2001 Wisconsin Avenue, N.W.
Telephone: (202) 334-2934
The Honorable John H. Gibbons
Assistant to the President for Science and Technology
Office of Science and Technology Policy
Old Executive Office Building, Room 424
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Dr. Gibbons:
At the request of Dr. Fenton Carey, Executive Director of the
National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) Transportation
R&D Committee, the National Research Council, acting through
the Transportation Research Board (TRB), convened the Committee
on the Federal Transportation R&D Strategic Planning Process.
The charge to the TRB study committee was to review the transportation
science and technology (S&T) strategy being developed under
the auspices of the NSTC Transportation R&D Committee by the
Transportation S&T Strategy Team. The 14 members of the TRB
study committee (see Attachment 1) met in Washington, D.C., on
May 14-16, 1997. During the open sessions of the meeting, the
committee heard presentations on the objectives, development,
and proposed implementation of the strategy, and discussed these
topics with members of the Transportation S&T Strategy Team
and with representatives of the U.S. Department of Transportation
(DOT) and other federal agencies involved in transportation R&D.
(A list of guests who attended the committee meeting is provided
in Attachment 2.) The committee then met in executive session
to deliberate on what it had learned and to develop this report.
Because the transportation S&T strategic planning initiative
is in its early stages, the committee's review focused on the
nature of the strategic planning process, possible mechanisms
for enhancing its effectiveness, and proposed approaches to implementing
the strategy. The committee did not assess in detail the technical
content of the transportation S&T strategy document developed
by the Transportation S&T Strategy Team, in particular the
strategic partnership initiatives and the enabling research agenda.
The committee did note, however, that, contrary to expectations
for a document identifying specific R&D initiatives, the strategy
does not currently include information on schedules and costs
As a result of its review and deliberations, the TRB study committee
offers four major recommendations that address (1) sustaining
and strengthening the strategic planning process, (2) strengthening
the strategy, (3) implementing the strategy, and (4) developing
a strategic plan for transportation R&D within DOT. Further
detail on the observations and analysis behind these recommendations
is provided in Appendix A. Appendix B is a glossary defining
some of the terms used in this report.
Recommendation 1. The transportation S&T strategic planning
process should be sustained and strengthened.
The emerging transportation S&T strategy offers the potential
for ensuring cost-effective R&D focused on the nation's future
transportation needs. At a time when federal R&D budgets
are under pressure, a coordinated approach to R&D such as
that proposed in the strategy, and related priorities (see 2a
below) are essential to obtain a higher return on federal R&D
investment. The potential exists to build on the good initial
effort and develop a truly national transportation S&T strategy
with broad constituency involvement and support.
1a. The transportation S&T strategic planning process
should be continued over the long term and institutionalized.
Well-directed effort will be needed to support the current planning
initiative over the next several years, specifically:
1b. The strategic planning process itself-and not just
its implementation (see Recommendation 3)-should be extended to
include participants from industry, academia, state departments
of transportation, users of transportation systems, and others
representing the diverse constituencies in the transportation
community. The involvement of a broad spectrum of participants
is essential to:
1c. Greater emphasis should be placed on the iterative
nature of the strategic planning process, which should include
reviewing previous years' research outcomes, evaluating investment
impacts, and incorporating the results of these activities in
periodic updating of the strategy. Incorporation of feedback
from constituent groups within the transportation community on
the achievements and failures from previous planning cycles should
be an essential part of this effort.
Recommendation 2. The current transportation S&T strategy
should be strengthened in three major ways as the planning process
2a. The proposed R&D activities should be prioritized.
One of the most urgent and important steps to be taken in strengthening
the strategy is to prioritize the proposed R&D activities,
preferably in cooperation with a broad spectrum of constituent
groups (see also 1b above). The committee finds it difficult
to envisage how the strategy can emerge as a useful tool for guiding
federal budget allocations (see 2b below) in the absence of established
priorities. The transportation R&D portfolio should also
be developed further to include schedules and milestones.
2b. The strategy should be explicitly linked to transportation
R&D budget guidance. It is the committee's hope that
the strategy will form the future basis for annual transportation
R&D budget guidance from the Office of Management and Budget
(OMB) and the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to
the modal administrations within DOT and to other federal agencies.
Without such budgetary influence, the strategy cannot survive
as a useful planning tool.
2c. The linkages between the vision of a transportation
system in 2020 and the proposed R&D agenda should be strengthened,
and the role of R&D specific to individual modes should be
better articulated. The vision statement developed by
the NSTC Transportation R&D Committee calls for "a sustainable
and seamless intermodal transportation system that effectively
ties America together and links it to the world. This system
will help citizens and businesses satisfy their needs by providing
efficient, safe, secure, and environmentally friendly transportation
of people and goods. It will result from a strengthened partnership
among government, academia, and the private sector focused on
effective management and renewal of existing infrastructure, strategic
deployment of new technologies and infrastructure, and on R&D
which supports each of these." The pathways from the present
to the vision of the future are not apparent to the reader of
the strategy document. In addition, R&D specific to individual
modes should be more clearly identified as a component of the
transportation R&D portfolio to avoid possible confusion,
not only within DOT, but also at OSTP and OMB. Examples of ways
in which the strategy might be strengthened and better linked
to future transportation needs include increased emphasis on such
topics as freight transportation to improve U.S. competitiveness
worldwide; monitoring, repair, and life extension of the nation's
aging infrastructure; integration of environmental and other goals;
and intermodal requirements.
Recommendation 3. The implementation steps identified in the
transportation S&T strategy, including a significant broadening
of constituency participation, should be taken now to realize
the most important benefits of a coordinated approach to R&D.
Development of the transportation S&T strategy has already
resulted in benefits from increased communication among federal
research managers. Nonetheless, the committee considers that
the most important benefits of the strategy will come from its
implementation-particularly through impacts on federal R&D
funding allocations (see 2b above)-rather than from the planning
process per se. Details regarding the assignment of goals, tasks,
schedules, and resources to federal agencies and to the modal
administrations within DOT need to be worked out and implemented.
Although the committee did not review the proposed strategic
partnership initiatives in depth, it agreed that the concept
of such broad partnerships is a major strength of the strategy.
In particular, the implementation of a variety of strategic partnerships
with different combinations of participants offers the potential
to expand and diversify the transportation research base by involving
all the major constituent groups in the different phases of technological
innovation. (See also 1a and 1b above.)
As with the strategic planning process, the full advantages of
strategy implementation will be realized only if the diverse constituencies
of the transportation industry are included. There needs to be
increased recognition of the fact that most of the nation's transportation
assets-both vehicles and infrastructure-are owned and operated
by state, municipal, or private groups and individuals, not by
the federal government. Implementation of an appropriate set
of partnership initiatives, in collaboration with industry, academia,
state departments of transportation, and other constituent groups,
offers the possibility of developing and implementing new technologies
in an expeditious manner and evaluating the overall outcomes of
R&D for the transportation system.
Recommendation 4. DOT should develop its own integrated strategic
plan for transportation R&D, including budget authority and
appropriate management authority and responsibility at the agency
DOT's role as a leader in the transportation S&T strategic
planning process would be enhanced if the agency had its own coordinated
DOT-wide R&D agenda, linked to the nation's future transportation
requirements. The committee therefore urges DOT to develop an
integrated department-wide R&D strategic plan that pays attention
to the development of an intermodal transportation system, but
does not exclude programs specific to individual modes.
If DOT is to lead by example and demonstrate the advantages of
an integrated transportation R&D strategic plan, the support
of senior DOT management across the modal administrations is essential.
A department-wide R&D strategic plan could result in increased
communication, cooperation, and coordination among modal administrations
and mutual benefits for their specific missions. Organizational
changes, especially regarding budget and program authority, will
probably be needed if such an integrated DOT-wide R&D strategic
plan is to be implemented.
Summary and Conclusion
Among the general and specific recommendations and observations
resulting from the committee's review and deliberations, two major
The committee is pleased to have had the opportunity to provide
feedback on the transportation S&T strategy at a sufficiently
early stage for changes to be integrated as the strategy evolves,
and hopes that its comments and recommendations prove useful.
The committee would be receptive to continuing its involvement
in the current initiative and would welcome the opportunity to
discuss with you, members of the NSTC, Dr. Carey, or others its
possible future role in support of the NSTC transportation R&D
strategic planning process.
H. Norman Abramson
Chair, Committee on the Federal Transportation R&D Strategic Planning Process