The United States of America

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The US research landscape

The USA is and has been the leading country with regard to research, development and innovation. The overall expenditure for RTD rose, according to numbers of the National Science Foundation (NSF) from 2009, to approx. 400 Billion USD, equaling approx. 2,88 % of the national GDP. The biggest part of the research budget comes with 71,9 % (2009) from the Industry.
As opposed to other countries, the U.S. does not have a federal ministry (in the US terminology department) for science and research nor does it have a determined single research budget. The diverse activities of the different departments and other federal agencies are, however, formally coordinated through four bodies in particular: the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) in the White House, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) as well as the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST).

The U.S. research landscape is due to a missing single research and innovation department, quite diverse. On the federal level, science policy and research funding are covered by a broad spectrum of public departments, agencies, organizations and committees. Departments with the biggest budget dedicated to R&D are the Department of Defense (DoD), the Department of Health & Human Services (DoHHS), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Department of Energy (DoE). Further, the following federal agencies play among others a prominent role in the context of the R&D funding:

  • National Science Foundation – NSF
  • Laboritories of the National Instititute of Standards and Technology – NIST
  • National Institutes of Health – NIH
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – NOAA
  • Department of Homeland Security – DHS
  • Environmental Protection Agency – EPA
  • United States Geological Survey – USGS
  • Department of Transportation – DOT.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) plays an important role as a non-governmental organization. It is the biggest science organization in the U.S. that covers several areas and disciplines and represents the interest of the science community vis-á-vis the government and the congress. The strengths of the US-research system are manifold, ranging from among others bio- and agricultural sciences or energy over to excellent basic research, ICT or security research. An initiative of very high relevance and therefore a focus area is the extensive initiative, “National Nanotechnology Initiative“ (NNI). It has been launched in 2000 and disposes over a budget of 1,8 Billion USD. The NNI subsumes the results of all 25 nano-technical institutes all over the USA. Focus areas are among others fundamental Nanoscale Phenomena and Processes, Nanomaterials, Nanoscale Devices and Systems, Instrumentation Research, Metrology, and Standards for Nanotechnology and Nano-manufacturing. In the area of health research, the Obama administration heavily stressed the importance of health research. Topics and focus areas are e.g. neurological research, Alzheimer, Lung- and cancer research, Asthma, antimicrobial resistance, adiposities, chronic diseases and food security.

EU-US cooperation in research und innovation

The research and innovation priorities on the US side to a large extent resemble those on the European side. In order to avoid duplication and be able to tackle the most pressing global challenges, there are - on different levels – a lot of bi- and multilateral efforts for a coordinated joint research and development cooperation. The USA is a very important partner for the European Union, especially in the area of RTD. The EU-US Science and Technology Agreement (S&T Agreement), that has officially been signed in 1998 and since then has been renewed twice for a duration of five years, provides the legal basis for EU-US joint research. Areas of cooperation that have been agreed upon from both sides, the EU and the US, are Marine and Arctic Research, Health Research, Transport Research as well as , Nanotechnologies, Materials and new Production Technologies (NMP). Efforts are made to launch joint or coordinated calls in order to boost the cooperation in these fields. Horizon 2020 (2014 – 2020), the European Union’s framework program on research and innovation, offers many opportunities for cooperation with US researchers, particularly in the collaborative projects but also in the ERC Grants and the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions. With the USA as an industrialised country, the main reasons for pursuing joint projects is to increase the competitiveness, to tackle global societal challenges though common innovation solution and to develop enabling technologies.

US partners can take part in many parts of Horizon 2020, however, in general with own financial contribution. They are eligible for funding if

  • there is specific provision in the call text
  • provided for under a bilateral scientific and technological agreement or any other arrangement (there is a specific mutual arrangement with the National Institutes of Health allowing US partners to be eligible for funding in all topics of the programme area “Health, demographic change and well-being”
  • the participation is deemed essential for carrying out the action (case by case assessment regarding outstanding competence/expertise, access to research infrastructure, etc.)

These general rules have not changed for US participants in comparison to FP7 (2007 – 2013) in which US partners have participated more than 450 times in EU research projects. US researchers have been particularly successful in ERC Grants, Marie Curie Actions and the thematic areas Health, Information and Communication Technologies as well as ICT + Food, Agriculture, Fisheries and Biotechnology.


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Further, in order to develop the EU-US RTD cooperation, the European Commission financially supports the BILAT USA 2.0 project. The project involves EU and US stakeholders and partners and through different activities the STI partnerships are enhanced and boosted. The project’s activities range from analyses on the status-quo of transatlantic R&I cooperation, awareness raising activities about research programs for EU and U.S. researchers & scientists as well as bringing researchers together to enhance their cooperation. Two large conferences dealing with framework conditions for EU-U.S. cooperation in research and innovation are going to support the policy dialogue between key policy makers.

For more information visit: www.BILAT USA 2.0

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