The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and
(PCAST) devoted significant discussion to research and development (R&D)
at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the National Science
Foundation (NSF) at its January 7, 2011, meeting
in Washington, DC. PCAST is an advisory group of the nation’s
leading scientists and engineers who directly advise the President and the
Executive Office of the President (EOP).
The meeting featured a presentation
and discussion with
Catherine Woteki, Chief Scientist and Under Secretary for Research, Education,
and Economics at USDA, and Roger Beachy, director of USDA’s National Institute
of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).
In her presentation entitled "Why Science Matters to
,” Dr. Woteki cited 21st Century challenges in food security, food
safety, nutrition and health, bioenergy, and climate change; among USDA initiatives
was the training of more plant scientists as we seek to understand and develop
new crops. She mentioned that
agriculture contributes $121 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP), provides
2.1 million jobs, and contributes $20 billion in net exports; food manufacturing
adds another $165 billion to GDP and 1.6 million jobs. She cited that every dollar invested in
agricultural research contributes $20 to the economy.
In his comments
, Dr. Beachy noted that the NIFA reorganization had taken
place with the programs divided into four new institutes (see October 21, 2010, issue
of the ASPB Washington Report
information); NIFA is currently recruiting principal scientists who will
co-lead each institute along with a senior administrator. One take-home message from Dr. Beachy’s
presentation is that there is much more demand for NIFA funding than the
available resources will support: for example, the climate change challenge
area received $815 million in requests but only had $58 million to allocate. He mentioned a desire to broaden the base of
institutions interested in AFRI funding.
Of nearly $4 billion in total grant requests this past fiscal year, $574
million in applications were from non
grant institutions including some of the nation’s most prestigious private
universities and institutions. In fact,
over 500 different institutions applied for AFRI funding in fiscal year 2010,
well beyond the 107 land grant colleges and universities. Finally, Dr. Beachy noted some new
initiatives in which USDA was partnering with other funding agencies, including
joint programs with NSF in phenomics in plants and hydrological modeling, with
NSF and the National Institutes of Health in systems approaches to plant and
microbial biology and in genomics and phenomics; and with NSF in education
initiatives to target middle school students and teachers.
During the discussion that followed, PCAST co-chair John P.
Holdren, who is assistant to the President for science and technology and director
of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) within EOP, said that
there’s "a whole new world for research at USDA
” and called the initiatives as "impressive
as could be
One PCAST member asked whether there was a prospect of full
indirect cost recovery on USDA grants.
In addition to suggesting that this was unlikely at present, Dr. Woteki
pointed out that if indirects were raised, funding for USDA R&D would have
to increase substantially just to keep pace with the current support for direct
In addition to the participation of Woteki and Beachy, nearly
all of the 13 public comments offered during the meeting were made in support
of research investments at USDA and NSF.
In its comments
, ASPB noted that "One of the most effective ways to
invest in the future and address urgent needs in food, health, energy, and environment
is by increasing support for competitive grants and especially those at USDA
.” And CropLife America said that "federal funding for food and agricultural
research, extension and education represents a top national priority and a
necessary long-term national commitment
, AFRI Coalition, Agronomy/Crop/Soil
Science Societies, American Dietetic Association, American Meat Institute, American
Veterinary Medical Assocation, Biotechnology Industry Organization, CropLife
, Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology
of Animal Science Societies
, Institute of Food Technologists, National
Coalition for Food and Agriculture Research.
, who has been in place as NSF director for
about three months, focused on some of the big initiatives at NSF, including
basic research for market viability; the pipeline in science, technology,
engineering, and mathematics (STEM) talent; U.S. leadership in STEM fields; and
interdisciplinary opportunities for discovery.
He noted that the United States devotes about 35.5% of the world’s
investment in R&D, but other countries are noticeably increasing their
investments and have surpassed the United States in the percentage of GDP spent
on R&D. Suresh discussed troubling
statistics on the participation of underrepresented minorities and women in
their pursuit of scientific careers. He
also cited the challenges posed by increasing opportunities for international
scholars to pursue training and careers in countries around the world.
PCAST is co-chaired
by John P. Holdren, assistant to the
President for science and technology and director of the Office of Science and
Technology Policy (OSTP) within EOP, and Eric S. Lander, director of the Broad
Institute of MIT and Harvard, professor of biology at MIT, and professor of
systems biology at Harvard Medical School.