Feds flub science and engineering funding 2 years running

The National Science Foundation today said federal funding of academic science and engineering research and development failed to outpace inflation for the second year in a row, an unprecedented event in the 35 years it has been tracking such investments. The decrease, while small, only adds fuel to the fire that the US just doesn't do all it can to promote advanced science and engineering and risks falling behind other nations.

The NSF went on to say that the federal government has been the largest source of academic R&D funding, accounting for more than 60% of R&D spending in most years. Although this is still the case, the share recently decreased, from 64% in 2005 to 62% in 2007, the NSF stated.

The NSF's Survey of Research and Development Expenditures at Universities and Colleges showed growth in federally funded expenditures of 1.1% in current dollars to $30.4 billion, but after adjusting for inflation, the number signified a 1.6% decline from FY 2006 R&D expenditures. This decline follows a 0.2% decline between FY 2005 and FY 2006, the NSF said.

The Department of Health and Human Services continued to be the largest federal funder sending $17.1 billion to research or 56% of the fed's total. Medical sciences ($16.5 billion) and biological sciences ($9.2 billion) accounted for more than one-half of all R&D at universities and colleges in FY 2007. The largest R&D increases for 2007 included: oceanography (18.6%), bioengineering/biomedical engineering (12.8%), and aeronautical/astronautical engineering (10.1%). Bioengineering/biomedical engineering R&D continues to be the fastest growing field, with an average increase of 15.0% annually since 2000.

The National Science Board in January said leading science and engineering indicators tell a mixed story regarding the achievement of the US  in science, research and development,  and math in international comparisons.  For example, US schools continue to lag behind internationally in science and math education. On the other hand, the US is the largest, single, R&D-performing nation in the world pumping some $340 billion into future-related technologies.

The NSF's director Arden Bement, Jr. said earlier this year that s the need for increased funds comes at a time when high-tech executives and others are becoming increasingly vocal about the need for the United States to beef up basic research spending to stay competitive globally. "More than a dozen major studies have now concluded that a substantial increase in federal funding for basic scientific research is critical to ensure the preeminence of America's scientific and technological enterprise," Bement said in a statement. "Increased federal investments in research and education are imperative now to sustain our comparative advantages in a flattening world."

In addition, top officials from companies such as Microsoft and Intel have spoken out on the issue

Then there are disconcerting reports that despite the influx of billions of dollars, some of the R&D work being done isn't cutting it.  For example, a recent Government Accountability report said that while the US Department of Energy has spent $57.5 billion over the past 30 years for research & development  on advanced energy technologies such as Ethanol, solar and wind power the nation's energy usage has not dramatically changed-fossil fuels today provide 85% of the nation's energy compared to 93% in 1973.

But the funding news wasn't all bad. After three consecutive years of decline between 2001 and 2004, industry funding of academic R&D in science and engineering fields grew 11.2% to $2.7 billion in FY 2007, the NSF said.  And state and local government R&D funding went up 6.1% in FY 2007, increasing to $3.1 billion. Funding from academic institutions increased 6.6% in FY 2007 to $9.7 billion. Funding from all other sources combined, including nonprofit organizations and other nongovernmental entities, increased 10.0% to $3.5 billion.

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