Research Funding

By Smith, Mark F. | Academe, May/June 1998 | Go to article overview

Research Funding


Smith, Mark F., Academe


CONGRESS MAY FIND it difficult to follow through with suggested increases in federal research funding this year. The president has requested a 2.6 percent increase over fiscal 1998, for a total of $78.2 billion in fiscal 1999. Slightly more than half of that ($40.3 billion) goes to defense research, while nondefense research is funded at $37.8 billion. That translates to a 0.3 percent decrease in support for defense research and a 5.8 percent increase in support for nondefense research. However, much of the nondefense research and development funding is contained within a special "21st Century Research Fund," an accounting gimmick created especially to evade the stringent spending caps adopted in the fiscal 1998 budget agreement. This fund provides $31.1 billion for research but relies on projected revenue from the tobacco settlement to pay for its programs.

Research funding is spread across federal agencies and across congressional appropriations subcommittees. The appropriations subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education determines research funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), by far the largest recipient of nondefense research dollars. The Veterans Administration-Housing and Urban Development subcommittee determines the funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Interior subcommittee considers the level of support for the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities. Subcommittees on agriculture, energy, commerce, national security, and transportation provide other research funding.

In setting the AAUP's federal legislative priorities, Committee R on Government Relations has identified federal funding of research as second only to support for student financial aid. It specifically promotes funding for the NIH, the NSF, and the arts and humanities endowments. Despite tightening budgets, both the NIH and the NSF have received significant increases in recent years. The NIH in particular has had strong champions, such as Mark Hatfield (R-Ore.), the former Senate appropriations chair, and John Edward Porter (R-Ill.), the current chair of the House appropriations subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (and a recipient of the AAUP's Henry T. Yost Congressional Recognition Award for 1997). On the other hand, the endowments have had to wage annual battles for their survival.

These circumstances are reminiscent of those surveyed in December 1918 by the original Committee R on the Promotion of Research in Colleges and Universities. …

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