On 16 August 2007, the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released the annual memorandum identifying research and development (R&D) priorities for the federal government. The memo, which is sent to the heads of executive branch agencies and departments, details what programs the Administration intends to prioritize during fiscal year (FY) 2009.

The memo, once again, 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.

The ACI remains a focal point for the administration, as the President has “begun the doubling path for 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 with an aggregate of 17 percent increase in the first two years of the Initiative.” As such, each of the three aforementioned agencies are directed to propose spending plans with increases in line with the doubling schedule.

The memo provides guidance for priority setting among R&D programs, stating that due to “the combination of finite resources, the commitment to the American Competitiveness Initiative, and a multitude of new research opportunities” careful consideration of spending priorities and “wise choices” are mandatory and paramount. OSTP indicates that agencies may recommend new activities, but “requests should identify potential offsets by elimination or reductions in less effective or lower priority programs.” The Administration favors R&D investments that:

  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. Strengthen science, mathematics and engineering education based on the recommendations of the Academic Competitiveness Council and the National Math Panel to ensure a scientifically literate population and a supply of qualified technical personnel commensurate with national need;
  4. Enable potentially high-payoff activities that require a Federal presence to attain long-term national goals, especially national security, energy independence, and a next-generation air transportation system;
  5. Sustain specifically authorized agency missions (e.g., scientific discovery in NASA) and user facilities that support the authorized missions of other agencies;
  6. Enhance the health of our Nation’s people to reduce the burden of illness and increase productivity while respecting the inherent dignity and value of every human life;
  7. Improve our ability to understand and respond to climate change and other global environmental issues and natural disasters through better observation, data, analysis, models, and basic and social science research;
  8. Maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of the science and technology (S&T) enterprise through expansion of competitive, merit-based peer-review processes;
  9. Phase out programs that are only marginally productive or are not important to an agency’s mission; and,
  10. Encourage interdisciplinary research efforts on complex scientific frontiers and strengthen international partnerships to accelerate the progress of science across borders.

Of note for the natural science collections community and researchers utilizing federal object-based scientific collections, the memorandum includes specific language indicating that federal scientific collections play a vital role in research, economic development, monitoring, and public health. OSTP and OMB thus encourage agencies to develop “a coordinated strategic plan to identify, maintain and use Federal collections of physical objects and to further collections research.” This is the third year the memo has incorporated language regarding collections.

The outline of Administration interests further identifies R&D priorities in homeland security and national defense, energy and climate change technology, advanced networking and information technology, nanotechnology, understanding complex biological systems, environment, air transportation systems, and science of science policy.

The memorandum directs agencies conducting research on complex biological systems to concentrate research at the cellular and sub-cellular and the organism, population, and community levels; and the interface of the life, physical and computational sciences. Agencies focused on environmental research are directed to prioritize the following:

  • Forecasting the response of coastal ecosystems to persistent forcing and extreme events;
  • Comparative analysis of marine ecosystem organization
  • Sensors for marine ecosystems; and,
  • Assessing Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation variability, which has implications for rapid climate change.

Of note, these research priorities were recently articulated as high-priority in the nation’s ocean research plan (see http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washingtonwatch2007_03.html).

The Administration highlighted the importance of global earth observations and their supporting role in various areas of research. The memo stated, “Agencies need to place a greater emphasis on coordinating their Earth observation activities. To ensure coordinated, long-term collection of critical land imaging data, agencies should respond to the recommendations of the Future of Land Imaging report in their budget requests.”


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