Proposed fiscal year 2012 federal R&D investment of $60 billion represents a 0.3 percent decrease from the previous year, continuing the trend of flat federal funding for R&D since 2004.
This only continues the disturbing trend of federal under-investment in R&D. From 1987 to 2008, federal R&D investment grew at just 0.3 percent per year in constant dollars, much lower than its average annual growth of 4.9 percent from 1953 to 1987, and ten times lower than the rate of GDP growth over that period. In fact, to restore federal support for research as a share of GDP to 1987 levels, we would have to increase federal support for R&D by almost $150 billion-per year. While industry R&D expenditures did not have as high a growth rate from 1987 to 2008 as they did from 1953 to 1987, the dropoff was quite less than it was for federal R&D investment. If federal R&D investment had grown at the same rate from 1953 to 1987, but slowed down at the same rate that corporate R&D growth slowed down, the federal R&D investment gap would have been less, although still huge, at $113 billion, an amount equivalent to funding fifteen more National Science Foundations. And while federal R&D intensity (that is, federal R&D as a share of GDP) increased by a paltry 3 percent from 1987 to 2008, R&D intensity increased substantially more in most other nations over that time frame, including Japan (22 percent), Canada (31 percent), Sweden (34 percent), Ireland (75 percent), Korea (91 percent), and Israel and China (110 percent each). While certainly budgets are tight, the United States must not simply maintain but needs to boost its investments in scientific and technological R&D in order to keep up with the investments our competitors are making and to seed the technology, products, and industries that will drive future economic growth. Despite lean times, we cannot eat the seed corn that is positioned to generate prosperity for future generations of Americans.