Science in the National Interest promises to improve the nation's investment in fundamental science in the short term and increase the investment with future improvements in the Federal government's fiscal condition. The focus of this plan is on strengthening the total federal investment in fundamental science, an investment that has declined in real terms since the FY 1993 baseline used in Science in the National Interest.
While the goals of Science in the National Interest require a national investment that includes the private sector and state and local government, CFS has no mechanism for addressing such investments in the short term. Appendix 1 describes some of the plans for bringing this broader investment into the picture. However, the industry investment in basic research decreased in real terms from 1988 to 1993, which reflects the difficulty industry has in the current environment with long-term investments. The federal government's investment in fundamental science is critical for sustaining this resource.
Placing the total federal investment at the center of attention permits CFS to accommodate variations across agencies in appropriate ways. It also permits CFS to address the research priorities of other NSTC committees effectively.
CFS is committed to providing the framework for decision making and the cogent rationale that would make such decisions possible. It will encourage agencies to risk increasing their long-term investments, even at the cost of the short-term. And it will support the agencies in the interactions with the Congress necessary to implement the decisions.
To do less places the long-term interests of the nation at risk. There are already signs that decreasing (in real terms) investments are having a negative impact on the pool of young Americans entering science. Likewise, many large, state-of-the-art user facilities are oversubscribed with respect to available research time, some by as much as a factor of three, or are operating at less than full capacity due to reductions in funding for operations.
It is tempting to postpone long-term investments when resources are limited. This response to short-term pressures overlooks the importance of investing for the future. A recent review of the economic literature on returns to R&D spending found a private rate of return on the average of 20 to 30% and a social rate of return on the average of 50% for all investments in R&D, public and private. We are still reaping the benefits of investments made over the past fifty years. Because fundamental science is an investment that supports many purposes in a diffuse way, agencies may fail to appreciate fully their own importance to the total enterprise, particularly where fundamental science is a relatively small fraction of the agency's purview. Yet these multiple benefits are the crux of the high rate of return on the investment.
Two major policy principles have guided CFS since its inception. They have to do with where federally supported research is carried out and how it is selected and assessed.
Support for research in the nation's colleges and universities
One of the unique characteristics of the U.S. research enterprise is the extent to which it is carried out through academic institutions, contributing to the training of future science and technology professionals. Over half of the federal investment in basic research is supported through academic institutions, with less than twenty percent carried out at in-house federal laboratories. In addition, both students and faculty make extensive use of the facilities operated in conjunction with federal laboratories. The vision of Science in the National Interest requires the interplay between research and education to assure a diverse pool of talented individuals with the capacity to address the scientific and technological challenges of the future.
The interagency framework for fundamental science research will emphasize federal support for research at the nation's colleges and universities. Historically, the investment in research at academic institutions has paid great dividends to the public, involving some of the nation's most talented scientists and engineers in creative, foundational research as well as developing the next generation of scientists and engineers.
In sustaining this emphasis, we must assure the nation of the effectiveness and accountability of the investment made through academic institutions. CFS is undertaking this effort through its work on issues such as the costs of research and assessing program effectiveness as described in Appendix 2.
Merit review with peer evaluation
Merit review through peer evaluation of the portfolio of investments, both as they are made and while they continue, must be an integral policy tool for fundamental science. Creativity, imagination, and the capacity to recognize important departures from expectations are the hallmarks of excellent fundamental science. An interagency framework for fundamental science research must emphasize mechanisms to demonstrate to the public that the agencies are supporting what is excellent and of greatest potential value. Maintaining leadership across the frontiers of scientific knowledge depends on excellence and scientific potential.
In establishing level and character of their investments in fundamental science, agencies should examine the relevance of several different types of scientific priorities: the agency mission and role; government-wide priorities developed in the context of interagency initiatives tied to broad national goals; targeted fundamental science activity that supports several such initiatives; and the requirements of a balanced investment portfolio.
Agency investments in fundamental science
In developing an interagency approach to fundamental science, agencies must make investment decisions in fundamental science that are consistent with their overall missions and responsibilities and their particular role in fundamental science. Decisions on total levels of investment in fundamental science are made in the context of an overall agency picture.
CFS will work with agencies to develop an appropriate funding level for fundamental science that supports both the plan for growth of the federal investment and each agency's particular requirements. All CFS member agencies benefit from the federal investment in fundamental science. Because they benefit, they have a responsibility to renew the resource for the future.
By providing an overall framework in which agencies can articulate their fundamental science plans and understand how they affect and are affected by activities at other agencies, CFS will highlight the importance of fundamental science to the agencies and encourage agencies to make the necessary long-term investments. CFS will also help both agencies and OSTP articulate the case for fundamental science in the interactions with OMB and Congress that are critical to making agency and national plans become a reality.
Interagency initiatives in areas tied to broad national goals
The NSTC has defined several broad categories related to national goals that reach beyond science and technology, but have significant components that require research and development for their attainment. Agencies have shown (see Appendix 3) that many of their research and development activities fit rather naturally within those categories.
Within that broad set of categories, several coordinated interagency efforts are underway. Each of these has fundamental science embedded within them. Rather than create additional interagency initiatives in fundamental science tied to national needs, CFS will work in the context of existing coordinated programming, where possible.
Working through existing efforts takes advantage of the natural synergy between fundamental science and the development of technology or policy. In developing its framework to implement growth, CFS will work closely with other NSTC committees to establish (1) what constitutes current fundamental science activity within their purview; (2) how their priorities affect fundamental science investments in their portfolio; (3) what contributions fundamental science might make to their areas of interest that are currently missing from the portfolio; and (4) how enhanced funding for fundamental science might enhance their overall effort.
Initially, CFS will focus on Environment and Natural Resources and High Performance Computing and Communications. The NSTC committees coordinating these two areas have undertaken extensive, detailed resource and priority assessments, permitting CFS to address the issues above. The portfolios covered by the assessments contain significant amounts of fundamental science and are of sufficient size and scope to involve most CFS member agencies.
The Committee on Health, Safety and Food has undertaken a similar, although less formal, assessment of its broad portfolio. It is the most natural place for expansion of these interface efforts. The Committees on Civilian Industrial Technology, Transportation, and National Security have carried out assessments of more targeted subsets of their portfolios. Information on the intersection of these subsets with fundamental science is rather limited. CFS will expand its collaboration with these committees as well we better understand the intersection of interests. The Committee on Education and Training (CET) has a small effort on learning productivity that can be addressed in a similar way. CET efforts on excellence in science, mathematics, and engineering education are already tied to CFS through a joint subcommittee.
CFS-initiated interagency research efforts
Many of the interagency initiatives described above have common fundamental science needs. When these needs are articulated in the context of the specific initiative, the broader basis of research activity underlying them can be overlooked in establishing priorities. Fundamental science also provides tools that are valuable for many areas of science and technology, but development of such tools is generally not part of the interagency initiatives. CFS will promote interagency efforts to address the underlying fundamental science in such instances.
Examples of past interagency efforts of this sort include establishment of the protein database and earthquake hazard reduction research. Some efforts have been quite formally coordinated, others are based on informal, program-level cooperation. Areas with the potential to contribute to many of the current interagency initiatives include nonlinear analysis, modeling and visualization, measurement science (electronic, optical, and chemical), biotechnology research, and human/social/economic behavior, among others. CFS will examine the extent to which a well-coordinated interagency effort in these areas might permit exceptional progress that would be valuable both for fundamental science and for the national goals.
A balanced portfolio for leadership across the scientific frontiers
To maintain leadership, we must uphold a presence at the cutting edge of research across the frontiers of science. Thus, the CFS approach to an interagency mission for fundamental science must maintain an appropriate balance of activity independent of tightly defined agency missions and defined interagency initiatives. The reservoir of ideas is not limited to those known to be of potential importance. We require an environment where new ideas and approaches can be assessed for their potential to move science and technology in fresh directions.
Other significant areas of responsibility within fundamental science include facilities and education.
Access to and use of research and education facilities
Access to state of the art facilities is a critical factor in maintaining a presence at the cutting edge of research. The federal investment in facilities and instrumentation that serve many users is significant, with components found in academic institutions, national laboratories, and a variety of hybrid organizations.
Many agencies operate large facilities used by researchers from industry, government laboratories and academia. These expensive and complex facilities are beyond the reach of individual companies and research organizations. Making the best advantage of the existing investment in facilities through assuring their efficient, effective operation (with appropriate instrumentation) is a key element of an interagency framework for support of fundamental science. Broad access is another. CFS will encourage member agencies to give high priority to supporting operations, maintenance, and upgrades for existing facilities that provide access to cutting edge resources.
CFS has already stated its high priority for fundamental science in academic institutions. There is evidence of pressure on research facilities and instrumentation in academic institutions. CFS is currently studying this situation, and will develop a plan within the next two months for addressing it in the context of the full federal investment.
Access to instrumentation that supports individual research projects or groups of projects is also an important factor in effective fundamental science. The need for better instrumentation drives the development of technologies with expanded capabilities and has the potential to open up new areas of science and technology.
Advancing science, mathematics, and engineering education
CFS joins the Committee on Education and Training (CET) in sponsoring a Subcommittee on Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Education. This subcommittee has laid out a series of actions to advance education and training at K-12, undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral levels and public understanding of science that will be built into CFS's plans for an interagency approach to fundamental science.
The subcommittee's plans are based on the Goals 2000 Educate America Act, passed in 1994, which set into law the National Education Goals established in 1990 by the President and the nation's governors and provided a national framework for education reform. The Act also set in place mechanisms for assisting in the development of challenging content and performance standards for all students, establishing new federal government responsibilities for promoting the use of education technologies, increasing professional opportunities for teachers, and supporting an extensive program of education research and development to provide the United States with a sound foundation on which to design school improvements.
The subcommittee's plan provides formal mechanisms to cut across agency boundaries to facilitate interagency funding, coordination, collaboration and partnerships that will make the vision of education for America a reality. CFS and CET provide the means to synthesize the unique strengths and resources of their member agencies to advance the education goals. Since enhanced student achievement at various educational levels is the goal of all of these activities, agencies will begin a program of research and study to determine the link between federal resource allocation for mathematics and science education and long term changes in student achievement in pertinent disciplines.
Details of the plan, its milestones, and its performance measures are included in the CET strategic planning document.
At the same time these efforts are underway, CFS subcommittees and working groups will be continuing the efforts at planning described in Appendices 1 and 2. The milestones and timelines for those efforts overlap and will be integrated with these.
The principal short term indicators of a successful effort at implementing this plan will be the products represented by the milestones themselves. The key indicator will be collective submissions to OMB on the FY 1997 budget that implement the interagency approach.
Long term indicators of a successful effort will include: scientific results of the highest scientific quality and promise; timely support for interagency initiatives tied to national goals; effective scientific connections among industry, academic, international and government sectors; quality program management, planning and review processes; appropriate resources for achieving CFS goals and objectives, and efficient resource use, including cost-shared funding where appropriate.