The House Science and Technology Committee’s Research and Science Education Subcommittee held hearings last week on ways to increase funding for “high-risk, high-reward” research in the context of the 2010 reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act.
“Three years ago, in the Rising Above the Gathering Storm report, a distinguished National Academies committee recommended that each federal research agency set aside eight percent of its budget for ‘high-risk, high-payoff’ research. Not long after that, the NSB recommended that the National Science Foundation establish a ‘transformative’ research initiative,” stated Subcommittee Chairman Daniel Lipinski (D-IL). “Both of those reports reflected a growing consensus in the research community that the peer-review system had become too conservative in its funding decisions and even the brightest and most creative scientists and engineers are not bothering to submit more ambitious proposals.”
COMPETES increased funding for basic research in the non biomedical sciences and created ARPA-E, a high-risk, high-reward energy focused research program within the Department of Energy (DOE). In preparation for the COMPETES reauthorization, the Committee is exploring policy options for integrating more high-risk, high-reward research into NSF’s and other science agencies’ basic research portfolios.
Subcommittee members discussed recommendations from the 2008 American Academy of Arts and Sciences report, “Advancing Research in Science and Engineering: Investing in Early-Career Scientist and High-Risk, High-Reward Research (ARISE).”
The ARISE report discusses two approaches to funding: 1) creating targeted programs or grant mechanisms, or 2) systemic reform of the current peer-review process. The first approach would require federal agencies or Congress to determine the amount of money to allocate for high-risk, high-reward research. The second approach would change the composition of or charge to review panels.