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The Stimulus, UW, and Washington State

Xconomy Seattle — 

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA, or “the stimulus”) totaled approximately $787 billion. Of this, approximately $21.5 billion (2.7 percent) was for the support of R&D—$18 billion for the conduct of research and $3.5 billion for facilities and equipment.

Why R&D as part of the stimulus? Because it employs people (that’s what we do with federal research grant funding), but more importantly, because it lays the foundation for America’s world leadership. Consider my own field, computer science: just about every sector of the information technology industry can trace its roots to innovations arising from federally-sponsored research. The challenges that our nation faces today—in information technology, energy, health care, transportation, and other fields – will only be surmounted with a vigorous program of R&D.

ARRA R&D funding was distributed across the full spectrum of federal science agencies. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) received the lion’s share: $10.4 billion. The National Science Foundation (NSF) was next, at $2.9 billion, followed by the Department of Energy (DoE), at $2.4 billion, and others. Awards are only just beginning to be made—quality is ensured through a highly competitive peer-reviewed proposal process that inserts some unavoidable delay in the loop.

So, how’s it going? NIH is the only agency with an easily accessible database of ARRA R&D awards. As The Seattle Times recently reported, the University of Washington currently is tied with the University of Michigan for the largest dollar value of first-year ARRA R&D awards from NIH: $99 million. (Most research awards extend over multiple years, but the NIH database reports only the first year of funding.)

It’s worth reflecting on how remarkable this is. Here are the numbers for a dozen top-ranked institutions nationally:

First-Year NIH ARRA Research Funding for
12 Universities With Top Research Medical Schools
As of 10/5/2009

University of Washington $99 million
University of Michigan $99 million
University of Pennsylvania $94 million
Harvard University $88 million
Johns Hopkins University $88 million
Duke University $81 million
Washington University in St. Louis $74 million
UCLA $67 million
Yale University $65 million
Columbia University $65 million
University of California, San Francisco $62 million
Stanford University $58 million

Annually for several decades, the University of Washington has ranked among the top few institutions in the nation in federal research obligations—research at UW brings $1 billion to the state annually, employing thousands and enriching the education of thousands more. This NIH ARRA research award performance is consistent. However, despite this extraordinary performance, lack of institutional diversity hurts Washington State overall. Our state has 385 NIH ARRA research awards: 241 to UW, 48 to the Hutch, 21 to Seattle Childrens, and a total of 75 to all other organizations. California, by contrast, has received 1,708 awards; Massachusetts 1,226; New York 1,136; Pennsylvania 807; Texas 668; North Carolina 556; Illinois 502; Maryland 476; Ohio 449; Michigan 395.

What’s the bottom line? America’s competitiveness, and Washington State’s competitiveness, will be dramatically enhanced by R&D funds awarded as part of the stimulus. Our ability to tackle society’s grand challenges depends on it.