American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program


Committee for Economic Development (CED) Report on New Strategies for Basic Research (6-19-98)

The Committee for Economic Development (CED), an independent research and policy organization representing 250 business leaders and educators, has launched a "campaign" to renew interest and funding toward basic research in the sciences. George H. Conrades, Executive Vice President of GTE Corporation and President of GTE Internetworking, serves as project chairman.  With the collaboration of such players as IBM, the Rand Corporation, and Harvard University, the CED helped produce the report America's Basic Research: Prosperity Through Discovery.  This report offers recommendations concerning 1) the methods of federal research support, 2) the basing of funding decisions, 3) the condition of U.S. science education, 4) the spread of scientific knowledge, and 5) the role of national labs.  By addressing these issues, CED hopes to further scientific advancement as part of the non-profit, non-partisan group's overall mission to suggest programs that lead to steady economic growth and enhance quality of life.

In terms of the methods of federal research support and the basing of funding decisions, the CED holds that policies should be made in the best interest of the scientific community.  According to the CED, "adequate and sustained funding for basic research must be a high and consistent national priority".  To improve the allocation of funds, the criteria for distributing research grants should be based on peer-reviewed competition.  Also, the CED believes that policy leaders should guarantee that big science and institutional grants occur based on scientific merit and on the basis of national needs.  Lastly, due to the growing complexity of the world, the CED encourages government to diversify its funding of basic research and to fund projects that cross many disciplines.

According to the CED, basic research has played an integral role in the U.S. economy.  Even though only 15% of the total research and development (R&D) in the U.S. falls under the category of basic research, that small percentage has dramatically improved life styles and technologies.  Such advancements as lasers, x-rays, and semiconductors can all be traced back to basic research.  In addition, about 12-25% of the yearly increase in productivity during the decades following WWII can be attributable to R&D.  Within a localized sector, basic research conducted at major universities adds to the economic growth of the area surrounding the university.  In this sense, basic research has become a vital instrument for American prosperity and worldwide leadership.

Because of the benefits from basic research, the CED wrote its report to recommend ways to keep scientific research a government priority.  Although increased funding in this area is threatened by political pressure, government must continue to play an important part in advancing basic research.  Government support is critical since government uses the technological breakthroughs from basic research to enhance its agency missions.   In addition, an "individual" cannot consume all the benefits from this basic research.  Eventually, private market players will underinvest in these scientific programs and market failure will occur, thus requiring government intervention.  In the past, government intervention on the part of basic research has reached $18 billion per year.  To allow America to stay on top of the technological world, government support of basic research must become a priority.

In addition to government involvement, public and private institutions must also continue to make advancements in basic research.  America's 200 major research universities support motivated faculty and students to conduct basic research in an atmosphere of intense funding competition.  These characteristics allow for numerous, innovative discoveries among the institutions.  Industry, the largest "basic researcher" of the private sector, applies this innovative knowledge from the universities to develop particular products and to fill in the gap of the broad university-sponsored research.  The connection between universities and industries became strengthened with the Bayh-Dole Act in 1980, which allowed recipients of government funding to patent their discoveries. In this sense, industries have joined universities in sponsoring basic research, and this relationship must grow in order to maintain excellence in basic research.

To increase American prosperity, the CED has focused on several changes in the education sector.  Funding must be allocated to improve the condition of science education in U.S. schools.  On the post-secondary level, grants should be designed for longer terms and graduate student training must become a priority.  By increasing funds for research and employment training, the CED hopes to reduce the burden of graduate school expenses.  Although post-secondary education appears to be in good condition, K-12 science education is suffering.  To counter this trend, the CED calls for high achievement standards, improved quality of science teachers, and enhanced classroom curriculum.  Part of enlarging the science education in American schools involves the spreading of information.  Thus, the CED supports the dissemination of scientific findings from institutions conducting basic research.  With these changes, the CED intends to broaden scientific knowledge so as to broaden America's global reputation in science education.

Finally, enlarging the scope of scientific research requires a review of the national labs.  In order for these national labs to remain a vital part in basic research, several changes must occur.  To begin with, the labs should be controlled by efficient management and oversight features.  In addition, these labs should be grounded in strong mission statements, and the research performed in the laboratories must partake in the peer-review process.  Since the federal government participates in basic research, it must maintain the national labs so that they meet the highest of standards.

This meeting of the highest standards in science and in basic research will sharpen America's competitive edge.  Due to diversified funding, excellent research universities, and merit-based distribution of resources, the United States has maintained a history of scientific progress.  Yet, to sustain this progress, government and the private sector must make scientific advancement a non-partisan priority.

Sources: America's Basic Research: Prosperity Through Discovery, Committee of Economic Development 


Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program at govt@agiweb.org.

Contributed by Shannon Clark, AGI Government Affairs Intern
Posted June 19, 1998


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