Seeing the Round Corners

May 8, 2017

For the next few weeks, columns from the archives will appear while this writer takes a break to get a brand new shoulder. Enjoy!

October 15, 2012


Today’s edition will continue with the study/report by the Committee on Prospering in the Global Economy of the 21st Century commissioned by the National Academies.

Sowing the Seeds Through Science and Engineering Research: Sustain and strengthen the nation’s traditional commitment to long-term basic research that has the potential to be transformational to maintain the flow of new ideas that fuel the economy, provide security and enhance the quality of life. 

B-1:  The first recommended implementation action was to “Increase the federal investment in long-term basic research by 10 percent each year over the next seven years.” The Committee stressed the importance that investment in the life sciences or the social sciences should not be sacrificed in order for more funding to be made in the physical sciences, engineering, mathematics and information sciences, and to Department of Defense basic-research funding. The Committee also emphasized that “Increasingly, the most significant new scientific and engineering advances are formed to cut across several disciplines,” and should be evaluated regularly to satisfy emerging needs and promises.

B-2:  Provide new research grants of $500,000.00 annually, payable over five years, to 200 of the nation’s most outstanding early-career researchers, through existing federal research agencies – National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, the Department of Defense and National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

B-3:  Institute a National Coordination Office for Advanced Research Instrumentation and Facilities to manage a fund of $500 million in incremental funds per year over the next five years – to be accomplished by reallocation of existing or through new investment funds, and used to ensure that universities and government laboratories have and maintain facilities, instrumentation and equipment needed for leading-edge scientific discovery and technological development.

B-4:  Allocate at least 8 percent of the budgets of federal research agencies to discretionary funding. The Committee recommended this 8 percent be managed by technical program managers in the agencies, with focus to be on “catalyzing high-risk, high pay-off research of the type that often suffers in today’s increasingly risk-averse environment.”

B-5:  Create a new organization within the Department of Defense similar to that already existing within the Department of Defense – the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The new organization would be identified as the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). The director of ARPA-E would be tasked with research and development to meet the nation’s long-term energy challenges. ARPA-E would not actually do the research itself, but would fund such work conducted by universities, startups, established firms and others. Added benefits of such a model:

  • a great deal of independence;
  • can start and stop targeted programs on basis of performance;
  • staff turnover every four years;
  • focus would be on specific energy issues; and
  • creation of important spin-off benefits, including aiding in the education of next generation of researchers.

   Funding for ARPA-E would start at $300 million for the first year, increasing to $1 billion annually over five to six years. At that time, the program would be evaluated for effectiveness.

B-6:  Identify and recognize persons who develop unique scientific and engineering innovations in the national interest at the time they occur. The existing presidential awards address lifetime achievements or promising young scholars.

Next week, more of the Committee’s recommendations.

In the interim, of interest is a report released September 25, 2012 by the National Science Board.  That report was completed some five years after the updated National Academies 2007 report on “Rising Above the Gathering Storm.” The September 25, 2012 report is titled “Diminishing Funding and Rising Expectations:  Trends and Challenges for Public Research Universities.” The report will be recapitulated in this column in the near future.

Heads up, Colorado led the nation in cuts to per-student state funding for major public research universities (2002-2010). Only New York and Wyoming increased funding-per-student by 72 percent and 62 percent, respectively, for the same 2002-2010 time period.

   Mark Twain once said:  “The rule is perfect – in all matters of opinion our adversaries are insane.” 

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