US Authorizes New Research Funding

On August 9, President Bush signed into law the America COMPETES (Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science) Act. Designed to increase the federal resources devoted to education and research in the fields of science, engineering and mathematics, the Act authorizes a total of $33.6 billion in funding, according to an analysis by the American Council on Education (ACE). The Act authorizes funding for educational and research grants, training programs and studies, as well as laboratory infrastructure. However, final budget appropriations for federal agencies for fiscal year 2008 have yet to be decided by Congress. Nonetheless, the Act is an indication of the federal government’s changing policy on research spending and can be expected to help provide some relief from the cutbacks government-funded researchers and programs have experienced in recent years. It could also be good news for instrument and laboratory product suppliers. The Act not only supports research grants and training, but it also specifically recognizes the importance of instrumentation programs to scientific research.

The ACE estimates that the Act could provide the National Science Foundation (NSF) with $22 billion in funding over two years. The NSF could receive $6.6 billion in fiscal 2008 and 7% increases in each of the following two years. Of this amount, research and related activities would receive $5.2 billion in fiscal 2008, followed by a 10% increase in fiscal 2009 and an 11% increase in fiscal 2010. Within this budget amount, the Major Research Instrumentation Program would receive $115 million in fiscal 2008, $123.1 million in fiscal 2009 and $131.7 million in fiscal 2010. In addition, the NSF’s authorization also includes $245 million for major research equipment and facilities construction in fiscal 2008, followed by a 7% budget increase in both fiscal 2009 and 2010.

For the Department of Energy (DOE), the ACT authorizes $17 billion for fiscal 2008–2010, according to the ACE, with much of the funding devoted to educational programs and grants. The Act charges the DOE with establishing Innovation Institutes—multisite, multidisciplinary institutes focused on one of five topics: sustainable energy technologies; multiscale materials and processes; micro- and nano-engineering; computational and information engineering; and genomics and proteomics. Each fiscal year, the DOE would select as many as three institutes to receive grants of up to three years. The grants are not to exceed $10 million annually for fiscal years 2008–2010.

The Act also creates the Advanced Research Projects Agency—Energy (ARPA-E) to address “technological barriers” in developing energy technologies. Funding for the ARPA-E would come from the US Treasury’s Energy Transformation Acceleration Fund, rather than the DOE, and would total $300 million for fiscal 2008 and amounts “as necessary” for fiscal 2009 and 2010.

The Act appropriates $2.65 billion for fiscal 2008–2010 for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) within the Department of Commerce, according to ACE estimates. NIST funding that could affect instrument purchases and maintenance includes a fiscal 2008 authorization of $502.1 million for “scientific and technical research and services laboratory activities.” This amount would rise 8% in both fiscal 2009 and 2010. The construction and maintenance of NIST facilities would receive $150.9 million in fiscal 2008, but funding would decline 43% and 42% in fiscal 2009 and 2010, respectively. The NIST’s Industrial Technology Services program (ITS) would receive $210 million in fiscal 2008 and increase 21% in fiscal 2009 and 7% in fiscal 2010.

Included in the authorized amount for ITS for fiscal 2008 is $100 million for the Technology Innovation Program (TIP). Like the Advanced Technology Program (ATP), which it replaces, the TIP would invest in “high risk, high reward” research at small- and medium-sized companies. Unlike the ATP, universities would also be eligible for TIP awards. Awards to single firms would be capped at $3 million over three years, and awards to joint ventures would be limited to $9 million over five years. The federal government’s share of project funding is limited to 50%. In fiscal 2009 and 2010, TIP’s budget would increase 32% and 7%, respectively.

The Act also addresses the role of the Office of Science and Technology, which advises the President on science policy. The Act calls for the Office to determine the deficiencies in research facilities and major instrumentation at federal labs and academic institutions and submit a plan to the President to address these deficiencies.

< | >