The Federal government has an important role in providing support, facilities, and infrastructure for fundamental science. It is uniquely able to make the long-term investments that, by nature as well as by design, have high rates of return for society as a whole. There is a broad consensus that the bulk of fundamental research can best be supported by the public sector, which can stimulate and sustain a coordinated thrust to achieve societal benefits.
The federal investment in fundamental science serves two principal purposes: (1) developing a knowledge base that supports agency and national requirements for science and technology underpinning important areas of national policy, and (2) assuring a vital, regenerative pool of people, ideas, knowledge and tools to draw upon in addressing the scientific and technical challenges of the present and the future. The work and plans of the Committee on Fundamental Science (CFS) center on the second of these purposes, focusing on long-term investments that are efficient and effective in their use of current resources and in their connection with current challenges and opportunities.
Science in the National Interest, the recent Presidential statement of science policy, builds on a decade of public and private sector thinking about the role of science and technology to articulate a substantive set of challenging goals for the investment in fundamental science. It paints a persuasive picture of the value of fundamental science in addressing aspects of many pressing policy issues in areas such as health, prosperity, national security, environmental responsibility, and improved quality of life. It provides the rationale for a national effort to attain the following goals.
The current reassessment of the federal portfolio of research and development investments and the possibilities for more effective interaction among federal agencies provide an environment of opportunity for attaining these goals. CFS is adopting them as the goals of this plan.
In developing this plan, CFS recognizes its dual role: (1) addressing the substantive areas of fundamental science research (developing plans and approaches) and (2) addressing foundational issues for the entire research and development enterprise (education, infrastructure, and processes that influence the effectiveness and accountability of federal research and development). These two roles are overlapping and reinforcing. Each is important in the implementation plan that follows.
To reach the goals described above, CFS faces the following challenges:
CFS must embrace these challenges within the context of agency missions and broad administration priorities, and develop a federated structure to facilitate interagency cooperation.
The distinction between "basic" and "applied" science is commonly unclear and can vary depending on whether the views of performer or funder are being considered. In this Plan, CFS has used "fundamental science" as a combination of "basic" and "applied" science, with the inclusion of some portion of the cost of development of the tools and facilities used to perform that science. The details vary across the agencies, with the exact mix for each agency given in Appendix 3.
Planning for federal investments in fundamental science is carried out largely by individual agencies focused on their own missions and responsibilities. This is appropriate in most circumstances, but, where agencies do not have full information about the overall federal portfolio of investments, it may lead to less than optimal investment decisions government-wide.
To help establish a context in which agency decision-making can recognize and take advantage of the multiple purposes of fundamental science, CFS will
In addition to addressing agency missions and responsibilities, fundamental science activities are important to attaining the goals and objectives of many national science and technology initiatives. These initiatives are, in most instances, coordinated through other committees of the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC). This is also an important context for agency decision-making about fundamental science. CFS will
These efforts will permit agencies to make decisions with better knowledge about the impact of their choices. Decisions can then be based both on agency missions and priorities and on government-wide responsibilities for a national resource.
The substance of an interagency mission for fundamental science, as stated in Science in the National Interest, has three principal components: support for fundamental science research, education and human resource development, and physical infrastructure. Each of these components has an impact well beyond fundamental science because together they provide a foundation for the entire research and development enterprise. Only by coordinating them in an interagency context for fundamental science can we assure appropriate federal attention to these foundational areas.
The first step in creating an interagency context for fundamental science is the development of plans that lay out frameworks for implementing Science in the National Interest.
For fundamental science research:
For education and human resources development:
For physical infrastructure:
CFS has begun development of these plans with strategies and timelines for action. Such plans require care and attention because of the breadth of their impact. Appendix 1 provides a summary table, with items keyed to the promised actions of Science in the National Interest. The first item, an articulated plan for strengthening the investment in fundamental science, is presented in more detail in the sections that follow.
Mechanisms for evaluating progress toward goals, evaluating effectiveness of agencies and the coordinated effort in fundamental science, assessing the state of fundamental science (as a whole and foro particular subareas), delineating areas of particular opportunity for future emphasis, and describing gaps in the federal portfolio of support for fundamental science are all aspects of this area.
Costs of carrying out the research and education activities supported by federal agencies vary significantly by who is performing the activities (federal laboratories, academic institutions, private industry, etc.). When the research and education activities are supported by federal funds through non-federal organizations, accounting for the costs and reimbursing them appropriately can become serious issues. Understanding the trends in costs of research and simplifying the complex set of mechanisms governing reimbursement of those costs are important to the plans of all agencies.
The use of merit review with peer evaluation in the selection and oversight of federally funded research and education programs is a high priority for CFS. Working with CFS agencies to develop mechanisms appropriate to the context of agency support for research and education is important to implementing this priority effectively.
The nature of science is international, and the free flow of people, ideas, and data is essential to the health of our scientific enterprise. Fundamental science provides a particularly fertile ground for international collaboration. Developing protocols and priorities for international interaction in this venue, CFS can help create models for cooperation in other situations.
CFS began its efforts with the Forum on Science in the National Interest that led to the policy statement of the same name. CFS is committed to exploring a variety of mechanisms for assuring that the public, including individuals from academic institutions and industry, have an opportunity to provide guidance as it refines its plans for the future. Many tools for gathering input are already in place. CFS will help to develop others.
The Forum on Science in the National Interest also stressed the importance of an American public that is well-informed about science and technology. CFS will examine the role of federal research and development agencies in communicating science and technology to the public and to suggest mechanisms by which they might contribute to the broad public understanding and appreciation of science.
These areas and CFS plans for addressing them are discussed in greater detail in Appendix 2.