Federal investments in research and development (R&D) are necessary to help drive emerging technologies that will power future industries, spur innovation across the economy, and sustain the United States’ global leadership in science and technology.
Since the 1950s, the federal government has spent an increasing amount of money on R&D, reaching about $179.5 billion in FY 2021. Federal R&D funding has increased since 2012—most recently because of COVID-19 stimulus funding. In FY 2021, over 30 federal agencies supported R&D in the United States.
Federal research oversight is needed to ensure these funds are being used effectively, and the federal government could improve its oversight of federal research and development in many ways.
Public access to the results of federally funded research can accelerate scientific breakthroughs. In 2013, certain federal agencies were directed to create plans for increasing public access to publications and data they funded. However, not all agencies have fully implemented these plans.
Federal guidance on scientific integrity includes principles that ensure the open exchange of information and prevent the distortion of research findings for political or other reasons. However, some federal agencies have not incorporated these principles into their policies.
Federal agencies must enforce Title IX—which prohibits sex discrimination—at universities receiving federal financial assistance. However, some federal agencies that provide science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) research grants to universities have not yet developed an overall plan to evaluate efforts to prevent sex discrimination.
Since 1982, federal agencies have given $46 billion to small businesses to help them develop and market new technologies (such as robotic vacuum cleaners and personal genetic testing kits). Businesses apply for these awards, and agencies aim to make awards within 180 days after the application deadline. However, many of these awards have not been made on time for a variety of reasons, such as heavy workloads for contract officers and slow responses from small businesses to requests for information.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) funds construction of large science and engineering infrastructure projects, like telescopes and observatories, which can take years to build and cost hundreds of millions of dollars. NSF has taken steps to improve project management capabilities for its large facilities projects, and the agency continues to make efforts to address opportunities to improve project management.