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(COSEPUP) of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine established two broad goals to guide federal investments in science and technology:16

  • The United States should be among the world leaders in all major areas of science. Achieving this goal would allow this nation quickly to apply and extend advances in science wherever they occur.

  • The United States should maintain clear leadership in some areas of science. The decision to select a field for leadership would be based on national objectives and other criteria external to the field of research.

These goals provide a way of assessing the adequacy of federal funding for science and technology. Being world class across fields requires that the United States have the funding, infrastructure, and human resources for researchers to work at the frontiers of research. Preeminence in fields relevant to national priorities requires that policy-makers choose specific areas in which to invest additional resources.

An important way of measuring leadership and preeminence in fields and subfields of research is benchmarking of US research efforts against those in other countries. Experiments with benchmarking have demonstrated that data can be gathered fairly readily for analysis.17 Benchmarking analyses then can be converted into funding guidance that takes into account the activities of other research performers (including industry and other countries) and the inherent uncertainties of research.

Responding to abundant opportunities and national priorities in science and technology, the federal government has increased R&D funding substantially in recent years. From 1990 to 2002, inflation-adjusted investment by the federal government in academic research went up 66%.18 Increases in total R&D have been especially dramatic in the last few years because of increases for defense weapons development, the creation of homeland-security R&D programs, and the effort to double the budget of NIH.

However, as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP), R&D has fallen from 1.25% in 1985 to about 0.75% today, and a continuation of current trends will extend this decline into the future (see Figure R&D-7). Compared with the European Union, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, and Japan, US federal R&D expenditures as a


NAS/NAE/IOM. Science, Technology, and the Federal Government: National Goals for a New Era. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1993.


NAS/NAE/IOM. Experiments in International Benchmarking of US Research Fields. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2000.


National Science Board. Science and Engineering Indicators 2004. NSB 04-01. Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation, 2004.

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