Federal investment in research and development represents the vital feedstock for innovation in the U.S. economy. Robust research funding is needed if we are to better understand and craft solutions to pressing national issues, including climate change, sustainable fisheries and appropriate use of nanotechnology.

But while the President’s FY 2008  budget proposal would increase funding for three key physical science agencies -- the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the Department of Energy’s Office of Science -- federal science spending overall would decrease for the fourth year in a row.

Defense programs, space missions and the three key physical science agencies account for the lion’s share of the proposed FY 2008 budget’s 1.4% increase (to $143 billion) in federal research and development funding.

The three agencies have been singled out as part of the American Competitiveness Initiative, introduced by U.S. President George W. Bush in his 2006 State of the Union address. But according to a new report by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, most of the budget’s R&D spending goes toward the development of weapon systems and spacecraft. Even the budget bumps for ACI agencies would not be enough to keep the federal investment in basic and applied research from falling by 2% in 2008, the report concludes.

Under the proposed budget, federal research funding in inflation-adjusted dollars would fall to 7.4% below the 2004 funding level. Federal research investment as a share of the U.S. economy is in a “free fall,