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Chapter 1. An Ideal Research Enterprise

Organized research in the U.S. involves billions of federal and private dollars and dozens of agencies. It also comprises large numbers of research institutions and individual investigators in a complex set of relationships with funding organizations and with one another. This report refers to that combination of investigators, sponsoring organizations, and research institutions as the research enterprise. Any effort to move that enterprise toward an ideal future demands a solid understanding of its current make-up and operation. This report concentrates primarily on the federally funded portion of this enterprise, but necessarily includes attention to broader issues as well.

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. The research enterprise encompasses three main kinds of work-basic research, applied research, and development activities, collectively referred to as research and development or R&D.

The FY2003 federal budget describes basic research as "systematic study directed towards gaining greater knowledge or understanding of the fundamental aspects of phenomena and of observable facts without specific applications towards processes or products in mind." Applied research is "systematic study to gain knowledge or understanding necessary to determine the means by which a recognized and specific need may be met." Development is "systematic application of knowledge toward the production of useful materials, devices, and systems or methods, including design, and development and improvement of prototypes and new processes to meet specific requirements." Of all planned federal R&D spending for FY2003, about 23 percent will go to basic research, another 23 percent to applied research, and the remaining 54 percent to development and research facilities.