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NSF, NIH To Measure Federal Science Funding Impact

Reflecting the White House's focus on performance metrics and accountability, a new initiative with an unwieldy name is about to begin measuring the impact of federal investment in the sciences. "Science and Technology for America's Reinvestment: Measuring the EffecT of Research on Innovation, Competitiveness and Science," or STAR METRICS, is a multi-agency venture to monitor how research and development grants affect employment, knowledge generation, and health outcomes. The National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation (NSF) are committing a million dollars to the new program in its first year.

Said NIH Director Francis Collins: "In the short term, we'll know the impact on jobs. In the long term, we'll be able to measure patents, publications, citations, and business start-ups."

Data for the program will come from research institutions that volunteer to participate and the federal agencies that fund them. Information will be gathered from the universities through automated means. The effort promises "minimal or no burden" for the scientists or university administration.

The program has two phases. The first phase will use university administrative records to calculate the employment impact of federal science spending through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and agencies' existing budgets. The second phase will measure the impact of science investment in four areas:

  • Economic growth will be measured through indicators such as patents and business start-ups;
  • Workforce outcomes will be measured by student mobility into the workforce and employment markers;
  • Scientific knowledge will be measured through publications and citations; and
  • Social outcomes will be measured by long-term health and environmental impact of funding.

"It is essential to document with solid evidence the returns our nation is obtaining from its investment in research and development," said John Holdren, assistant to the President for science and technology and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. "STAR METRICS is an important element of doing just that."

STAR METRICS is based on a pilot program that includes seven research institutions, including the University of Texas at Austin, George Mason University, and the California Institute of Technology, among others. Now the program is being extended to more universities. According to program administrators, 60 institutions have already expressed interest in participating.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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