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A 1993 National Academies report recommended that the world leadership status of research fields be evaluated through international benchmarking.3 A followup report that reviewed three benchmarking experiments (mathematics, immunology, and materials science and engineering) concluded that the approach of using expert panels could yield timely, accurate “snapshots” of specific fields.4 The report also suggested that benchmarking assessments be conducted every 3-5 years to capture changes in the subject fields. Figure UT-1 illustrates one such assessment.

The factors considered most important in determining US leadership status, on the basis of all the international benchmarking experiments, were human resources and graduate education, funding, innovation process and industry, and infrastructure.

In addition, the Bureau of Industry and Security of the US Department of Commerce undertakes assessments of the US industrial and technology base in areas considered important for national defense.5 These assessments often take into account international competitiveness.

Possible federal action includes the following:

  • Establish a system to conduct regular international benchmarking assessments of US research to provide information on the world leadership status of key fields and subfields of scientific and technological research.

An example of the potential utility of this information is shown in Figures UT-2 to UT-5 which show funding and innovation process metrics for nanotechnology.


In 1990, Congress mandated that a biennial review be conducted of America’s commitment to critical technologies deemed essential for “maintaining economic prosperity and enhancing the competitiveness of the US research enterprise.” The legislation required that the number of technologies identified in the report not exceed 30 and include the most economically important civilian technologies expected after the decade following the report’s release with the estimated current and future size of the domes-


NAS/NAE/IOM. Science, Technology, and the Federal Government. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1993.


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



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