The Federal Trough

When it comes to finding funding for scientific research in the United States, most people think first about the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH)--and for good reason. NIH sponsors a huge amount of research into science related to human health and disease, and NSF supports more researchers in basic science than anyone else.

But if you end your search for federal research support at NIH and NSF, you'll be overlooking a lot of money. The Department of Energy (DOE), to take one example, has a 2002 science and technology budget of $3.2 billion. DOE's science and technology portfolio is diverse; in 2002 DOE will spend almost $20 million on Genomes to Life (see the related article on GrantsNet), $443 million for biological and environmental research, and $166 million for scientific computing research. Other parts of DOE's budget also go to research--though mostly via cooperative agreements with industry.

Next Wave wants scientists--especially young scientists--to be able to do the work they want to do. Let's face it: Scientific youngsters need nourishment. So, as the second installment of The Toolkit, we present The Federal Trough, the Web's most comprehensive list of U.S. federal funding sources for scientific research. Bon appetit!

Department of Agriculture

This page lists all USDA grants, including some--such as community development grants, that are unlikely to be of interest to scientists. So we've also included links to some specific programs likely to be of interest to scientists.

USDA currently spends about $1.7 billion in research related to the nation's food, fiber and natural resources. Of this amount, $120 million is spent on peer-reviewed, merit-based research grants via USDA's National Research Initiative ( NRI) program. The rest (about $1.6 billion) is spent on non-competitive, intramural research--though some of this makes its way to land-grant universities via cooperative agreements.

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The National Research Initiative (NRI) is, in effect, the National Institute's of Health for non-human forms of life that we intend to eat or wear. In other words it's USDA's competitive, peer-reviewed grants program. About $120 million will be granted via NRI in 2002, making NRI the nation's biggest supporter of food, fiber, and natural-resources research. Areas supported include agricultural systems science (including sustainability issues); agriculture-related environmental issues; plant and animal genomics (see the related article on GrantsNet; food safety and nutrition (including "nutriceuticals" and genetic nutrition enhancement); animal and plant diseases; entomology, nematology, soil biology, and other areas of biology related to food production, and more.

The National Research Council (NRC) recently issued a report on the NRI program. They wrote that NRI is vital, but languishing. They noted that the number of applications was falling, and that "key stakeholders" were losing faith in the program. One criticism they made was of USDA administrators' apparent preference for noncompetitive intramural programs over competitive grants, despite evidence showing that competitive programs are more productive. The NRC committee proposed a number of reforms aimed at revitalizing the program, including an increase in funding levels. The Bush Administration seems to have taken this to heart: The new budget includes an increase of about 14% in the NRI program, while other research programs are being cut.

NRI supports regular research grants, new-faculty awards, and post-doctoral fellowships. Research grants are open to citizens of all nationalities.

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Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education

Research funded under the SARE program is very applied, and grants are typically small. Grants are often made to small non-profits, or even to individuals lacking institutional affiliation, but universities can also qualify. Recent projects have investigated whether potatoes grow better in soil or under a layer of compost, and how small farmers can reduce their reliance on tractors and other expensive equipment.

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Department of Defense

DOD will spend about $6 billion in 2002 on basic and applied research.

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency

DARPA is the stuff of legends, of science fiction. It may be the only federal agency to be widely imitated by the private sector. DARPA is in some way responsible for a measurable fraction of all the technological developments of the last couple of decades. Their list of current "Special Focus Area" solicitations makes for provocative reading: Morphing Aircraft Structures (" design, build, and demonstrate a seamless, aerodynamically efficient, aerial vehicle capable of radical shape change"); Bio-Optic Synthetic Systems; Brain Machine Interfaces; Metabolic Engineering for Cellular Stasis; Continuous Assisted Performance. Needless to say, if you have ethical objections to participating in military research, this isn't the program for you.

It is, however, the program for quite a few researchers. DARPA will spend $120 million in 2002 on research, including $65 million on what it calls "Bio/Info/Micro Sciences."

DARPA supports a lot of research, but it also gets a lot of proposals. DARPA receives "some tens of meters" of proposal materials each year. About one third of "white papers" (10-page pre-proposals suggested by DARPA) submitted result in requests for full proposals. About one-third of those full proposals get funded--so DARPA's funding rate is only slightly better than 10%.

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Air Force Office of Science Research

In 2000 AFOSR sponsored $253 million each year in scientific research, including grants to 363 academic institutions as well as contracts with industry and cooperative agreements. They also manage programs from DARPA and other parts of DOD. All of the research is in areas of science that are directly relevant to national defense, but some of it is pretty basic. You don't have to be interested in weapons systems to get a grant from these guys; your research just has to have a potential application in national defense.

AFOSR typically has one request for proposals (called "broad agency announcements" (BAAs) active, as well as one or two "specialized" BAA's and several training programs. AFOSR has a special affection for collaborative projects, especially collaboration between academia and industry. They also like to fund research at historically minority colleges and universities. Projects that utilize existing AFOSR facilities also have an advantage.

Major categories of research interest include aerospace, materials science, various areas of applied physics, electronics, chemistry--especially chemistry that relates to materials science--various areas of neuroscience, applied math, and what they call "Space Science."

Scientists are encouraged to contact the appropriate program manager (listed on the Web site) for more detailed information about AFOSR's particular interests; sometimes researchers will be asked to submit a short preliminary proposal--which, incidentally, is always an option with AFOSR. Here and elsewhere, a pre-proposal can be a great time-saver.

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Office of Congressionally Directed Medical Research

Who would have guessed that the US Army was a major sponsor of breast-cancer research? In fact, they're number two in the U.S., behind NIH's National Cancer Institute. In 2001 OCDMR sponsored more than $300 million in medical research, including breast cancer, ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, and neurofibromatosis. They also sponsor health-disparities research--research on diseases that preferentially effect minority populations (see the related article on GrantsNet).

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Army Medical Research and Materiel Command

An oft-overlooked potential source of funds for infectious-disease research, AMRMC was also supporting bioterrorism research when bioterrorism research wasn't cool--though in the pre-September-11 world it was known as "chemical and biological defense" and the focus was on more conventional enemies. They also fund research related to treating wounds and diseases in the field and in improving the performance of soldiers--in the best sci-fi tradition, much like DARPA.

AMRMC's infectious disease research focuses on diseases of importance for soldiers in the field: malaria, dengue, scrub typhus, Japanese encephalitis, diarrhea, hepatitis, hantavirus, leishmaniasis, meningococcal disease, HIV and, in their words, "infection by sundry exotic lethal and/or hemorrhagic fever viruses."

Like the other military research offices, AMRMC typically has one open "broad agency announcement" (BAA) , as well as one or more "specialized" BAAs. Those specialized BAAs can be hard to track down, but here's a link to the "broad" BAA.

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Army Research Laboratory

"America's Laboratory for The Army ... Providing Materiel Readiness Through Innovative Technology"

The army's main Intramural research laboratory, ARL collaborates mostly with businesses and focuses on applied research. Most of the army's extramural funding and university programs are administered through the Army Research Office.

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Army Research Office

The army's main supporter of university science and engineering research, ARO is also the home of some of the Web's most incomprehensible techno/administrative babble: "ARO ... is the only Army organization that transcends all of its mission areas....The laser, for example, was invented as a direct consequence of the first stimulated demonstration of radiation emission." Huh?

Despite the incoherence of their mission statement, ARO really does speak science. ARO is a serious science-funding organization, and in contrast to, e.g., ARL, ARO doesn't limit itself to research with explicitly military objectives. ARO's research budget is about $50 million per year, with some fraction of that (5% to 10% percent, typically) reserved for congressional earmarks.

Currently ARO has two open BAAs (broad area announcements)--the general one (which, incidentally, is shared with ARL) and one directed towards research infrastructure at "historically black colleges and universities and minority institutions."

The ARO part of the general BAA calls for proposals in several disciplinary areas: chemistry, electronics, environmental sciences, life sciences, materials science, mathematical and computer sciences, "mechanical sciences," and physics. Areas of interest within these disciplines are very similar to NSF's, though the focus in some cases is a bit more applied. Interested scientists are encouraged to contact the appropriate TPOC (technical point of contact--listed on the BAA); pre-proposals are encouraged.

ARO has a couple of programs that are worth singling out. The Short Term Innovative Research (STIR) program provides $30,000 or less for exploration of innovative ideas. The most interesting thing about this award is the rapid time frame: All work must be completed within 6 months of the award.

ARO's Young Investigator Program (YIP) provides $50,000 per year for 3 years to scientists in their first 5 years of a tenure-track faculty position in the sciences. A few YIP awardees will be nominated for the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), which will pay $100,000 per year for 5 years.

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Office of Naval Research

Don't be fooled by the name of this Web page ("Corporate Programs Division"); many of these programs are open to university scientists. More later ...

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National Security Agency

The National Security Agency, the federal agency in charge of code-breaking, funds mathematics research, specifically Algebra, Number Theory, Discrete Mathematics, Probability, and Statistics. An explicit connection to cryptography isn't required.

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Defense Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research

DEPSCOR, DoD's version of the government-wide EPSCOR program, funds research in the twenty states that receive the fewest federal research dollars. Application for DEPSCOR money is made via your state's EPSCOR office; state offices often sponsor state-level competitions to determine who will get to compete at the national level. Contact your state's EPSCOR office for more information.

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National Institute of Standards and Technology

Remember the National Bureau of Standards? It's now NIST. NIST funding programs encompass big industry, small business, and academia. NIST supports a few (a very few) academic researchers in areas such as fire safety and precision measurement of fundamental physical constants, but it has, in recent years, been a major funder of materials science. NIST is also the home of a currently underfunded effort to enhance the security of the nation's civilian and commercial IT infrastructure. You can expect that budget to increase in the coming years.

Of particular interest at the moment is the fact that the Secretary of Commerce (NIST is part of the Department of Commerce) has recommended that the NIST Advanced Technology Program (ATP) be opened to academic scientists (see his statement). Although many academic scientists are already involved in ATP, the lead institution on all ATP projects must, at present, be industrial. Unfortunately, even as the administration seeks to open the ATP front door to academic scientists (implementation of the secretary's recommendations isn't certain; it requires new legislative language), it also seeks to slash the program's budget from more than $180 million in 2002 to just over $100 million (in the president's 2003 proposal).

NIST also has a small Materials Science and Engineering Grants program that supports work in polymers, ceramics, metallurgy, and neutron scattering and spectroscopy research at universities and other non-federal institutions. During the last fiscal year (2001), the NIST Materials Science and Engineering Laboratory (MSEL) obligated $5.7 million in university grants. In all, MSEL made 45 such grants, which ranged from $300 to $1.135 million. Thirteen of the grants exceed $100,000; the rest were smaller.

Finally, NIST maintains the NIST Center for Neutron Research (NCNR), which is among the best facilities of its kind in the world. NCNR does a lot of materials research, and the University of Maryland sponsors an outreach program to assist first-time users to come to the NCNR and carry out experiments in close cooperation with NIST scientific staff. Funds of up to $100 per day will be paid to new users to offset travel and subsistence expenses. The maximum number of days is one more than the number of beam days scheduled for the experiment, or five, whichever is the fewer. You can find more details on the University of Maryland Outreach Program here.

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National Science Foundation

The largest supporter of scientific research that isn't directly related to human health. the 2003 NSF research budget will be about $3.7 billion. More later ...

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US Geological Survey

The USGS funds geologic resource mapping and management, including water; earthquake hazard research and reduction.

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