USDA and the 9-year history of the NRI, the NRI is a successful template to support a substantial increase in public research in national food, fiber, and natural resources. The NRI or an equivalent merit-based peer-reviewed research effort is needed to lead and shape our nation’s response to the challenges of food, fiber, environment, energy, and a rapidly growing global population in the 21st century. A knowledge base of information and technology unprecedented in the history of the natural sciences is needed today. The committee makes the following recommendations to strengthen the NRI and to permit the nation to meet the challenges to the national (and indeed global) food, fiber, and natural-resources system. THE NRI’S MISSION A successful grants program contains elements of value, relevance, quality, fairness, and flexibility. The committee found that the proposals to the NRI and the research conducted by scientists who receive NRI grants are of high quality. That finding is based on the results of the committee’s survey of applicants, awardees, administrators of land grant institutions, and industry; the views of former chief scientists and individuals from federal agencies; and the personal perspectives of committee members and their colleagues. Through conscientious stewardship, the NRI has been successful in generating fundamental and applied research and fostering the development of future scientists with strong backgrounds in food, fiber, and natural resources. The committee recommends that a major emphasis of the NRI continue to be the support of high-risk research with potential long-term payoffs. Much of this research would be classified as fundamental in the traditional use of this term. The NRI also should continue to emphasize the importance of multidisciplinary research. The NRI program is credited with important contributions to fundamental and applied research. The distinction between fundamental (or basic) and applied research often is unclear in the food, fiber, and natural-resources sector, however. Instead of classifying research arbitrarily as fundamental or applied, it should be thought of as on a continuum with short-, medium-, and long-term objectives identified in any research area. The committee believes that a major emphasis of the NRI should continue to be the support of high-risk research with potential long-term payoffs—the type of research that is unlikely to be funded through other research programs in USDA, other federal agencies, or the private sector. The committee also encourages the NRI to continue to emphasize multidisciplinary research because the problems in the food, fiber, and natural-resources system demand multidisciplinary approaches and collaboration.

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National Research Initiative: A Vital Competitive Grants Program in Food, Fiber, and Natural-Resources Research The committee recommends that the NRI continue to emphasize its mission of training and education. The training and education of graduate students and postdoctoral researchers attributable to the NRI program have been valuable. Although grants have been small and of short duration, training appears to have been a major use of NRI funds among university researchers. Strengthening grants provided by the NRI program have had a major impact on the careers and productivity of faculty who otherwise would not receive federal grant support. Furthermore, NRI staff have been successful, particularly in view of the organization’s limited resources, in organizing several vehicles to promote public understanding of research in food, fiber, and natural resources. RESEARCH ACCOUNTABILITY The committee recommends continuing the process of merit-based peer review as the most effective method of competitively distributing funds for research in food, fiber, and natural resources. The committee views the NRI as a model of merit-based peer-reviewed research in USDA. Because it uses a competitive review process to rank proposals, however, the NRI remains outside the mainstream USDA culture of formula funding. The successful operation of the peer-review system in the NRI accounts for the high quality of the projects funded. Merit-based peer review has been adopted as the principal criterion of funding of extramural research throughout the federal government and increasingly in universities. It is a consistent, expertise-driven method for allocating research funds fairly and appropriately. Information gathered by the committee indicates that stakeholders in the food, fiber, and natural-resources system hold the NRI peer-review process in high esteem. Some survey respondents indicated that the NRI merit-based peer-review process was as fair as and perhaps more responsive than the review process of other federal research agencies. The committee recommends that a more effective performance-tracking system be established to improve research accountability. The committee believes that the NRI could improve its record by documenting the value of research that it funds. The NRI does not keep a definitive record of patents and publications resulting from NRI research. Nor is there a running evaluation of originality and significance of current applications and renewals. Although the committee has found based on its surveys that funded applications are of high quality, the NRI lacks a tracking system of critical factors needed for self-evaluation or effective reporting of research accomplishments to outside groups, which would create a feedback system to establish value. Every federal research agency faces important challenges in measuring outcomes of research projects, and the NRI is no exception. The committee concluded that the quality of research supported by the NRI is high, but it was

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National Research Initiative: A Vital Competitive Grants Program in Food, Fiber, and Natural-Resources Research unable to scrutinize individual projects extensively because of the absence of a tracking system tailored to tying projects to outcomes. A standardized tracking system needs to be implemented for the NRI program. Such a system would be beneficial both for tracking outcomes and for making the NRI’s programs more transparent to stakeholders. The National Research Council has recently released a report, Evaluating Federal Research Programs, on accounting for federal outcomes as part of the Government Performance and Results Act mandate. The NRI should use the recommendations in that report. The committee recommends implementation of an internal information system that generates data on current operations of the NRI. The committee found it difficult to follow year-to-year changes in funding areas and to generate numbers to measure effort by project and category outcome. The committee’s requests for information generated more work by the NRI professional staff than should have been required. The committee believes that those problems were due to deficiencies in the underlying information system itself. The committee recommends that the NRI Web site be more readily accessible to allow the location of research projects and results with the use of issue-oriented key words and technical terms that are accessible and understandable to all stakeholders. A number of recommendations reflect directly on the NRI’s ability to reach both traditional and new stakeholders. But the needs for transparency, access to the current research agenda, and documentation of past outcomes suggest a substantial expansion in communication strategy. A Web site could be linked to nontechnical summaries, technical abstracts, impact statements, and publications, and to a catalog of current and past funded projects. Such data and communication could be maintained for 10 years to build a timely, comprehensive, and searchable record of research impacts generated by NRI funding. PRIORITY-SETTING AND ORGANIZATION The committee has concluded that the priority-setting process of the NRI needs substantial revision. The committee found that parts of the 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 Research, Education, and Economics Mission Area. 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 the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and the Economic

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National Research Initiative: A Vital Competitive Grants Program in Food, Fiber, and Natural-Resources Research Research Service (ERS), perhaps because the potential cross-functional nature of present research programs is not fully appreciated in either the ARS or NRI administration. The committee believes that an improved priority-setting process should involve independent input from scientists and informed members of the public. The priority-setting process also should allocate more of the NRI’s funds by issue, not by research category. The committee believes that changes in the NRI’s organization need to be made. Most important, USDA needs to find a way to enhance the position of extramural research in USDA and to encourage NRI priority-setting to reflect national priorities more clearly. The committee offers the following recommendations to improve the priority-setting in and the overall effectiveness of the NRI. Other solutions are possible; ultimately, it will be up to USDA, and possibly Congress, to decide how best to address these problems. The committee recommends that six standing scientific-research review committees be assembled to identify critical issues in each research area. The committee further recommends that the current 26 programs be eliminated and replaced with an issue-based agenda across the six purviews of the committees. Some NRI divisions have been relatively stable programmatically since their inception, whereas others have seen many program starts and stops. The subdivision of the NRI’s six main research areas into 26 programs solely by research “category”, in the absence of an overall strategic plan, might have been partly responsible for a lack of critical mass among the NRI’s natural stakeholders, particularly because the recommended increases in research funding to $500 million did not materialize. Several short-term changes in program direction (over 4- to 6-year time frames) have occurred in research areas that would otherwise need about 8–10 years to have an impact. The stop-start nature of some NRI funding commitments over its short history 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 lack of a clear perception of the logic of annual requests for proposals across all 26 programs could be partly responsible for the NRI’s inability to attract increased research budgets for its programs. A more logical priority-setting process that relates the NRI’s research programs to USDA goals and emerging issues in the food, fiber, and natural-resources system might be effective in demonstrating more clearly the importance of NRI-supported research and lead to increased research budgets. The sporadic development of the NRI’s 26 programs reflects neither a coherent long-term research agenda nor the generation of clear and observable outcomes. The issue-oriented deliberations of the research review committees would form the basis of many annual requests for proposals. The review committees should include scientists from the entire food, fiber, and natural-

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National Research Initiative: A Vital Competitive Grants Program in Food, Fiber, and Natural-Resources Research resources system. A shift in priority-setting might cause a major change in the types of research supported by the NRI. The committee recommends that the research review committees give special consideration to important problems perceived by the public at large—such as alternative energy, healthfulness of food, food safety, and nutrition (issues at the consumer end of the food system), in addition to the more traditional emphases on productivity, rural economies, and environmental protection. The likely outcome would be a better distribution of research funds across the entire food, fiber, and natural-resources system and a research agenda more closely aligned with public concerns. The NRI research agenda would thus become more forward-looking and issue-driven. The committee recommends that a cooperative formal goal and strategy process be instituted in the context of the NRI’s role in federal food, fiber, and natural-resources research programs. The NRI generally complements other USDA activities and does not duplicate other federal research efforts. The NRI actively participates in cross-agency funding opportunities to ensure complementarity of research efforts, but it clearly follows rather than leads in such efforts. Apart from memoranda of understanding and interagency coordination provided by the National Science and Technology Council, no process exists for establishing formal relationships with other federal agencies or for consulting and use stakeholder groups. The committee believes that being smaller than other agencies limits the funding that the NRI can contribute to such cross-agency initiatives. The National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy (DOE) and the NRI form the backbone of the nation’s merit-based peer-reviewed research effort in food, fiber, and natural resources. The NRI is the nation’s only merit-based peer-reviewed research program that focuses explicitly on challenges to its system of food, fiber, and natural resources. A comprehensive strategy that required coordination among congressional committees—particularly those with jurisdiction over USDA, NSF, and NIH programs and budgets—would allow an expanded NRI food, fiber, and natural-resources agenda to be coordinated with complementary work funded by NIH and NSF. The committee recommends that the NRI and other competitive USDA research programs be moved to a new Extramural Competitive Research Service (ECRS) that would report to the under secretary for research, education, and economics (figure 7–1). The location of the NRI as one component of the Competitive Research Grants and Awards Management Division, rather than on an organizational level equivalent to USDA’s two main research agencies (ARS and ERS), suggests that USDA and Congress place a higher priority on formula

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National Research Initiative: A Vital Competitive Grants Program in Food, Fiber, and Natural-Resources Research FIGURE 7–1 Recommended Organization of USD A Research, Education, and Economics Mission Area

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National Research Initiative: A Vital Competitive Grants Program in Food, Fiber, and Natural-Resources Research funds, special grants, and intramural research than on extramural, merit-based peer-reviewed competitive research. The committee believes strongly that unless extramural competitive research is given the same stature organizationally as formula-funded and intramural research in USDA, it will remain difficult for the NRI program to achieve its mission. The committee believes that the NRI has suffered as a program in an agency—the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES)—that is also responsible for defending and allocating formula funds and special grants. Intramural research is represented by ARS and ERS, which report directly to the under secretary for research, education, and economics, as does CSREES. The committee strongly recommends that extramural competitive research, to achieve critical mass, be given an organizational stature that would allow it to compete effectively for resources with formula funds and special grants and to participate directly in USDA’s high-level priority-setting process. The committee recommends the establishment of an Extramural Advisory Board (12–14 members) that represents NRI stakeholders and has a non-USDA chair. Funding has been unevenly allocated among the NRI’s divisions since its initiation. No substantial changes in the proportions of funding allocated to the divisions have occurred, even though the nature of food, fiber, and natural resources has changed since 1991. Funding allocations do not appear to have distinguished between traditional and emerging areas in food, fiber, and natural resources. The current NRI Board of Directors provides necessary administrative oversight of the NRI program and can be used to link the NRI with USDA’s other research organizations. The Board of Directors is not responsible for providing guidance on scientific or technologic priorities, providing a forum for stakeholder concerns, or measuring research outcomes and evaluating NRI operations. An external advisory board of some type is necessary to handle those responsibilities. The Advisory Board would advise and assist the chief scientist in identifying fundamental issues and future strategies to meet the greatest needs. It would represent scientists and engineers, deans of land grant and non-land grant institutions, industry across the entire food and fiber system, commodity and farm groups, consumer groups, and 1890 colleges. Ex officio members would include select program managers at NIH and NSF and the NRI chief scientist. Board members would serve 3-year terms on a staggered, rotating basis with a maximum of two terms. The board would be appointed by the secretary of agriculture. In the committee’s opinion, an external Advisory Board is critical to the successful functioning of the NRI. Stakeholder contact, the advocacy of extramural research inside and outside USDA, measurement of research outcomes, and continuing evaluation of NRI operations (including the peer-reviewed project-selection system) would ensure thoroughness, objectivity, and transparency. A visible, mandated external Advisory Board would bring

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National Research Initiative: A Vital Competitive Grants Program in Food, Fiber, and Natural-Resources Research renewed energy and focus to an expanded NRI effort and would provide Congress with an objective appraisal of NRI efforts. The committee recommends that the position of chief scientist be a full-time, permanent 5-year position, with the option of one 5-year renewal, chosen by the secretary of agriculture with the consultation, recommendations, and advice of the newly created Extramural Advisory Board. The chief scientist would be the administrator of ECRS. The current responsibilities of the NRI chief scientist are equivalent to a full-time position. A part-time revolving chief scientist cannot meet the strategic-planning, priority-setting, and communication needs of an effective NRI. Although past chief scientists have done excellent work, having a part-time chief scientist impedes continuity in accountability and leadership and counters successful long-range planning and followup and consistent stakeholder involvement. The necessary duties of the chief scientist-administrator of ECRS, in addition to those now assigned within the NRI, would include directing the program and developing a definitive strategic plan and advocacy for the NRI program. The chief scientist could also take the lead in changing the culture of the NRI from a program-based to an issue-based research agenda. The full-time chief scientist would report directly to the under secretary and would play a major role in setting the nation’s federal food, fiber, and natural-resources research agenda. The committee recommends that each of the six mandated areas of research emphasis be led by a half-time associate chief scientist with a 2-year rotation. Each associate would be a scientist from a visible and productive outside research program (figure 7–2). In recent years, the NRI staff has been stretched to cover its responsibilities, and this has increased the burdens of communication and timeliness on NRI staff at all levels and on the scientists who serve as ad hoc reviewers and panel members. The proposed rotation would allow the chief scientist to recruit a flow of intellectual capital and would provide a mechanism for obtaining input from the population of researchers served by the NRI. The full-time chief scientist plus the six associate chief scientists would have the time and resources to carry out long-term analyses of research needs in the context of issues rather than programs, as is now the case. This recommendation highlights the importance of establishing and maintaining a scientifically based research agenda. The associate chief scientists would complement the division directors, program managers, and volunteer panel leaders. A number of factors could account for the fact that USDA’s research agenda has struggled over the last decade. The committee understands current budget constraints and understands that the implementation of some of its recommendations would increase personnel and operating costs. We believe strongly, however, that substantial changes are needed to ensure the

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National Research Initiative: A Vital Competitive Grants Program in Food, Fiber, and Natural-Resources Research FIGURE 7–2 Recommended Organization of USDA Extramural Competitive Research Service (New NRI)

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National Research Initiative: A Vital Competitive Grants Program in Food, Fiber, and Natural-Resources Research future success of merit-based peer-reviewed research in food, fiber, and natural resources. FUNDING The committee recommends that grant awards be immediately increased to an average of $100,000 per year (total costs) over 3 years. NRI research grants are much smaller and shorter than grants supporting similar types of research at NSF, NIH, and DOE. Continued underfunding of NRI research grants relative to those of other federal research agencies will tend to discourage new researchers outside the traditional food and fiber system from applying for NRI grants—one original goal of the NRI. It might also cause highly qualified scientists who have received NRI support to apply for research funds from other sources and even redirect their research away from issues important to the food and fiber system. That could lead to a decrease in the overall quality of food, fiber, and natural-resources research. The proposed increase would solidify the stakeholder foundation of the NRI and prepare it to receive additional funds. The committee recognizes that without an increase in the NRI’s total budget (as recommended strongly by this committee), the increase in size and duration of grants would reduce the number of grants and perhaps cause hardship among investigators who have depended on NRI funding to sustain their research programs. However, continued underfunding of individual research grants would reduce the aggregate impact of the NRI’s competitive funding. The number of current proposals is lower than in the past, and stakeholder support appears to be waning. An increase in the size and duration of grants would enable the scientific community to attack issues in food, fiber, and natural resources by preparing proposals that require multi-investigator and multidisciplinary teams of researchers. Increased size and duration of grants would allow researchers to carry out projects as planned without narrowing their scope to fit a shorter period and smaller amount. Finally, increased size and duration of grants would attract new, creative proposals from researchers who are now outside the traditional food and fiber system. The latter was one of the key reasons for instituting the NRI, and it continues to be a worthwhile objective. To achieve it, the NRI must provide realistic funding levels to continue to attract the best and the brightest students and investigators to food, fiber, and natural-resources research. The NRI should benchmark the funding level and duration of its grants to those of the other federal merit-based peer-review agencies that support research. NSF and NIH support competitive research projects in some of the same basic science and engineering areas as the NRI, that complement food, fiber, and natural-resources research. The challenge is to keep the best intellectual capital engaged in the NRI’s scope of issues.

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National Research Initiative: A Vital Competitive Grants Program in Food, Fiber, and Natural-Resources Research The committee recommends that the NRI’s overhead limit be immediately replaced with indirect-cost standards that are used by other federal research agencies. When it established the NRI program in 1991 Congress imposed a 14% limit on the amount of indirect costs that can be charged as a percentage of the total award.1 The 14% limit was replaced by a 19% limit2 in FY 2000 as part of the Agricultural Research, Extension, and Education Reform Act of 1998. Although the increase from 14% to 19% reduces the gap between overhead rates on NRI grants and rates on grants awarded by other federal agencies, overhead rates for most academic and private-sector research institutions are significantly higher than the 19% limit currently allowed. Average overhead rates for NSF’s Biology Directorate, for example, are approximately 45% of the modified total direct costs of the award—nearly double the NRI limit. The committee is not aware of any other federal merit-based peer-reviewed research program with such a congressionally mandated limit on overhead rates. Presumably, the motivation for setting such a limit was to increase the percentage of NRI research funds spent on research activities. However, such a mandated cap on overhead may have a negative effect on the NRI program because it causes some institutions (especially those from outside the traditional applicant community) to discourage their researchers from submitting proposals to the program. Because the committee did not address this issue in its survey, it was not able to estimate the magnitude of this effect on the NRI program. However, the committee is aware of one research institution that prohibits its scientists from submitting proposals to the NRI because the low overhead rates do not cover the true institutional costs associated with such research and because its auditors require consistency among all incoming grants. Other institutions discourage their researchers from submitting proposals by requiring that the researchers (or their departments) use other funds to make up the difference between mandated low overhead rates and the established rates used by other federal agencies. This is especially problematic for smaller institutions where researchers do not have the flexibility to balance low-overhead grants against other sources of unrestricted funds. These factors also may have a disproportionate impact on institutions (or departments) from outside the traditional food, fiber, and natural-resources system because they do not have a historic association with the USDA, and hence, may be less willing to accept a low overhead rate that is unique to USDA-sponsored research. The committee believes that Congress could help broaden the scope of NRI researchers beyond the traditional food, fiber, and natural-resources system—one of the original goals of the program—by allowing the NRI to use the same negotiated overhead rates used by other federal agencies. This action, together with the increased grant amounts recommended previously, would make the NRI a more attractive source of funding to all institutions and researchers, and hence could encourage proposals from researchers from outside the traditional food, fiber, and natural-resources system. 1   This limitation is equivalent to 0.16279 of the total direct costs of an award. 2   This limitation is equivalent to 0.23456 of the total direct costs of an award.

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National Research Initiative: A Vital Competitive Grants Program in Food, Fiber, and Natural-Resources Research The committee recommends that by 2005 the NRI budget be increased to a level equivalent (adjusted for inflation) to the $550 million recommended by the NRC in 1989—but only if recommended changes in priority-setting, documentation, and organization are put into place. Inadequate funding of the NRI has significantly limited its potential and placed the program at risk. A substantial increase in funding will ensure a robust public research effort that can significantly transform the nation’s food, fiber, and natural resources system in response to critical needs in agricultural productivity, environmental health, and societal well-being. In its 1989 report Investing in Agricultural Research, the NRC called for expanding competitive research within the USDA and establishing the NRI, with a proposed funding increase to $550 million within one year, if possible. Congress responded in 1990 by authorizing $500 million for the NRI by 1995. The committee strongly re-affirms the previous NRC recommendation. Considering inflation alone, $550 million in 1989 is equivalent to approximately $700 million in current (2000) dollars. Assuming conservatively that future annual rates of inflation rate will be roughly 3%, the equivalent size of the NRI budget would be approximately $800 million in 2005. The committee believes that attaining this level would be an important step in re-energizing the national food, fiber, and natural resources research complex—which in turn, would result in major benefits to the nation. After reaching this budget level, the future growth of the NRI budget should be evaluated and compared with the growth in the budgets of complementary research programs in NSF, NIH, and DOE, as suggested by the committee’s earlier recommendation to benchmark the amount and length of NRI grants against such research programs. To illustrate the potential impact of such a budget increase, the committee has done some rough calculations to estimate the number of NRI research awards that could be made with such a budget. If 10% of the budget is spent on “strengthening grants”3 and administrative costs are 4% of the budget,4 approximately $700 million would be available for competitive research grants in 2005. Assuming that NRI average award amounts are benchmarked against awards made by other federal programs such as NSF’s Biology Directorate and DOE’s Energy Biological Sciences (as recommended previously) and that these average awards amounts increase at roughly 3% per year from the current annualized amount of $100,000, the average 3-year NRI grant would be approximately $350,000 in 2005. This would correspond to approximately 2,000 grants to be awarded each year by 2005 (with a total of 6,000 grants being supported at any one time because the grants would be for three years). If the NRI were to adopt an “issue-based” research agenda (as recommended previously) that includes roughly the same number of issues as were identified 3   Congress specified in the Food, Agriculture, Cosnervation, and Trade Act (FACTA) that research and education strengthening grants be at least 10% of NRI’s budget. 4   Congress specified in FACTA that NRI administrative costs be less than 4% of NRI’s budget.

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National Research Initiative: A Vital Competitive Grants Program in Food, Fiber, and Natural-Resources Research by the committee in its list of emerging research issues—about 50 issues—this would correspond to about 40 grants awarded each year for each issue (including new submissions, renewals, and re-submissions). The committee believes strongly that an effective issue-based research program in the food, fiber, and natural resources area requires this level of investment. The committee recognizes that this recommendation would require a major increase in funding for the NRI. To put the recommendation in context, however, it is useful to compare the estimates given above with funding levels for other research programs within USD A and for other federal agencies. For example, in FY 1999 the USDA Agricultural Research Service’s budget was nearly $800 million and USDA formula funds totaled $541 million. NSF’s and NIH’s budgets for FY 2000 are $3.9 billion and $17.9 billion, respectively, and the budget for DOE’s Office of Science for FY 2000 is $2.8 billion, according to a 1999 article in Science. Given these data, the committee does not think it unreasonable to expect that a competitive research program explicitly focused on high-priority issues in food, fiber, and natural resources—essential elements to future national security and stability—be funded at approximately $800 million by 2005. As stated previously, this figure is essentially a re-affirmation of the NRC’s 1989 recommendation to increase competitive research funding at USDA to $550 million. The committee believes that the recommended increase in funding should take place incrementally as the various changes recommended earlier in this report are put into place. The ability to utilize large amounts of new funding effectively will be compromised unless recommended changes to the priority-setting process and NRI’s organization are implemented. SUMMARY The committee found the NRI’s current peer-reviewed research to be of high quality and value but believes that much could be done to characterize the quality and value more concretely and to communicate that information to the stakeholders in the NRI better. The committee found the NRI priority-setting process to be lacking. Specific structural changes were recommended to remedy that deficiency. The committee found that the NRI’s research agenda complements other USDA activities and those of other federal agencies, the states, and the private sector. However, the current size, structure, and diffuse agenda make effective complementarity difficult. The committee recommends changes in process and priority-setting to help buttress this NRI responsibility. Finally, the committee set forth comprehensive organizational and funding changes so that the NRC’s vision for food, fiber, and natural-resources research could be achieved. A combination of restructuring and substantially increased funding could provide USDA and the nation with the critical fundamental merit-based peer-reviewed research base that will be required to meet the food, fiber, and natural-resources challenges of the 21st century.