Exploring Federal Funding Avenues for Cutting-Edge Research and Development

Federal research and development are critical to global competitiveness, so Congress is committed to supporting and encouraging both. Federal programs prioritize funding for almost every type of research. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) allocated a little more than $20 billion through 61 research programs. The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) dedicated another $2.5 billion to support research for energy efficiency and climate change mitigation. The U.S. Department of Transportation funds infrastructure research. Other programs provide funding for healthcare, education, water, sustainability and disaster mitigation research, healthcare, social services, technology, military weapons, renewable energy, public safety and more.

Federally funded research projects create strong ecosystems that result in new products and services, new industries, policies, innovation and regulations. The White House recently released a memorandum outlining its research priorities for 2025. The list includes various types of cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, energy and transportation technology research. 

The National Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) program is a major funding support for coordinating cybersecurity-related IT research. For 2024, about $990 million is allocated for cybersecurity-related research to support broad efforts across multiple program sectors. Recent advances in cybersecurity include quantum-resistant encryption to safeguard against threats, enhanced intrusion detection systems that leverage machine learning. Such efforts reflect a strategic focus on foundational security, resilience against emerging threats, and safeguarding critical data.

Another area that receives an abundance of research funding is artificial intelligence (AI). Support is especially strong for AI technologies that benefit society, guarantee safer usage, are developed ethically, and are accessible across different sectors, platforms and networks.

The Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation (EFRI) program currently has $30 million in funding with an application deadline of late February 2024. The program supports projects that focus on merging the fields of biology, engineering and computer science to create living systems capable of processing data to provide insights for understanding brain function, enhancing computational models and developing new computing paradigms. 

Another funding program currently accepting applications is the Collaborations in Artificial Intelligence and Geosciences, which supports innovative uses of AI to advance breakthroughs in addressing geoscience research.  Applications for this funding are due mid-March of this year. 

For public entities interested in capturing research funding, aligning with strategic federal priorities, such as those outlined in the National AI R&D Strategic Plan is crucial. Projects focusing on responsible development, ethical considerations, fairness, transparency and societal benefits will receive favorable attention. Those components should be front and center in the submitted funding request. It is also advisable to consider partnerships involving multi-sector collaboration, including academia, industry and government agencies, because funding competition favors applications with partnerships. It is advisable also to consider the Small Business Innovation Research Program. The objective of this program is to involve small companies in research efforts.

Strategies to reduce emissions and support achieving a net-zero emissions world are attractive for funding support. These include scaling up clean energy, studying ways to stop the deforestation of critical forests, reducing emissions and advancing carbon management technology. Removing carbon dioxide emissions from the atmosphere is a critical objective, so projects that study best practices for carbon dioxide removal are attractive to funders. The IIJA provided $8.2 billion to expand funding for 12 existing research, development, demonstration and deployment programs.

In August 2023, the U.S. Department of Energy allocated $1.2 billion to two commercial-scale direct air capture facilities, one in Texas and the other in Louisiana. These projects, each receiving about $600 million, will be the first of their kind, and both plants will be designed to remove more than 2 million metric tons of CO2 emissions annually. Officials note that the two plants are the first in a future nationwide network of large-scale carbon removal sites.

Additionally, the Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management has announced another $100 million to support states, local governments and public utilities in purchasing products from converted carbon emissions. The program will offset 50% of the costs associated with procuring and using products that demonstrate a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. The BIL provided $5 billion for transportation research and development projects. The program’s first stage will support planning and innovation of new smart city technology concepts and the second phase will support the implementation of those technologies. All stage 1 grant funding recipients will be eligible to apply for stage 2 funding.

The Department of Transportation conducts research aimed at improving mobility and reducing accidents while protecting the environment. Federal funding is available to support physical and natural science, technology development and social science projects. Addressing climate change requires USDOT to invest in developing methods to reduce emissions.

Another central area of research is digitization, which involves the double initiative of upgrading legacy transportation infrastructure to advanced digital systems while protecting new digital transportation systems from cybersecurity threats. 

Research and development keep America strong and competitive. Funding is abundant. Interestingly, however, is the fact that there is more funding in many programs than requests for it. It may be advisable for universities, non-profits, public entities and other organizations to revisit the research funding programs.


About the Author:

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As President and CEO of Strategic Partnerships, Inc., Mary Scott Nabers has decades of experience working in the public-private sector. A well-recognized expert in the P3 and government contracting fields, she is often asked to share her industry insights with top publications and through professional speaking engagements.


Mary Scott Nabers is CEO of Strategic Partnerships, Inc and the author of Inside the Infrastructure Revolution – A Roadmap for Rebuilding America. 


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