The US Government has been tracking R&D spending since 1950. It’s one of many metrics for measuring US economic health. R&D is forward looking. Generally, investing in research and development shows benefits some years in the future. Certainly, things like advanced lithium batteries and cellphones that act as Internet terminals would not be possible without significant R&D efforts.
In addition to measuring total R&D expenditures, there is a category which measures the Federal portion of the R&D total. The estimated total R&D expenditures was $247B in the year 2000 (these figures are only updated every ten years). The Federal portion of R&D for that year was $65B or 25%. That’s a pretty big number.
And here’s the problem with it. Who decides what “We The People” are going to spend money on? Not you or me, that’s for sure. And of the $65B, the DOE makes up about $9B in it’s direct budget. Not including the majority of their grant programs which are matching fund awards. That means that you have to have an equal number of dollars from other sources to get the grant money. So, for example, Clemson University’s Wind Turbine Gearbox Testing program at $97M was funded with $45M from the DOE and the balance from other sources. Other sources, by the way, who will not be able to spend those dollars on other pursuits.
How much of the $65B in Federal R&D expenditures will go to assist industry with development of relevant technology? How do we decide which technologies are relevant? I think 3D memory technology, both rotating and static, are incredibly important and judging from the $30B+ industry that was created by the hard disk drive, funding work in this area might be very strategic for the US economy. The US is still, amazingly, a major force in the disk drive industry world wide. And the disk drive industry frequently trickles technology into other areas of the economy, such as electric motor drives.
How much will be spent in matching programs? This might be important to understand in the context that matching programs mean that more of the total R&D money available will be directed by government decision making processes. Some of which are questionable at best.
In uncertain economic times, the investment in R&D and new product development can be one of the first things to go. These efforts are generally considered risk, and we all become risk averse when there is a lack of confidence in the current economic situation.
This is not the time for US industries to slow their efforts, and Federal R&D policy is certainly not a headline news topic or widely discussed, which maybe it should be. But if we are to see our major industries grow, then this is a subject we must pay attention to.
Currently the DOE and the Federal government have skewed the outcome with Federally administered programs, in favor of Wind and Solar technologies which are clearly not cost effective, and based on recent stories in the news, not nearly as reliable as claimed. If the Federal Stimulus has allocated Billions of dollars to “Green Technology” projects, what’s left? Everyone is trying to “cash in” on the Federal Stimulus money that has been parceled to the individual States for these purposes. I think the unintended consequence is that far less money will get spent in areas where it would be more productive.