U.S. Support for Science Softens

November 22, 2005

With Congress considering 2006 budgets that would barely increase support for scientific research -- if not cut it back -- new data from the National Science Foundation suggest that the rapid expansion of federal research funding in recent years has already begun to ebb.

A report released by the science  foundation late last week project that federal obligations for research would be $54.698 billion in 2005, up 0.5 percent from the preliminary total of $54.450 billion in 2004. In inflation-adjusted dollars from 2000, the NSF report estimates, federal research obligations in 2005 are actually expected to decline by 1.5 percent, to $49.523 billion from $50.3 billion. 

The picture looks better in some agencies than others. In actual 2005 funds, according to the NSF projections, federal research obligations rose in 2005 for the Departments of Health and Human Services, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the National Science Foundation, but declined for the Departments of Energy, Defense and Agriculture (see table below). In constant 2000 dollars, federal research obligations declined for all agencies but the NSF itself.

Total research federal obligations 2003-5, by agency (in millions)

Fiscal year All agencies Health and Human Services Energy Dept. Defense Dept. NASA NSF Agriculture Dept. Other departments
2003 $51,072 $26,288 $5,261 $5,816 $4,553 $3,609 $1,869 $3,677
2004 preliminary 54,450 28,106 5,812 5,958 5,171 3,730 1,985 3,688
2005 projected 54,698 28,770 5,794 5,724 5,217 3,844 1,800 3,549

The NSF study also looks at research funds as a component of all federal obligations for research, development and R&D plant facilities. Over all, in 2005, according to the NSF data, the government is projected to provide $110.193 billion in all funds for research and development and R&D facilities, with funds for research accounting for just about half of that total. 

Federal Obligations for Research and Development, 2003-5 (in millions)

Fiscal year Total R&D and  R&D plant Total research  Basic research Applied research
2003 $97,928 $51,072 $24,751 $26,320
2004 preliminary 106,488 54,450 26,436 28,013
2005 projected 110,193 54,698 26,860 27,838

Source: National Science Foundation

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