Science and Technology in the Budget

ACS Position Statement

Innovation is the backbone of our American economy. Since World War II, nearly half of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth has resulted from investments in research and development (R&D). Federal support of R&D opens new areas of technology and ultimately provides a path to long-term growth of our nation’s economy. 

Scientific and technical progress is driven by a complex innovation ecosystem to which many stakeholders contribute. Curiosity-driven and high-risk research has produced many high-impact, fundamental discoveries spawning entire industries of new technologies. Such work is often supported by government funding and performed at universities and government laboratories. Over time and in conjunction with private industry support, progress in the laboratory continues to boost job creation and ensure a highly educated and skilled workforce.

A Path to Predictable and Sustained Federal Funding for R&D

Given the long-term nature of research, predictable and sustained federal funding is critical to the health of our technology driven economy. Shrinking and flat federal contributions have had a negative impact on many areas of science and technology (S&T) and the impact of these cuts has been exacerbated by uncertainty and knee-jerk decision-making in the federal budget process.

Recent data show that the United States has slipped to 10th place among OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) nations in overall R&D investment as a percentage of GDP.

When outlining overall technology or innovation policy, several U.S. presidents have set the goal of increasing the U.S. investment from both public and private sources to three percent of GDP.   However, S&T funding is not determined in this manner.  Instead, the agencies set their research funding levels to meet specific goals. 

When those individual decisions are summed up, federal support for basic research has dropped, as a fraction of GDP, by 13 percent over the last decade.  The shrinkage in the overall research enterprise is undermining U.S. S&T leadership and threating our economic competitiveness, even if individual agencies are meeting their immediate needs.

The Society urges policymakers to invest in long-term economic growth by setting funding levels that stabilize the fraction of U.S. GDP devoted to federally supported R&D. The United States must reverse the path that has taken us to the 40-year low of less than 0.9 percent of GDP invested in federal R&D and return to overall levels nearer the 1.2 percent invested during the 1970s and 1980s when the scientific foundation was being laid for today’s technology economy.

Making the Most of Federal Research Dollars

Federal funding models

ACS supports federal agency efforts to experiment with adaptable and flexible grant structures to maximize the impact of S&T investment. One example from the National Institutes of Health is introduction of longer grants to fund laboratories, rather than specific projects. The National Science Foundation (NSF) is testing a shift from traditional project-specific grants for principal investigators to more graduate student research fellowships. Programs that involve interdisciplinary teams of researchers on high-priority topics, such as the Department of Defense’s Multidisciplinary University Research Initiatives and the Department of Energy’s Energy Frontier Research Centers, also deserve fresh attention as models for other agencies.

Such changes are expected to improve research funding predictability, enhance the quality of graduate student training and enable greater scientific achievements with the available funding levels. The Society, for instance, supports a distribution of funding to foster a healthy balance between new and established investigators.

Reducing academic researchers’ administrative burden

ACS supports efforts to reduce the administrative burden on researchers that receive federal funding. Principal investigators spend an ever-increasing amount of their time applying for more grants as well as processing associated paperwork. Although ACS encourages relevant assessment, we agree with the concerns raised by the 2014 National Science Board report that an inappropriately heavy administrative load is already felt by researchers and universities receiving R&D support.

Scientific Impact

Translating discoveries to commercial applications

Government support of initial discoveries is essential in the long-term for providing American industry with the science to develop products. Federal funding is often required at later stages in order to bring academic discoveries closer to commercial viability. The ACS encourages support for the following highly successful programs: The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR), Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR), Small Business Investment Companies (SBIC), and Small Business Administration microloan programs, as well as NSF’s Innovation Corps.

Funding for equipment and methods development

ACS supports funding for the tools used to carry out scientific R&D because the ability to carry out world-class research is dependent on access to world-class tools. Funding of shared facilities, methods development, equipment, and other research resources is essential for our scientific competitiveness. ACS encourages support for programs that include methods and standards development at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Department of Energy (DOE) National Laboratory User Facilities, which serve as important resources for university, government and industry research.

Science supports national needs

Government plays an essential role in targeting R&D dollars to areas of critical need, including national security, energy production, and food growth. Science is essential to all such endeavors, and ACS supports continued, targeted R&D programs, including the materials genome, advanced manufacturing and BRAIN initiatives.

A Strong and Diverse Workforce

A critical function of federal S&T support is to educate future scientists, as well as the entire workforce. ACS supports education programs to develop a workforce with scientific depth of knowledge, breadth in skills, an ability to work in teams, maturity to work safely, and learning adaptability for future changing times. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education programs develop essential technological and analytical skills for nearly every sector of our economy.

ACS supports allocations to the NSF Education and Human Resources Directorate that are proportional to those provided for NSF research directorates. Federal agency STEM investments should be coordinated and complementary, while also meeting the unique mission of each office.

A diverse, STEM-educated workforce is essential for the S&T enterprise. Creative ideas emerge when scientists come from multiple backgrounds.  The Society supports programs that broaden participation of underrepresented groups in STEM fields. The Society encourages support of the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) program for building S&T workforces and infrastructure in U.S. states where federal R&D funding is relatively low.

Position in Brief

  • Urges policymakers to restore investments in federal R&D funding to levels nearer to 1.2% of GDP
  • Recommends strategies to ensure federal dollars dedicated to R&D are used as efficiently as possible
  • Recognizes the function of federal S&T funding in educating future scientists and supports federal agency investments that are coordinated, complimentary, and broaden participation of underrepresented groups in STEM fields.