University Funding:

Federal Funding Mechanisms in Support of University Research

RCED-86-53: Published: Feb 13, 1986. Publicly Released: Feb 13, 1986.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO provided a summary of: (1) the past and current array of federal funding mechanisms, including relative magnitudes of support, used by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Departments of Health and Human Services, Defense, Energy, and Agriculture to provide funding for university research; (2) the trends over time in the federal agencies' use of funding mechanisms; and (3) funding mechanisms used by private foundations and voluntary associations in supporting university research.

GAO found that, in fiscal year 1984, these six federal agencies awarded 89 percent of their research funds through their individual project, program, and center funds that directly supported research. Of these three methods, individual project support dominated, receiving approximately 71 percent of the total funding. Direct support through program and center funds totalled 18 percent. The remaining 11 percent of total funding went to support the infrastructure of research. According to the latest NSF data, federal funding for university research and development has grown between 1963 and 1982 from $1.8 billion to $2.5 billion in constant 1972 dollars. Direct support for research received 25-percent more of the total obligations and the research infrastructure received 25-percent less in 1982 than in 1963. Direct support has increased in constant 1972 dollars from $1.1 billion in 1963 to $2.2 billion in 1982, while support for the research infrastructure has decreased from $688 million to $331 million over the same time period. GAO found that seven nonprofit foundations and voluntary associations provided $75 million to universities in 1984 in support of scientific research. These funds were in the form of individual research projects, support to fund research centers, fellowship awards, and support to build facilities. Each of the funding mechanisms the foundations and associations identified are equivalent to a current federal funding mechanism.

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