Science policy of the United States

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Federal funding of basic and applied research by year. The spike in 2009 is due to the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. Figures for 2014 are requested levels.[1]

The science policy of the United States is the responsibility of many organizations throughout the federal government. Much of the large-scale policy is made through the legislative budget process of enacting the yearly federal budget, although there are other legislative issues that directly involve science, such as energy policy, climate change, and stem cell research. Further decisions are made by the various federal agencies which spend the funds allocated by Congress, either on in-house research or by granting funds to outside organizations and researchers.

Legislating science policy[edit]

In the Executive Office of the President, the main body advising the president on science policy is the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Other advisory bodies exist within the Executive Office of the President, including the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and the National Science and Technology Council.

In the United States Congress, a number of congressional committees have jurisdiction over legislation on science policy, most notably the House Committee on Science and Technology and the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, and their subcommittees. These committees oversee the various federal research agencies that are involved in receiving funding for scientific research. Oversight of some agencies may fall under multiple committees, for example the Environmental Protection Agency.[2]

There are also Congressional support agencies, which do not solely focus on science, but provide insight for Congress to make decisions dealing with scientific issues. These agencies are nonpartisan and provide objective reports on topics requested by members of congress. They are the Congressional Research Service, Government Accountability Office, and Congressional Budget Office. In the past, the Office of Technology Assessment provided Congressional members and committees with objective analysis of scientific and technical issues, but this office was abolished as a result of the Republican Revolution of 1994.

Further advice is provided by extragovernmental organizations such as The National Academies, which was created and mostly funded by the federal government,[3] and the RAND Corporation, as well as other non-profit organizations such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Chemical Society among others.

Research and development in the federal budget[edit]

The research and development budget by department in the Obama administration's federal budget proposal for fiscal year 2015.[4][5]
United States Department of the Air Force United States Department of the Navy United States Department of the Army United States Department of Defense National Institutes of Health United States Department of Health and Human Services United States Department of Energy NASA National Science Foundation United States Department of Agriculture United States Department of Commerce United States Department of Veterans Affairs United States Department of the Interior United States Department of Homeland Security United States Department of Transportation United States Environmental Protection Agency Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute United States Department of Education Smithsonian Institution Other: $0.698BCircle frame.svg

Only a small percentage of the overall federal budget is allocated to R&D. The FY2015 budget request includes $135.110B in R&D spending[4] out of a total budget of $3969.069B, representing 3.4% of the budget.[6] Research and development funding in the federal budget is not centrally enacted, but is spread across many appropriations bills which are enacted in the annual United States budget process. Of the twelve annual appropriations bills, the most important for R&D are those for Defense; Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (which includes NIH); Commerce, Justice, and Science (which includes NSF, NASA, NIST, and NOAA); and Energy and Water Development. Other appropriations bills include smaller amounts of R&D funding.

There are a number of federal agencies across the government which carry out science policy. Some of these primarily perform their own research "in-house", while others grant funds to external organizations or individual researchers. In addition, the federally funded research and development centers, which include most of the U.S. National Laboratories, are funded by the government but operated by universities, non-profit organizations, or for-profit consortia.

The FY2015 presidential budget request defines R&D as "the collection of efforts directed toward gaining greater knowledge or understanding and applying knowledge toward the production of useful materials, devices, and methods." R&D is divided into five subcategories. Basic research is directed toward understanding of the fundamental aspects of observable phenomena. It may be directed towards broad but not specific applications. Applied research is directed towards gaining knowledge to meet a recognized and specific need. Development is the application of knowledge or understanding for the production of useful materials, devices, and methods, including production of prototypes. R&D equipment includes acquisition or production of movable equipment, such as spectrometers, research satellites, or detectors. R&D facilities include the construction or major repairs to physical facilities including land, buildings, and fixed capital equipment such fixed facilities as reactors, wind tunnels, and particle accelerators.[7]

The following chart shows a breakdown for the five agencies with the largest R&D budgets in the Obama administration's FY2015 proposal:[7]

  •   Basic research
  •   Applied research
  •   Development
  •   Equipment and facilities

Defense research and development[edit]

Defense R&D has the goal of "maintaining strategic technological advantages over potential foreign adversaries."[8] As of 2009, just over half of the R&D budget was allocated to defense spending.[9] Most Defense R&D falls under the Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation (RTD&E) budget, although some R&D funding is outside this budget, such as the Defense Health Program and the chemical weapons destruction program. The Department of Defense divides development further, giving each category a code: 6.1 is Basic Research, 6.2 is Applied Research, 6.3 is Advanced Technology Development, 6.4 is Advanced Component Development and Prototypes, 6.5 is System Development and Demonstration, 6.6 is RDT&E Management and Support, and 6.7 is Operational Systems Development.[8]

Most of the Defense R&D budget is for weapon systems development, with nearly all activity in categories 6.4 and higher carried out by private defense contractors. About one sixth of it is allocated to the Science and Technology (S&T) program, which includes all of 6.1, 6.2, 6.3, and medical research. As of 2013, research funding (6.1 and 6.2) was disbursed 40% to industry, 33% to DoD laboratories, and 21% to academia.[10] The Department of Defense was the third-largest supporter of R&D in academia in FY2012, with only NIH and NSF having larger investments, with DoD the largest federal funder for engineering research and a close second for computer science.[8]

The Defense Research Enterprise (DRE) consists of S&T programs within each of the three military departments within DoD. The budget is prepared by each department's acquisition secretary, namely the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force (Acquisition), Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Research, Development and Acquisition), and Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology. Air Force S&T is executed by the Air Force Materiel Command's Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL). Navy S&T is executed by the Office of Naval Research (ONR), with medical research performed by the Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery. For the Army, 72% of the S&T budget is in Army Materiel Command's Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM), with the remainder in Army Medical Research and Materiel Command (USAMRMC), Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Army Space and Missile Defense Command (USASMDC) and the Deputy Chief of Staff (G1-Personnel) to the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Manpower and Reserve Affairs). Each agency supports both in-house intramural research as well as grants to outside academic or industrial organizations.[11]

The following chart shows a breakdown for the agencies with the most R&D funding within the Department of Defense in the Obama administration's FY2015 proposal. The "Other" category includes $3.7B for classified programs such as NSA, DIA, and NGA, whose top-level budget numbers are not released, as well as the uncategorized R&D funds not included in the RDT&E budget.[5]

  •   Basic Research (6.1)
  •   Applied Research (6.2)
  •   Advanced Technology Development (6.3)
  •   Advanced Component Development and Prototypes (6.4)
  •   System Development and Demonstration (6.5)
  •   Management and Support (6.6)
  •   Operational Systems Development (6.7)
  •   Uncategorized

Intellectual property policy[edit]

Inventions "conceived or actually reduced to practice" in the performance of government-funded research may be subject to the Bayh-Dole Act.

The Federal Research Public Access Act (111th congress S.1373, introduced 25 June 2009 but still in a Senate committee) would require "free online public access to such final peer-reviewed manuscripts or published versions as soon as practicable, but not later than 6 months after publication in peer-reviewed journals".[12][13][14]

Science in political discourse[edit]

Most of the leading political issues in the United States have a scientific component. For example, renewable energy, Stem Cell Research, climate change, and national security. Despite the growing integration of science in policy there are only a handful of Congressional members and their staff who have sufficient background in science; therefore they refer to various congressional support agencies for analysis on science related issues. Important for thinking about science in political discourse is that congressional members weigh many factors when addressing an issue, not just the scientific merit of an issue.[2]

Science policy in the states[edit]

There are also a number of state and local agencies which deal with state-specific science policy and provide additional funding, such as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.


The first President's Science and Technology Advisor was James R. Killian, appointed in 1958 by President Eisenhower after Sputnik created the urgency for the government to support science and education. President Eisenhower realized then that if Americans were going to continue to be the world leader in scientific, technological and military advances, the government would need to provide support. After World War II, the US government began to formally provide support for scientific research and to establish the general structure by which science is conducted in the US.[15] The foundation for modern American science policy was laid way out in Vannevar Bush's Science - the Endless Frontier, submitted to President Truman in 1945. Vannevar Bush was President Roosevelt's science advisor and became one of the most influential science advisors as, in his essay, he pioneered how we decide on science policy today.[16] He made recommendations to improve the following three areas: national security, health, and the economy—the same three focuses we have today.

Creation of the NSF[edit]

The creation of the National Science Foundation, although implemented in 1950, was a controversial issue that started as early as 1942, between engineer and science administrator Vannevar Bush and Senator Harley M. Kilgore (D-WV), who was interested in the organization of military research. Senator Kilgore presented a series of bills between 1942-1945 to Congress, the one that most resembles the establishment of the NSF, by name, was in 1944, outlining an independent agency whose main focus was to promote peacetime basic and applied research as well as scientific training and education. Some specifics outlined were that the director would be appointed and the board would be composed of scientists, technical experts and members of the public. The government would take ownership of intellectual property developed with federal funding and funding would be distributed based on geographical location, not merit. Although, both Bush and Kilgore were in favor of government support of science, they disagreed philosophically on the details of how that support would be carried out. In particular, Bush sided with the board being composed of just scientists with no public insight. When Congress signed the legislation that created the NSF, many of Bush's ideals were removed. It illustrates that these questions about patent rights, social science expectations, the distribution of federal funding (geographical or merit), and who (scientists or policymakers) get to be the administrators are interesting questions that science policy grapples with.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The 2014 Budget: A World-Leading Commitment to Science and Research" (PDF). Office of Science and Technology Policy. Retrieved 19 March 2014. 
  2. ^ a b White, Kasey; Carney, Joanne (2011). Working with Congress: A Scientist Guide to Policy. AAAS Office of Government Relations. pp. 20–23. 
  3. ^ "Frequently asked questions". The National Academies. Retrieved 29 April 2011. 
  4. ^ a b "R&D in the 2015 Budget (revised)" (PDF). U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy. May 2014. Retrieved 27 July 2014. 
  5. ^ a b "FY2015 Department of Defense Budget: RTD&E Programs (R-1)" (PDF). Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller). June 2014. p. II. Retrieved 27 July 2014. 
  6. ^ "Table 28-1: Policy Budget Authority and Outlay by Function, Category, and Program" (PDF). Analytical Perspectives, Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2015. United States Office of Management and Budget. Retrieved 22 May 2014. 
  7. ^ a b "Analytical Perspectives, Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2015" (PDF). U.S. Office of Management and Budget. pp. 312–315. Retrieved 25 July 2014.  |chapter= ignored (help)
  8. ^ a b c Doom, Travis R. "Department of Defense" (PDF). American Association for the Advancement of Science. Retrieved 1 August 2014. 
  9. ^ Koizumi, Kei. "Federal R&D in the FY 2009 Budget: An Introduction". AAAS. Retrieved 20 August 2010. 
  10. ^ "Federal R&D Funding: Quick Agency Profiles". Proposal Exponent. Retrieved 28 July 2014. 
  11. ^ National Research Council (2014). Strategic Engagement in Global S&T: Opportunities for Defense Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. pp. 28–35. Retrieved 1 August 2014. 
  12. ^ Federal Research Public Access Act
  13. ^ Library of Congress, S.1273
  14. ^ US Scientific Grant Awards Database
  15. ^ Neal, Homer; Smith, Tobin; McCormick, Jennifer (2008). Beyond Sputnik. The University of Michigan Press. 
  16. ^ Ehlers, Vernon (16 January 1998). "The Future of U.S. Science Policy". Science. 279 (5349): 302. doi:10.1126/science.279.5349.302a.