Skip all navigation and go to page content.
S&E Indicators Home  >> Digest Contents  >> U.S. R&D: Federal Portfolio

U.S. R&D: Federal Portfolio

Why is this important?

The distribution of R&D funds by the U.S. federal government provides insight into the nation's broad mission priorities for public expenditures.

Key observations:

Federal R&D budget, by national objectives: FYs 1990–2011



The majority of the federal R&D budget is devoted to defense. About half of the federal nondefense R&D budget is devoted to health and is funded primarily through the National Institutes of Health. In the past 20 years, as a proportion of all nondefense R&D, health and general science accounts have risen the most. The 2009 boost in nondefense, health, and general science accounts was driven by federal stimulus funds.

Federal spending on R&D, by performer: 1990–2011

NOTE: The data for federal government are intramural only.

SEI 2014: R&D Funding by the Federal Government, Chapter 4.


Different institutions bring different perspectives and approaches to R&D. Academic and other nonprofit institutions, which tend to concentrate on basic research, have generally received steadily increasing federal support. Industry, heavily focused on development and applied research, has seen a doubling of federal funding (not adjusting for inflation) since 2001 after a decade of no growth.

Federal R&D funds, by type of work: 1990–2011

SEI 2014: R&D, by Character of Work, Chapter 4.

Type of work

For nearly 20 years, funding of basic and applied research has accounted for at least half of federal funding of R&D.

During the 2000s, federal funding of development activities grew more than federal funding of basic and applied research, driven primarily by federal stimulus funds and reversing the trend seen in the previous decade.

Federal basic and applied research funds, by S&E field: 1990–2011


S&E fields

The life sciences have accounted for about half of the federal research portfolio (basic and applied research) since 2001.

Inflation-adjusted change in federal basic and applied research funds, by S&E field: 2001–11

S&E fields

Over the past decade, federal research funding has varied little in most S&E fields. The environmental sciences saw the largest decline in federal research dollars. Starting from a low base and propelled by psychology, the combined category of social sciences and psychology saw the largest increase.

Next Theme

Bookmark and Share.