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Science and Technology in America's Recovery

Pilot Program to Assess the Impacts of Research Funding

The passage of the ARRA means that people are asking important questions about the impact of federal investments in science, particularly with respect to job creation and economic growth. While it is important for universities and science agencies to be able to respond to these questions in a quick and credible fashion, many more questions are also likely, given the new Administration's interest in the role of science and technology in the economy, as well as its goal to achieve transparency in government processes.

The current assessment framework is fragmented because of the many rules, processes and procedures governing the process whereby federal funds are received and disbursed. However, the new Administration is seeking a much more detailed analysis that flows from initial funds allocation through the detailed impacts of employment, purchases, intellectual property creation, new business creation and follow-on opportunities. This is a very complex process but it had already been identified as a goal by the National Science and Technology Council's Subcommittee on the Science of Science Policy in their recent Roadmap publication in Science Magazine.

The implementation of ARRA provides an important opportunity for agencies to go beyond the current aggregate collection of data from the budget pages of proposals and final reports, and think very differently about accountability, partnerships with institutions, and shared information. Academic institutions could take a proactive approach to developing a data infrastructure that could provide systematic information about such questions as:
  1. What are the characteristics of graduate and undergraduate students supported by federal science funds and where do they get jobs?
  2. What is the full inventory of patents, innovations and creative activities influenced by science investments?
  3. What are the mechanisms whereby knowledge is created and how does it contribute to both economic and social outcomes?
There are substantial existing investments that could be leveraged to answer key questions. Federal agencies already collect data on federal investments at the award, individual, and institutional level for the purposes of managing awards. Academic institutions already collect data on all individuals working on projects in their financial and human resources systems. Academic researchers have collected large bodies of data on such scientific and innovation outcomes as citations, patents, business startups and IPOs . And there is a deep body of knowledge about measures of job creation and the associated earnings drawn from the experience of Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics program at the Census Bureau. Finally, there has been substantial investment in visualization and other tools that convey complex information about science to a lay audience.

Developing such an infrastructure is a daunting task. However, the existence of these separate investments motivates the proposed pilot approach to examine the feasibility of developing a data infrastructure to examine the impact of science funding and disseminating the information to the public.