Status Report

AIP FYI #114: With Finite Resources: Administration R&D Budget Priorities

By SpaceRef Editor
August 26, 2004
Filed under , ,

In an August 12 memorandum to federal department and agency heads,
OSTP Director John Marburger and OMB Director Joshua Bolten set out
the Bush Administration’s R&D budget priorities. Among these
priorities in this five-page memo were nanotechnology research and
fundamental research in the physical sciences.

Even though it will be weeks, and perhaps months, before Congress
finalizes the budget for the fiscal year starting on October 1, the
Administration is hard at work on the FY 2006 budget submission.
While the OSTP/OMB document contains few surprises, it helps to
illuminate what is traditionally the “black box” process involved in
drafting the budget request.

At the outset, the memorandum cites “an extensive, continuous
process of consultation” with the President’s Council of Advisors on
Science and Technology ( ) and
collaboration with the interagency National Science and Technology
Council in the development of the Administration’s R&D funding
priorities. Also mentioned were three documents: “A 21st Century
Frontier for Discovery: The Physics of the Universe”
( and two climate change
reports (

The FY 2006 R&D budget priorities closely parallel the guidance
released last summer ( .) Both
the FY 2005 and FY 2006 documents identify homeland security as the
first priority; with the new memorandum explaining, “winning the war
on terror and securing the homeland continue to be the highest of
national priorities.” In addition to a list of specific threats for
which desired technologies are listed, Marburger and Bolten stated
“fundamental R&D should be considered to address and counter new or
novel threats.”

“Networking and Information Technology R&D” and nanotechnology are
the second and third listed priorities in the new memorandum, which
switched positions as compared to last year’s document.
Nanotechnology is described as a “top Administration priority,” and
both documents cite the importance of the National Nanotechnology
Initiative’s support of fundamental and applied R&D. This year’s
memorandum explains that “because research at the nanoscale offers
natural bridges to interdisciplinary collaboration, especially at
the intersection of the life and physical sciences, the
Administration encourages novel approaches to accelerating
interdisciplinary and interagency collaborations.”

A new section this year describes “Priorities of the Physical
Sciences.” The full text of this section of the August 12
memorandum follows:

“Investments in the physical sciences likely to lead to or enable
new discoveries about nature or strengthen national economic
competitiveness continue to be important. Priority will be given to
research that aims to close significant gaps in the fundamental
physical understanding of phenomena that promise significant new
technologies with broad societal impact. High- temperature and
organic superconductors, molecular electronics, wide band-gap and
photonic materials, thin magnetic films, and quantum condensates are
examples of novel atomic and molecular-level systems with such gaps
where coherent control holds great potential.

“In addition, the development or enhancement of instruments and
facilities can extend our scientific reach in ways that often have
broad impact. The range of such investments is large, from bench-top
devices such as the scanning tunneling microscope to the
national-scale synchrotron and neutron user facilities. Priority
will be given to those instrument- or facility- related investments
with the greatest promise for the broadest scientific impact. Of
particular interest are investments leading to the development of
next-generation light sources. In their budget submissions, agencies
should seek to coordinate their investments in instrumentation,
upgrades, and user programs at national scientific user facilities.

“Within discovery-oriented physical sciences investments, priority
will be given to those projects and programs that are demonstrably
well coordinated with related programs in other agencies or other
countries. Examples of well coordinated, inter-agency investments in
the discovery- oriented sciences are described in the interagency
working group report, ‘A 21st Century Frontier for Discovery: The
Physics of the Universe.'”

Not found in this year’s memorandum were words similar to those from
last year’s document which stated, “The President’s Council of
Advisors on Science and Technology has urged increased investment in
certain areas of physical science, citing opportunities for
continued scientific discovery and the fact that such discoveries
often drive advances in other areas of science. Budgetary proposals
for these or any other area must be specific regarding how the
programs will expand scientific frontiers in a manner consistent
with stated agency missions and national goals and demonstrate
coordination with similar programs in other agencies. The desire to
achieve parity in funding levels among disciplines does not by
itself suffice to justify funding increases.”

This year’s memorandum next lists “biology of complex systems” as a
priority area. The document explains that “Agencies should target
investments toward the development of a deeper understanding of
complex biological systems through collaborations among physical,
computational, behavioral, social, and biological researchers and

Concluding the priority list in both memorandums is what this year’s
document calls “climate, water, and hydrogen R&D.” The August 12
memorandum calls for agencies to implement the 2003 “Strategic Plan
for the U.S. Climate Change Science Program” identified above. Also
identified as a high-priority concern “is the ability to measure,
monitor, and forecast the U.S. and global supplies of fresh water.”
Regarding hydrogen, the memorandum states, ” Finally, agencies
should continue research efforts in support of the President’s
Hydrogen Fuel Initiative; this includes research outside of the
subset of activities currently counted as part of the Initiative.
Agency efforts should address the critical technology barriers of
on-board hydrogen storage density, hydrogen production cost, and
fuel cell cost, as well as distributed production and delivery
systems. R&D should focus on novel materials for fuel cells and
hydrogen storage (including nanostructured materials), durable and
inexpensive catalysts, and hydrogen production from renewable
energy, nuclear energy, biological and electrochemical processes,
and fossil fuels with carbon sequestration.”

The August 12 OSTP/OMB memorandum can be viewed at:

Richard M. Jones

Media and Government Relations Division

The American Institute of Physics

(301) 209-3094

SpaceRef staff editor.