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II. Elements of the CFS Strategy

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Strategic Planning Document - Fundamental Science

II. Elements of the CFS Strategy

From atomic clocks for precision measurement in basic physics grew a global positioning system with applications to military and civilian navigation, emergency rescue, and tracking commercial vehicles. From intriguing questions about the magnetic resonance properties of individual atoms, chemists developed tools for analyzing the chemical structure of a material. That led, in combination with fundamental advances in electronics and mathematics, to such forefront medical diagnostic tools as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron-electron tomography (PET). These are but two examples of the consistently high return the federal investment in fundamental science yields for the American public.

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.

  • Maintain leadership across the frontiers of scientific knowledge.
  • Enhance connections between fundamental research and national goals.
  • Stimulate partnerships that promote investments in fundamental science and engineering and effective use of physical, human, and financial resources.
  • Produce the finest scientists and engineers for the twenty-first century.
  • Raise scientific and technological literacy of all Americans.

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:

  • establishing a government-wide mission for and approach to fundamental science; and

  • developing a cross-agency strategy for dealing with foundational issues that affect the broad research and development enterprise.

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.

II.1 Agency decision-making and fundamental science

CFS member agencies conduct fundamental science activities to support their statutorily mandated missions and responsibilities. These activities take many forms, including support for research efforts of university faculty and students, in-house laboratories, and construction and operation of large, complex facilities that are critical to the research of scientists and engineers from industry, government laboratories, and academia. Many of these activities contribute to achieving fundamental science goals such as those described above, but they may not be conducted explicitly for that purpose.

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

  • Work with each federal agency to articulate the role of fundamental science in accomplishing its mission and how that is reflected in its fundamental science programming;

  • Assist each federal agency in evaluating how its science and technology programs contribute to the portfolio of federal investments in fundamental science; and

  • Make information available to all agencies that helps them understand more clearly how their decisions affect the full set of federal investments in fundamental science.

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

  • Promote the inclusion of appropriate fundamental science components in the plans and agendas of the other NSTC committees; and

  • Make information about such investments available to all agencies.

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.

II.2 Issues in articulating and executing an interagency mission

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:

  • Articulate a plan to maintain in the near term and improve in the longer term federal support for fundamental science research.

For education and human resources development:

  • Develop a human resources policy for science and technology.

  • Develop a plan to improve scientific and technological literacy of all Americans.

For physical infrastructure:

  • Develop a plan to assure that an appropriate range of physical infrastructure (cutting edge instrumentation and facilities) in academic institutions and government laboratories is accessible to researchers and educators who can use it effectively.

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.

II.3 Foundational issues across the research and development enterprise

Development of policies that affect how science is done and evaluated is an important issue for CFS. They affect agencies' ability to implement the progrmmatic plans described above. Issues currently being addressed in CFS plans include:

  • Assessment and evaluation

    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 research and education

    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.

  • Merit review in fundamental science

    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.

  • International dimension

    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.

  • External guidance for fundamental science

    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.

  • Communicating Science to the Public

    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.

II.4 Setting of priorites and allocation of resources

Setting of priorities and resource allocation for research is of paramount importance when establishing national goals. Such priorities and allocations are established by the individual agencies, each of which have their special missions. Their goals, short- and long-term, are strongly influenced by the political process through both the agency leaders and the Congress, thereby providing abundant opportunity for input by non-scientists as well as scientists. CFS will review the priorities and resource allocation decisions within an interagency context.

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Fundamental Science - Table of Contents

I. Executive Summary

II. Elements of the CFS Strategy

III. Current Federal Portfolio

IV. Implementation Plan

Appendix 1

Appendix 2

Appendix 3