University researchers in pursuit of new funding streams would be wise to track emerging priorities through the White House’s offices of Management and Budget and Science and Technology Policy. These key administrative offices help federal agencies and departments set their R&D budgets by providing annual guidance on science-and-technology priorities for federal investment.
The topic areas for fiscal year 2016 align fairly closely with the FY15 priorities. But certain nuances can be found. By tracking subtle differences from year to year, researchers can get ahead of new focus areas for investment that can lead to new research funding opportunities.
Here’s a quick summary of trends in eight key priority areas:
1. Advanced Manufacturing and Industries of the Future
Nanotechnology, robotics, materials development, cyber-physical systems continue to be priorities. New areas of emphasis include government-industry-university partnerships. Nanotechnology signature initiatives related to solar energy, sensors, nano-informatics and modeling have been dropped.
2. Clean Energy
Manufacturing, electric grid modernization, cutting energy waste/increasing energy efficiency continue as priorities. New are the key objectives in the Climate Action Plan should be given budget priority, unlocking innovation in other clean-energy technologies, reduce fragmentation of transportation R&D and promote cohesive R&D capabilities at the departments of energy, defense and transportation.
3. Earth Observations
This new priority area seeks to align R&D investments with the 2014 National Plan for Civil Earth Observations.
4. Global Climate Change
As in FY15, priorities are to advance the goals of the U.S. Climate Change Research Program. Dropped for FY16 is the emphasis on predicting climate interactions with physical-biological-human systems and impacts in the Arctic with climate in the mid-latitudes. Understanding climate risks and opportunities, risk management
5. Information Technology and High Performance Computing (“Big Data”)
For FY16, agencies are being encouraged to coordinate with the private sector to promote innovation in HPC to support national security, science, and economic competitiveness. As in FY15, priorities are research guided by the Trustworthy Cyberspace Strategic Plan R&D for spectrum use/sharing, Privacy protections for personal data.
6. Innovation in Life Sciences, Biology, and Neuroscience
New for FY16 are priorities on programs to improve mental health and substance abuse outcomes for service members and veterans; combatting antibiotic resistant bacteria; and point-of-care diagnostics. Continued from FY15 are priorities in the National Bioeconomy Blueprint the BRAIN Initiative, as well as the National Strategy for Biosurveillance. Priorities related to the NSTC Interagency Working Group on Neuroscience have been dropped.
7. National and Homeland Security
As in FY15, prioritizing hypersonics, countering weapons of mass destruction, accelerated training techniques, handling large-data sets for mission requirements are key. Dropped from last year’s list is advanced computing.
8. R&D for Informed Policymaking and Management
Same as FY15: natural resource management, focus on user-driven information and tools to ensure science investments directly support decision-making Was in FY15 list, but not in FY16: Social and behavioral science decision tools, disaster resilience, hazard mitigation strategies
Agencies also are encouraged to:
- Identify and pursue “Grand Challenges” (ambitious goals that require advances in science and technology innovation and that support high-risk, high-return research)
- Consider “pull” mechanisms (results-based market incentives designed to overcome market failures, such as incentive prizes and advanced market commitments)
- Pursue international scientific partnerships
- Explain in their budget submissions how they are redirecting available resources from lower-priority areas to science-and-technology activities that address the FY16 priorities and coordinate to prevent duplication
Links for further details: