Federal R&D Increased 3% Between Fiscal Years 2016 and 2017

National Science Foundation


Federal obligations for basic research remained stable, while obligations for applied research declined slightly

Federal obligations for research and development (R&D) totaled an estimated $118.3 billion in Fiscal Year (FY) 2017, an increase of 2.8 percent from total federal R&D obligations in FY2016.

Total obligations for research declined 0.3 percent to $66.5 billion in FY2017. Data are from the most recent Survey of Federal Funds for Research and Development, sponsored by the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics within the National Science Foundation (NSF). Data for FY2016 are actual amounts, and the FY2017 data are preliminary.

In FY2017, obligations for research accounted for 56 percent of all federal R&D obligations. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) accounted for 48 percent of federal research obligations, the Department of Energy (DOE) for 15 percent, the Department of Defense (DOD) for 11 percent, and NSF for 9 percent. Agency shares of total research obligations in FY2017 were similar to those in FY2016.

Federal obligations for basic research remained stable between FY2016 and FY2017, increasing 0.1 percent to $32.3 billion. The largest recipients of federal obligations for basic research were universities and colleges, receiving 48.5 percent of the total.

Six agencies accounted for 97.5 percent of the basic research obligations in FY2017:

  • HHS, 49 percent.
  • NSF, 15 percent.
  • DOE, 14 percent.
  • NASA, 9 percent.
  • DOD, 7 percent.
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), 3 percent.

Federal obligations for applied research decreased 0.8 percent between FY2016 and FY2017 to $34.2 billion. Similar to basic research funding, universities and colleges accounted for the largest share of applied research obligations, increasing by 0.5 percent from FY2016.

HHS funded 48 percent of all federal obligations for applied research in FY2017, while DOE funded 16 percent, DOD 15 percent, USDA 4 percent, NASA 3 percent and NSF 2 percent.

Life sciences accounted for 48 percent of the $66.5 billion total research obligations in FY2017, and engineering accounted for 19 percent. Physical sciences accounted for 9 percent, computer and mathematics for 6 percent, environmental sciences for 6 percent, psychology for 3 percent, and social sciences for 1.7 percent. Other sciences accounted for 6 percent.

Most support for individual fields is provided by one or two agencies. Federal obligations from HHS made up 84 percent of total obligations for the life sciences. The USDA followed with 6 percent.

Life sciences made up the largest share of federal research obligations, highly concentrated in funding from HHS. Other fields show similar patterns of federal investment. For example, in FY2017, the share of obligations for computer science and mathematics research was 35 percent from DOD, 28 percent from DOE and 26 percent from NSF. Obligations for engineering came largely from DOE with 37 percent, followed by DOD with 25 percent. Support for the physical sciences came largely from DOE (36 percent), NASA (21 percent) and NSF (16 percent).

Obligations for experimental development increased by 7 percent, to $51.8 billion in FY2017. Although DOD's share of obligations for research constituted about 11 percent of total federal research obligations in FY2016, the DOD share of obligations for experimental development was 78 percent. FY2017 estimated obligations show similar amounts for DOD, with 11 percent of all research obligations, but 74 percent of all experimental development obligations. NASA's share of obligations to experimental development was 18 percent in FY2017.

EurekAlert!, the online, global news service operated by AAAS, the science society: https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2018-08/nsf-fro_2082418.php