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Updated 8 February, 2004











The Federal government supports a diverse array of research and development (R&D), providing the scientific and technical information needed to address environment and natural resources issues from global climate change to toxic waste remediation. Research that is critical to making sound decisions regarding air and water quality, ecosystem protection, and natural disaster reduction is supported by many Federal agencies through extramural funding to colleges, universities, and other research institutions, as well as through research conducted at Federal laboratories.

Agencies that have major R&D programs in environment and natural resources include the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (DOC/NOAA), the Department of the Interior (DOI), the Department of Energy (DOE), the Department of Agriculture (USDA), the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the Department of Defense (DoD).

In 1994, an estimated $5.1 billion was spent by the Federal government on environment and natural resources R&D. More than 50% was used to support R&D efforts outside the Federal agencies (see Figure 1). The remainder provided resources for research conducted at Federal laboratories.

Figure 1. FY94 Distribution of Federal Funding for Environment and Natural Resources R&D

Science funding agencies such as NSF, NIEHS, and NASA have a larger portion of their funds devoted to extramural research than agencies with resource management functions such as USDA, DOC, and DOI, or regulatory functions such as EPA. However, some of these agencies (e.g., EPA) are shifting to focus more of their funding on extramural research grant programs.

Competition, Review, and Evaluation

The U.S. Government has a general policy of encouraging full, open, and fair competition for research supported by Federal funding (e.g., the Competition in Contracting Act of 1985). Competition helps ensure that the highest quality, most cost-effective research projects are selected for funding.

For example, the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) Committee on Environment and Natural Resources (CENR) strategy Preparing for the Future through Science and Technology: An Agenda for Environment and Natural Resources Research (March 1995) states "...improve the quality and effectiveness of their R&D programs by increasing the use of external peer and merit review, increasing the use of open competition to award funds, and by strengthening their extramural academic research programs where feasible." Indeed, the FY96 and FY97 R&D guidance to the agencies from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) identifies competitive selection, merit review, and peer evaluation as broad R&D policy principles.

Merit review for research proposals by Federal agencies includes the following:

  • Scientific peer review for technical soundness
  • Evaluation of the relevance of the proposal to agency programs and priorities, societal needs, and policy goals.

In addition to prospective merit review, Federally funded research also undergoes performance reviews which are conducted to evaluate the progress, contributions, responsiveness, and relevance of ongoing or completed R&D activities.

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