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National Research Initiative: A Vital Competitive Grants Program in Food, Fiber, and Natural-Resources Research NATIONAL RESEARCH INITIATIVE A VITAL COMPETITIVE GRANTS PROGRAM IN FOOD, FIBER, AND NATURAL-RESOURCES RESEARCH COMMITTEE ON AN EVALUATION OF THE US DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE NATIONAL RESEARCH INITIATIVE COMPETITIVE GRANTS PROGRAM BOARD ON AGRICULTURE AND NATURAL RESOURCES NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL NATIONAL ACADEMY PRESS Washington, DC
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National Research Initiative: A Vital Competitive Grants Program in Food, Fiber, and Natural-Resources Research NATIONAL ACADEMY PRESS 2101 Constitution Avenue, NW Washington, D.C. 20418 NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance. This material is based upon work supported by the US Department of Agriculture, Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service under agreement 97-COOP-2–5045. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of the organizations or agencies that provided support for this project. ISBN 0-309-07083-X Copyright 2000 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America.
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National Research Initiative: A Vital Competitive Grants Program in Food, Fiber, and Natural-Resources Research THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES National Academy of Sciences National Academy of Engineering Institute of Medicine National Research Council The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit, self-perpetuating society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the general welfare. Upon the authority of the charter granted to it by the Congress in 1863, the Academy has a mandate that requires it to advise the federal government on scientific and technical matters. Dr. Bruce M.Alberts is president of the National Academy of Sciences. The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964, under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, as a parallel organization of outstanding engineers. It is autonomous in its administration and in the selection of its members, sharing with the National Academy of Sciences the responsibility for advising the federal government. The National Academy of Engineering also sponsors engineering programs aimed at meeting national needs, encourages education and research, and recognizes the superior achievements of engineers. Dr. William A.Wulf is president of the National Academy of Engineering. The Institute of Medicine was established in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences to secure the services of eminent members of appropriate professions in the examination of policy matters pertaining to the health of the public. The Institute acts under the responsibility given to the National Academy of Sciences by its congressional charter to be an adviser to the federal government and, upon its own initiative, to identify issues of medical care, research, and education. Dr. Kenneth I.Shine is president of the Institute of Medicine. The National Research Council was organized by the National Academy of Sciences in 1916 to associate the broad community of science and technology with the Academy’s purposes of furthering knowledge and advising the federal government. Functioning in accordance with general policies determined by the Academy, the Council has become the principal operating agency of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering in providing services to the government, the public, and the scientific and engineering communities. The Council is administered jointly by both Academies and the Institute of Medicine. Dr. Bruce M. Alberts and Dr. William A.Wulf are chairman and vice chairman, respectively, of the National Research Council.
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National Research Initiative: A Vital Competitive Grants Program in Food, Fiber, and Natural-Resources Research COMMITTEE ON AN EVALUATION OF THE US DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE NATIONAL RESEARCH INITIATIVE COMPETITIVE GRANTS PROGRAM THOMAS N.URBAN, Chair, Des Moines, Iowa, Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc., Retired PETER J.BARRY, University of Illinois, Urbana FRANCIS F.BUSTA, University of Minnesota, St. Paul MARY-DELL CHILTON, Novartis Seeds, Inc., Research Triangle Park, North Carolina DARYL E.CHUBIN, National Science Foundation, Arlington, Virginia ROBERT J.COLLIER, University of Arizona, Tucson NOEL T.KEEN, University of California, Riverside MICHAEL R.LADISCH, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana G.PHILIP ROBERTSON, Michigan State University, Hickory Corners RONALD R.SEDEROFF, North Carolina State University, Raleigh WILLIAM W.SIMPKINS, Iowa State University, Ames ROBERT E.SMITH, R E Smith Consulting, Inc., Newport, Vermont FREDRICK STORMSHAK, Oregon State University, Corvallis ANNE K.VIDAVER*, University of Nebraska, Lincoln Staff GREGORY H.SYMMES, Study Director (since August 1999) MICHAEL J.PHILLIPS, Study Director (through July 1999) LUCYNA KURTYKA, Research Associate SHIRLEY B.THATCHER, Senior Project Assistant NORMAN GROSSBLATT, Editor * Resigned from committee
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National Research Initiative: A Vital Competitive Grants Program in Food, Fiber, and Natural-Resources Research BOARD ON AGRICULTURE AND NATURAL RESOURCES T.KENT KIRK, Chair, University of Wisconsin, Madison DAVID H.BAKER, University of Illinois, Urbana SANDRA S.BATIE, Michigan State University, East Lansing MAY R.BERENBAUM, University of Illinois, Urbana ANTHONY S.EARL, Quarles & Brady Law Firm, Madison, Wisconsin ESSEX E.FINNEY, Jr., Mitchellville, Maryland, US Department of Agriculture, Retired CORNELIA FLORA, Iowa State University, Ames ROBERT T.FRALEY, Monsanto Company, St. Louis, Missouri GEORGE R.HALLBERG, The Cadmus Group, Waltham, Massachusetts RICHARD R.HARWOOD, Michigan State University, East Lansing GILBERT A.LEVEILLE, McNeil Consumer Healthcare, Fort Washington, Pennsylvania HARLEY W.MOON, Iowa State University, Ames WILLIAM L.OGREN, Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, US Department of Agriculture, Retired G.EDWARD SCHUH, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis JOHN W.SUTTIE, University of Wisconsin, Madison THOMAS N.URBAN, Des Moines, Iowa, Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc., Retired ROBERT T.WILSON, Mississippi State University, Mississippi State JAMES J.ZUICHES, Washington State University, Pullman Staff MYRON F.UMAN, Acting Executive Director (through May 1999) WARREN R.MUIR, Executive Director DAVID L.MEEKER, Director (since March 2000) CHARLOTTE KIRK BAER, Associate Director SHIRLEY B.THATCHER, Administrative Assistant
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National Research Initiative: A Vital Competitive Grants Program in Food, Fiber, and Natural-Resources Research Foreword In 1989 the Board on Agriculture of the National Research Council recommended that an expanded public investment be made through competitive research grants in agriculture, food, and the environment. The rationale for this recommended program, to be administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), was a perceived need “to revitalize and reinvigorate one of [America’s] leading industries, the agricultural, food, and environmental system.” The objective was to increase the generation of new knowledge in key issue areas, which could best be accomplished by selecting the highest quality research proposals through the use of peer review. In Fiscal Year 1991, Congress created the National Research Initiative (NRI), the expanded competitive grants program at USDA. Without accounting for inflation, this program is currently funded at a level slightly less than one fourth of that recommended by the 1989 Research Council report. In 1995 Frank Press, my predecessor as President of the National Academy of Sciences, chaired a National Academies committee that examined the allocation of federal funds for science and technology. Among the central recommendations of this committee were that: (1) federal agencies should make allocation decisions based on clearly articulated criteria congruent with those of the President and the Congress, (2) the allocated funds should ensure that the U.S. achieves preeminence in select fields and is world class in all other major
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National Research Initiative: A Vital Competitive Grants Program in Food, Fiber, and Natural-Resources Research fields of science and technology, and (3) competitive merit review, especially involving external reviewers, should be the preferred way to make awards. The NRI is a program aimed at meeting these three important criteria. The National Research Council is releasing this report, focused on improving and strengthening the NRI, following a study carried out by an expert and knowledgeable committee. Many of its members have been successful, as described in Appendix 4, in competing for peer review grants at NSF, NIH, and NRI. This committee has conducted a retrospective assessment of the quality and value of the NRI program, examined its science and technology priorities, and suggested changes for the future. Among the key findings and recommendations are: (1) a major emphasis of the program should continue to be the support of high risk research that has potential long-term payoffs, as well as benefits in training and education, (2) the proposals and awarded grants are generally of high quality, but scientists outside the traditional “food, fiber, and natural resources” disciplines need to be attracted to the program, (3) a more effective performance tracking system needs to be established to improve research accountability, (4) the priority setting process needs significant revision with creation of six standing scientific research review committees to identify critical issues and with special consideration given to important problems perceived by the public, and (5) a new NRI advisory board with representatives of NRI stakeholders should be established. The committee has also reemphasized the original NRI budgetary recommendation (adjusted for inflation) of the 1989 Board on Agriculture report. As emphasized in the 1995 report of the Press committee, the federal government has played a pivotal role in developing the world’s most successful system of research and development. Maintaining the vigor of this science and technology enterprise, of which the NRI is an important component, is essential to the nation’s future. By making changes in the NRI program of the type recommended here, the US can attract many more outstanding young scientists to careers in these critical areas. I thank the chair and members of the committee that produced this important report. We hope that it will help to make the NRI even more effective. Bruce Alberts Chair National Research Council
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National Research Initiative: A Vital Competitive Grants Program in Food, Fiber, and Natural-Resources Research Preface Our nation faces daunting challenges to its food and fiber system and to the condition of our natural resources in the coming decades. Rapid increases in world population and the pressure on resources generated by increasing per capita consumption as a result of increasing per capita income challenge the very basis of our standard of living—our food, fiber, and natural-resource base. As the nation faces the challenges, new technologies and new information systems are changing the face of biologic research. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has traditionally been the nation’s primary public research engine in food, fiber, and natural resources. The National Research Initiative Competitive Grants Program (NRI) is a small part of that USDA research effort, but it accounts for a substantial portion of the nation’s merit-based peer-reviewed fundamental research efforts in food, fiber, and natural resources. USDA asked the National Research Council to review the NRI from four perspectives: To perform a retrospective assessment of the quality and value of research funded by the program. To determine whether the science and technology priorities in the major NRI programs are defined appropriately. To assess how NRI activities complement other USDA programs, programs of other federal agencies, and state programs in the private sector. To recommend the nature and content of changes for the future. To respond to the request, the Research Council established the Committee on Evaluating the USDA National Research Initiative (NRI) Competitive Grants Program. The charge is broad. To assess the quality and value of research, the committee gathered data from the literature and solicited informed opinions
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National Research Initiative: A Vital Competitive Grants Program in Food, Fiber, and Natural-Resources Research from a broad spectrum of researchers and administrators who have long experience with the NRI and other federal institutions involved in merit-based peer-reviewed research. The committee did not have the time or expertise to review each funded activity and assess its specific quality and value. Assessing quality and value of fundamental research is difficult in any program without many years of hindsight. Had we discovered important concerns about the quality or value of research funded by the NRI during our deliberations, we would have had to revisit our approach to the charge. We did not have to do that. It is a daunting prospect to undertake the evaluation of priorities for any research endeavor that covers as wide an array of topics as that in the NRI portfolio. We addressed the question of whether grant-setting priorities met congressional mandates. We studied the priority-setting process itself in much detail and have made recommendations for change. We chose not to define priorities per se although we have suggested a wide range of research concerns that, in our judgment, the NRI needs to address for the nation’s food, fiber, and natural-resources agenda. Our recommendations on structure and process should, however, allow the NRI to put a detailed priority-setting process into place, and that should result in a comprehensive agenda for NRI research. Addressing the question of complementarity required defining how the NRI food, fiber, and natural-resources activities fit into the nation’s other public and private research activities. We endeavored to do that. Finally, we chose to give item 4—recommending the nature and content of changes for the future—the broadest of interpretations. Information garnered during this study required that we address the funding and structure of the NRI to respond fully to the charge. A Research Council committee recommended dramatic increases in funding of the NRI in the 1989 report Investing in Agriculture, and the interim Research Council review in 1994 reiterated that position. We revisited the subject and responded with recommendations on both structure and funding. Our recommendations reaffirm and extend the earlier Research Council vision for fundamental merit-based peer-reviewed research in food, fiber, and natural resources. Substantial recommendations are made to strengthen the NRI itself and, by strengthening the NRI, to enhance the nation’s peer-reviewed research efforts in food, fiber, and natural resources, which, if successful, will prepare us for the coming decades. We are, indeed, unprepared for many of tomorrow’s food, fiber, and natural-resources challenges. There is much to be done to avert catastrophe if the projected increases in world population are realized. I am convinced that the adoption of the committee’s recommendations by Congress and the executive branch will dramatically improve the nation’s preparedness to address the challenges. Thomas N.Urban Chair Committee on An Evaluation of the National Research Initiative Competitive Grants Program
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National Research Initiative: A Vital Competitive Grants Program in Food, Fiber, and Natural-Resources Research Acknowledgments The committee is extremely grateful to numerous people who gave of their time and expertise to provide data and other input during the study process and the development of this report. It is difficult to provide an exhaustive list of those who contributed to this effort, but the committee wishes to thank the following, who provided input during public meetings: Kenneth Barton, Monsanto Life Sciences, St. Louis, Missouri; Robert Bremel, Gala Design, Sauk City, Wisconsin; Anthony Cavalieri, Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc., Johnston, Iowa; Harold Coble, Council for Agricultural Science and Technology, Raleigh, North Carolina; Jack Eberspacher, National Association of Wheat Growers, Washington, DC; Noah Engelberg, Office of Management and Budget, Washington, DC; David Ervin, Wallace Institute, Greenbelt, Maryland; Kellye Eversole, National Corn Growers Association, Chevy Chase, Maryland; Kirk Ferrell, Animal Agriculture Coalition, Washington, DC; Cliff Gabriel, Office of Science and Technology Policy, Washington, DC; Karl Glasener, Tri-Societies, Washington, DC; Richard Herrett, Agricultural Research Institute, Washington, DC; Tracy Irwin Hewitt, C-FARE, Arlington, VA; Charles Jamison, National Corn Growers Association, Beltsville, Maryland; Andrew Jordan, National Cotton Council, Mamphis, Tennessee; Eileen Kennedy, US Department of Agriculture, Washington, DC; Victor Lechtenberg, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana; David McKenzie,
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National Research Initiative: A Vital Competitive Grants Program in Food, Fiber, and Natural-Resources Research State Agricultural Experiment Station, College Park, Maryland; Terri Nintemann, US Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, Washington, DC; Terry Nipp, AESOP Enterprises, Washington, DC; Kenneth Olson, American Farm Bureau Federation, Park Ridge, Illinois; Lyle Roberts, Illinois Soybean Association, Bloomington, Illinois; John Suttie, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin; and Robert Zimbelman, Federation of Animal Science Societies, Bethesda, Maryland. In addition, we would like to thank those who took time to meet with the committee throughout the study process: Colien Hefferan, US Department of Agriculture, Washington DC; Ted Hullar, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York; Ron Phillips, US Department of Agriculture, Little Rock, Arkansas; Michael Roberts, US Department of Agriculture, Washington, DC; and Sally Rockey, US Department of Agriculture, Washington, DC. Two hundred eighty-eight persons took the time to fill out the survey that provided much useful information to the committee. We are grateful for the responses and for the many additional comments and ideas provided. This report has been reviewed by people chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise, in accordance with procedures approved by the National Research Council Report Review Committee. The purposes of this independent review are to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the authors and the Research Council in making the published report as sound as possible and to ensure that the report meets institutional standards of objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The content of the review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process, but we wish to thank the following for their participation in the review: Roger Beachy, Danforth Plant Center, St. Louis, Missouri; John Burris, Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, Massassachusetts; Susan Cozzens, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia; Rodney Croteau, Washington State University, Pullman, Washington; Jackie DuPont, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida; Ronald Estabrook, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, Texas; Jack Gorski, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin; Edward Hackett, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona; George Hallberg, The Cadmus Group, Waltham, Massachusetts; Theodore Hullar, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York; John Shadduck, Shadduck Consulting LLC, Fort Collins, Colorado; Philip Smith, McGeary and Smith, Washington, DC; and Patrick Windham, R. Wayne Sayer and Associates, Washington, DC Although the reviewers listed above provided many constructive comments and suggestions, responsibility for the final content of this report rests solely with the committee and with Research Council. The committee wishes to thank Study Director Michael J.Phillips (through July, 1999), Research Associate Lucyna Kurtyka, and Administrative Assistant Shirley Thatcher for their assistance during our deliberations and in preparing this report. Their organizational skills contributed enormously to the study process. We gratefully acknowledge the editorial work of Anne H.(Kate) Kelly
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National Research Initiative: A Vital Competitive Grants Program in Food, Fiber, and Natural-Resources Research on early versions of the report. We also thank Laura Boschini for her efforts in preparing the final report for publication. Finally, the committee and the members of the Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources wish to extend special thanks to Gregory H.Symmes, study director since August 1999. It was our great fortune that Greg agreed to assist us in the completion of the report and that the Research Council’s Commission on Geosciences, Environment, and Resources was willing to share Greg’s expertise. Greg provided invaluable advice and direction during the final phase of the study. His experience, knowledge, energy, and persistence helped the committee through a long, and sometimes difficult, process. We deeply appreciate Greg’s untiring and extraordinary efforts in seeing this study to a successful conclusion.
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