Today we offer a primer on the state of taxpayer funded research — how much the federal government allocates for federal research, who gets the money, a high level view of who looks does what type of research, and the output of that R&D in terms of technology transfer activity.
The National Science Foundation Science and Engineering Indicators 2012 reported that overall R&D performed in the United States in 2009 was estimated at approximately $400 billion. US R&D spending is broken down into three broad categories:
- Basic research which accounted for $75 billion (19%);
- Applied research totaling $71 billion (18%); and,
- Development which totaled approximately $253 billion (63%).
U.S. R&D is dominated by development activities, largely performed by the business sector. The business sector performs the majority of applied research. Most basic research is conducted at universities and colleges and funded by the federal government — the US taxpayer.
The business sector funded approximately $247 billion or 62 percent (62%) of total R&D followed Federally funded research of $124 billion or 31 percent (31%) of the total with the academic sector, universities, hospitals and other post-doctorate research organizations providing $54M in research or 14% of the total. Extramural performers of federal research accounted for $94 billion of federally funded research. According to Association of University Technology Managers’s (AUTM) FY2009 survey, the 181 institutions participating accounted for $33 billion of that extramural research. AUTM reports that federal spending is still the largest source of academic research expenditures, accounting for 62 percent (62%) of the total.
Seven federal agencies accounted for 97% of the federal R&D spending in FY2009:
- Department of Commerce including the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST);
- Department of Defense (DOD);
- Department of Energy (DOE);
- Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) including the National Institutes of Health (NIH);
- Department of Homeland Security (DHS);
- the National Science Foundation (NSF); and,
- National Air and Space Administration (NASA).
Following is a breakdown of Federal obligations for R&D by agency and performer for FY 2009 in millions of dollars. The numbers are broken down to identify the two different types of performers:
- Intramural and Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDCs)
Intramural refers to R&D performed by researchers and scientists who are employees of the federal government. FFRDCs are unique nonprofit entities sponsored and funded by the U.S. government to meet special long-term research or development need which cannot be met as effectively by existing in-house or contractor resources. It is common for agencies to establish long-term relationships with their FFRDCs in order to provide continuity. FFRDCs operate in the industries of defense, homeland security, energy, aviation, space, health and human services, and tax administration. FFRDCs are grouped into three categories focusing on different types of activities:
- System Engineering and Integration Centers
- Study and Analysis Centers
- Research and Development Centers (includes national laboratories)
Extramural performers of federally funded research include universities, industry, other nonprofit institutions, state and local governments, and foreign organizations. Foreign performers include science and technology institutes that collaborate on scientific endeavors.
|Total by performers|
|Department of Defense||68,230.2||18,695.1||27.4||49,535.1||72.6|
|Department of Health and Human Services||35,735.9||7,546.7||21.1||28,189.2||78.9|
|Department of Energy||11,562.2||8,853.3||76.6||2,709.0||23.4|
|National Science Foundation||6,924.8||303.8||4.4||6,618.2||95.6|
|National Aeronautics and Space Administration||5,937.1||1,958.1||33.0||3,979.0||67.0|
|Department of Agriculture||2,347.2||1,576.9||67.2||770.3||32.8|
|Department of Commerce||1,533.3||1,181.4||77.0||351.9||23.0|
|Department of Homeland Security||983.6||596.5||60.6||387.0||39.3|
|Department of Transportation||846.3||280.5||33.2||565.7||66.8|
|Department of the Interior||738.8||602.5||81.6||136.3||18.4|
|Environmental Protection Agency||552.8||414.1||74.9||138.8||25.1|
|Department of Veterans Affairs||510.0||510.0||100.0||0.0||0.0|
|Department of Education||322.4||15.6||4.8||306.7||95.2|
|Agency for International Development||160.1||10.6||6.6||149.5||93.4|
|All other agencies||385.1||183.0||47.5||204.9||53.2|
Defense continues to account for more than half of annual federal R&D spending. DOD spending includes some R&D by the Department of Energy and the Department of Justice where some R&D by the Federal Bureau of Investigation comes under the defense category. Health-related R&D accounts for the majority of federal non-defense R&D.
Technology transfer activity
In 2009, the last year data was available, the National Science Foundation reported8,656 invention disclosures, 4,107 patent applications, and 2,957 granted patents associated with federally funded research. Here is how all the spending breaksthe down. We added the technology transfer activity reported by AUTM for the same year to give you a feel for how the academic research community fared in comparison to the numbers reported by federal research organizations. There is probably some double counting but the numbers are interesting anyway.
|Health & Human Services1||389||156||397|
1 — Health & Human Services includes the National Institutes of Health (NIH)
2 — Commerce includes the National Institutes of Standards and Technology.
3 — In 2009, AUTM reported university technology transfer activity the of 181 university institutions that participated in its FY2009 Licensing Survey.
Like the government, academic institutions are essentially non-practicing entities, organizations that do not practice the inventions they create. Both rely on licensing and commercialization to monetize their investment in invention discoveries and recovering expenses associated with obtaining patents on those discoveries. The ability to diffuse the results of basic research into applied research and to commercialize the inventions discovered through federally funded research applied research and develoment efforts is how these inventions find their way into the marketplace and how the taxpayer eventually benefits from this spending.
One of the compelling issues in assessing the impact of taxpayer funded research is finding better ways to collect, organize, analyze, and report on the data about these efforts. There is a lot of money being spent and what on the surface appears to be a lot of inventions being disclosed and patents being granted. It is hard to know what the return on investment is. As the US economy shifts from a knowledge economy to an innovation economy, having better tools to analyze fedeally funded research, to know which inventions were licensed and perhaps more importantly which were turned into products and services will lead to more informed decisions on how to spend limited tax dollars on R&D. Creating an integrated and consistent electronic format used by all entities receiving federal research money will go a long way toward providing taxpayers with the tools to assess the value of taxpayer funded research.