Can you imagine spending a penny on a federal research study to determine the importance federal research funding? How about spending $375,000?

Well that’s exactly what the National Science Foundation (NSF) has done and has been revealed to the US taxpayer by Senator Rand Paul in the latest issue of The Waste Report.


It seems kind of circular, spending $375,000 on a 2-year study to determine what effects the availability of federal funding for research has on scientists’ career choices and scientific outcomes. One can only imagine what the findings will be…

The grant synopsis reads in part:

Young life science researchers… may elect to begin their careers by either entering academia, or by joining biotechnology or pharmaceutical firms…career choice is also affected by external constraints such as the availability of, and competition for, [federal] research funding. [1]

Though the Waste Report has reported on federal research shenanigans like how to have the perfect first date and the gambling habits of Ugandans (and many more), is it actually budget unpredictability that is putting critical research in jeopardy? Just how volatile is federal funding for research?

We decided to look and what we found makes funding this project all the more unnecessary. Looking at federal research funding, adjusted for inflation, since the year 2000 for NSF, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and overall, we found that since 2000, funding has increased 197%, 198% and 176% respectively. Further, we found that on average, funding for scientific research in these areas increased, again in real terms, 7.23 %, 7.3%, and 6.7% per year.[2]

But since, “Historically the amount of public research funding has changed over time reflecting congressional priorities…” and this project hopes to identify,reforms that create more certainty in the budget allocation process could generate greater social benefits at lower costs…” We thought we look even farther back, say 50 years, to see just how uncertain federal research funding might be. To find out if there was some real year-to-year volatility we looked at a three and five year moving average.

What we found is, over 50 years, funding for federal research (in real terms) has increased on average about 8.7 percent a year, and the two moving averages both hold within a half a percentage point. Similar results were found for NSF and NIH, which itself saw an average increase of 13.54% and a five year moving average of 12.33%.

In other words, federal research funding does not show uncertainty, in fact it shows stable and constant growth; and it did not take us two years and $375,000 to figure that out.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense…” With an annual budget of $7.5 billion (FY 2016), we are the funding source for approximately 24 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by America’s colleges and universities. In many fields such as mathematics, computer science and the social sciences, NSF is the major source of federal backing.