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Bullet policy · Sep 27, 2021

NSB Report: Biomedical, Health Sciences Dominate in Federally-Funded Academic R&D

A report published by the National Science Board (NSB)—the governing body of the National Science Foundation (NSF)—suggests that the U.S. federal government remains the largest funder of academic research and development (R&D), providing more than 50 percent of the total funds in 2019. The report also shows that health, biological, and biomedical research at academic institutions, supported primarily by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), continue to be the largest beneficiary of federal research funds compared to other fields.

The Academic Research and Development report is one of the 10 reports that make up the 2022 Science and Engineering Indicators, a congressionally mandated report on the state of the U.S. science and engineering enterprise. According to the report:

  • Six federal agencies, namely NSF, HHS, the Department of Defense (DOD), the Department of Energy (DOE), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the Department of Agriculture (USDA), fund more than 90 percent of academic R&D.
  • In 2019, funding of academic R&D from HHS was greater than the total support for academic R&D from all other federal agencies combined.
  • Biological and biomedical sciences and engineering have seen the highest increases in the physical space devoted to academic science and engineering research, accounting for 60 percent of the total research space growth between 2007 to 2019.
  • The federal government funded around half of science and engineering postdocs, with postdoctoral appointments being concentrated in the biological, biomedical, and health sciences.

The NSB has released two other reports from Indicators 2022, with the remaining reports coming out on a staggered schedule in the months leading up to the spring of 2022. A report on the U.S. science and engineering labor force, which was published in August, highlights the contribution of STEM workers to the U.S. economy. The report shows that the STEM workforce accounted for 23 percent of the total U.S. workforce in 2019. Skilled technical workers, who work in STEM fields but do not have a bachelor’s degree, constitute a little over half of the STEM workforce. The report also shows that STEM workers tend to have higher median earnings ($55,000) than non-STEM workers ($33,000). Unemployment among STEM workers was lower than non-STEM workers in 2019, a pattern that persisted during the pandemic. A third report, which was published in July 2021, found that the U.S. is lagging behind many countries in STEM education, particularly in mathematics literacy.


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