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Executive Summary

For more than 50 years, the U.S. government has supported and encouraged scientific discovery through grants to researchers in laboratories and educational institutions around the nation. From its modest beginning in the late 1940s, this research enterprise has grown, matured, and evolved into a $112-billion endeavor involving thousands of organizations and investigators representing every scientific discipline and field of knowledge. More than 20 government agencies contribute to federal investments in basic and applied research, development, and supporting equipment and facilities. Total federal R&D spending has increased 11-fold since records began in 1949, rising from $940 million to over $100 billion.

The research enterprise is not only large, complex, and important in its own right, it is also embedded in a political, economic, and social environment that exerts strong influences on research topics and priorities, methods and principles, and opportunities for involvement. Given the size, scope, complexity, diversity and growth of the research enterprise in the U.S., the mechanisms that support research have come under increasing stress and increasing scrutiny. Systems, staff, and processes that were designed to handle smaller, simpler programs are now straining to support new, high-volume, high-cost programs such as those in information technology, bioterrorism, and climate change. At the same time, management and accountability requirements have been strengthened with special emphasis on performance measurement. Given these trends, what knowledge and action are needed to shape the future of grant-supported research? This report offers a vision of the ideal research enterprise and lays out a supporting research and action agenda to help achieve it.