In urging lawmakers to crank up spending on scientific research in the economic stimulus package Congress is now debating, university lobbyists have focused their rhetoric on the potential of the money to produce jobs and "expand the knowledge base and produce the discoveries that will sustain and improve the nation’s economic competitiveness," as the Association of American Universities put it in a letter to senators this week. Given the bill's purpose and the political necessities of the times, that focus makes sense.
But part of the reason Congressional backers of the additional research support are pushing it -- and the major reason potential recipients of the funds want them so badly -- is that they believe federal backing for scientific studies have been insufficient in recent years. A National Science Foundation report released Thursday confirms their thesis, finding that federal spending on research and development declined in real terms from 2007 to 2008 and that 2008 funds for basic research dropped to the lowest level since 2002 in constant dollars.
After rising by an average annual rate of 6.9 percent from the 1996 fiscal year through 2003, when the government committed to doubling spending on biomedical research, federal agencies' spending on research have fallen by an annual rate of 2.1 percent in the years since. That has occurred despite a push by Congress and the Bush administration -- with rhetoric not matched by dollars -- to double spending on the physical sciences.
Spending on basic research declined almost as much, by an average of 1.9 percent a year from 2005 to 2008. The proportion of total R&D spending directed to basic research fell to 24.4 percent in 2008, down from 26.3 percent in 2002, according to the NSF's data.
Federal Obligations for Research and Development, 1990–2008
|Fiscal year||All Research and Development (millions, in current dollars)||Total||Basic||Applied|
|All R&D (millions, in constant 2000 dollars)|
Federal Obligations for Research by Agency, 2006-8, in Millions of Dollars
|2006||2007 (preliminary)||2008 (projected)|
|Department of Agriculture||$2,031||$2,088||$1,807|
|--Agricultural Research Service||1,021||963||919|
|--Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service||645||743||536|
|Department of Defense||5,752||6,856||6,083|
|--Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency||1,185||1,833||1,713|
|Department of Energy||5,720||6,055||6,487|
|--Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy||211||343||368|
|--National Nuclear Security Administration||2,219||2,087||2,204|
|--Nonproliferation and Verification||143||136||136|
|--Office of Science||2,818||3,257||3,391|
|Department of Health and Human Services||28,680||28,721||28,781|
|National Institutes of Health||27,566||27,625||27,708|
|National Aeronautics and Space Administration||3,272||3,261||3,195|
|National Science Foundation||3,791||4,051||4,358|