On 23 June 2006, the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released their annual memorandum on fiscal year (FY) 2008 research and development (R&D) budget priorities. The memo, which is sent to the heads of executive branch departments and agencies, foreshadows where the administration will seek to make investments in the FY 08 budget request to Congress.

The memo highlights the American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI), provides guidance for priority setting among R&D programs, identifies interagency R&D programs that should receive attention within agency budget requests, and reiterates the "Investment Criteria" that agencies should use to improve investment decisions.

Not surprisingly, the ACI is a centerpiece of the OSTP-OMB document. As articulated in the memo, the ACI "is the President's strong commitment to double investment over ten years in key Federal agencies that support basic research in the physical sciences and engineering that has potentially high impact on competitiveness. President Bush plans to double investment by the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy's Office of Science, and the Department of Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology core activities. To achieve this doubling within ten years, overall annual increases for these three agencies will average roughly seven percent. Specific allocations will be based on research priorities and opportunities. In addition to the doubling effort at these three agencies, similarly high-impact basic and applied research of the Department of Defense should be a significant priority."

The memo provides further general guidance to agencies, stating that "the combination of finite resources, the commitment to the American Competitiveness Initiative, and the multitude of new research opportunities requires careful attention to funding priorities and wise choices by agency managers". Moreover, agencies may propose new, high-priority activities, but these requests should identify funding offsets from the elimination or reduction of "less effective or lower priority programs."

In general, the guidance includes ten criteria to guide R&D investments. These include:

  1. Advance fundamental scientific discovery to improve future quality of life;
  2. Support high-leverage basic research to spur technological innovation, economic competitiveness and new job growth;
  3. Align with the efforts of the Academic Competitiveness Council and the National Math Panel to enable superior performance in science, mathematics and engineering education;
  4. Enable potentially high-payoff activities that require a federal investment to achieve long-term national goals;
  5. Sustain specifically authorized agency missions and support the missions of other agencies through stewardship of user facilities;
  6. Enhance the health of the nation;
  7. Ensure a scientifically literate population and a supply of qualified technical personnel;
  8. Strengthen our ability to understand and respond to global environmental issues and natural disasters through better observation, data, analysis, models, and basic and social science research;
  9. Maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of the science and technology enterprise through expansion of competitive, merit-based peer-review processes and phase-out of programs that are only marginally productive or are not important to an agency's mission; and,
  10. Encourage interdisciplinary research efforts that foster advancement, collaboration and innovation on complex scientific frontiers and strengthen international partnerships that accelerate the progress of science across borders.

Of note for the natural science collections community and the researchers that utilize these resources, the memo includes specific language encouraging agencies to "assess the priorities for and stewardship of Federal scientific collections, which play an important role in public health and safety, homeland security, trade and economic development, medical research, and environmental monitoring. Agencies should develop a coordinated strategic plan to identify, maintain and use Federal collections and to further collections research." This is the second year that the memo has included language about collections.

The guidance also identifies interagency R&D priorities in the areas of homeland security, energy security, advanced networking and high-end computing, nanotechnology, understanding complex biological systems, and the environment.

With respect to research on complex biological systems, the memo directs: "Agencies should target investments toward the development of a deeper understanding of complex biological systems, which will require collaborations among physical, computational, behavioral, social, and biological scientists and engineers who will, among other things, need to develop the data management tools and platforms necessary to facilitate this research. Access to new biotechnological tools and increasing amounts of genetic sequence data will open new avenues for research into the functional implications of gene expression...rapidly developing methods and capacities within the behavioral and social sciences are enhancing our knowledge of organisms and larger systems and providing greater insight into the relationship between biological, physiological and cultural influences on human behavior and decision-making. Continued research at both the cellular/sub-cellular and the organism/community levels has the potential to have significant impact on national security and homeland security, health, environmental management, and education...this research is relevant to the prevention and treatment of infectious disease..."

Finally, with respect to the environment, the memo includes language supportive of "The U.S. Strategic Plan for an Integrated Earth Observations System," the 2003 "Strategic Plan for the U.S. Climate Change Science Program," and the 2004 "U.S. Ocean Action Plan."


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