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President Clinton Calls for Renewal of the Federal Government-University Research Partnership for the 21st Century
American universities are a key component of our world-class research system, contributing to the development of knowledge and helping to advance societal goals. Our universities are the envy of the world, built as they are on a commitment to excellence. They have proven to be an exceptionally rich setting for the conduct of research because they are committed to the dual purpose of generating knowledge as well as educating the next generation of scientists and engineers.

Observers of the science and technology enterprise often look to Vannevar Bush’s 1945 treatise Science—The Endless Frontier, to explain the origins of the Federal government’s commitment to research and education. But the history of these endeavors goes back even further. The fact that the United States has flourished, notwithstanding profound internal and external challenges, is partly attributable to our willingness as a nation to invest significant public resources for public goods not readily attainable by the normal workings of the marketplace. Our earliest declaration of national purpose commits us to promoting "the progress of science and useful arts," a commitment which we honored immediately in 1790 with the first decennial U.S. Census. The census was followed by an historically unprecedented and nationally funded scientific reconnaissance of our landscape – its topography, geography, flora and fauna, wildlife, native peoples, land routes and waterways – which enabled citizens and entrepreneurs to realize the economic promise of our vast continent throughout much of the nineteenth century.

The manner in which we have chosen as a nation to invest in scientific and engineering research has, not surprisingly, reflected the pluralism of our communities and the decentralized structure of our governing institutions. The Federal government has relied on approaches as varied as the country itself to promote science and engineering. The advance of science and technology has often been coupled with other public objectives – especially education. The Johns Hopkins University and Clark University, our first explicitly research-oriented universities, were founded in 1876 and 1887. Since then, universities have served not only as critical research locations, but as a training ground for the next generation of scientists and engineers. The close coupling of research and education has become a hallmark of the U.S. system of higher education, producing the finest scientists and engineers prepared to perform cutting edge research and to manage high-technology enterprises across a broad range of disciplines and in multiple venues.

The partnership in research that has evolved between the Federal government and American universities has yielded benefits that are vital to each. It continues to prove exceptionally productive, successfully promoting the discovery of knowledge, stimulating technological innovation, improving the quality of life, educating the next generation of scientists and engineers, and contributing to America’s economic prosperity.

While the wisdom of investments in research has proven itself repeatedly over time, each era brings with it special challenges and opportunities. Neither universities nor the Federal government have remained immune from the historic shifts that have taken place in the last decade, including the globalization of the economy; the growing interdependence of the economy and scientific and technical advances; the increasing reliance of industry on universities for the performance of basic research; and the continuing importance of research universities to the economic prosperity of states and regions. The partnership between the Federal government and the nation’s research universities must evolve along with these changes, making this an appropriate time to review the fundamental principles of the partnership, renew the government’s commitment to it, and suggest how the partnership might be strengthened so that it can continue to be effective and efficient and serve the nation into the next century.

It was in this context that the Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, at the urging of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, state governors, industry leaders, elected officials, and leaders in education, issued a Presidential Review Directive in September 1996 directing the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) to review the government-university partnership and recommend ways to strengthen it. As noted above, where appropriate, the findings and recommendations emerging from this review also apply to nonprofit independent research institutes. The NSTC was charged to assess the policies, programs, and regulations that shape the partnership, associated educational activities, and the administration of research. The goal was to review the principles of the partnership, promote cost-effective university-based research, ensure fair allocation of research costs, and support the linkage between research and education, all while maintaining appropriate accountability for expenditure of public funds.

The review was carried out by a multiagency Task Force chaired by the Associate Director for Science of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, with the support of a Working Group, under the auspices of the NSTC Committee on Science. The review findings and recommendations, documented in this report, are based on inputs from universities, university associations, and the Federal research agencies received in response to a Task Force solicitation. The Working Group reviewed over 40 university and university association responses, representing hundreds of universities. The Federal Demonstration Partnership (FDP), a cooperative agreement among 65 academic institutions (including administrators and faculty representatives), 11 Federal agencies, and six affiliate members designed to enhance research productivity and reduce administrative burden while maintaining appropriate stewardship of public funds, offered valuable input and is expected to assist in implementation of the recommendations. The Government-University-Research Roundtable of the National Academies of Sciences and Engineering and the Institute of Medicine, is the official convener of the FDP. The Government-University-Industry Research Roundtable, with its record of inquiry into areas of concern to this review, also provided valuable input to this review. So did the National Science Board, particularly on the role of the Federal government in graduate and postdoctoral education.


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