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National Academy of Sciences
National Academy of Engineering
Institute of Medicine
National Research Council
Frequently Asked Questions

The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council - how and when did these organizations come into existence? What do they do?

The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) was created in 1863 by a congressional charter approved by President Abraham Lincoln. Under this charter, the National Research Council was established in 1916, the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) in 1964, and the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in 1970. These private, nonprofit organizations share in the responsibility for advising the federal government, upon request and without fee, on questions of science, technology, and health policy. The NAS, NAE, and IOM are honorific organizations; new members are elected annually, and membership is considered a high honor.

The National Academy of Sciences publishes a scholarly journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, organizes symposia, and convenes meetings on issues of national importance and urgency. The Academy operates very few committees directly; most of its study projects are undertaken by the National Research Council.

The National Academy of Engineering sponsors engineering studies and other activities designed to assess and meet national needs, encourages engineering education and research, explores means for promoting cooperation in engineering in the United States and abroad, and recognizes the superior achievements of engineers. The National Academy of Engineering also supports study projects carried out through the National Research Council.

The Institute of Medicine identifies concerns in medical care, research, and education and secures the services of members of appropriate professions to examine policy matters relating to public health. Although the Institute of Medicine is not a part of the formal structure of the National Research Council, it follows the same quality assurance procedures as the Research Council.

The National Research Council operates under the auspices of the NAS, NAE, and IOM. Most consensus studies are conducted by committees convened by the Research Council and the IOM.

What is the relationship of the NAS, NAE, IOM, and Research Council to the government?

The NAS was created by the federal government to be an adviser on scientific and technological matters. The majority of studies carried out by the Academies are at the request of government agencies or Congress. However, the Academy and its associated organizations are private and do not receive direct federal appropriations for their work. Studies that the institutions undertake for the government usually are funded out of appropriations made available to federal agencies.

Are members of the NAS, NAE, and IOM paid? How about committee members?

No. A very few members assume full-time positions within the National Academies and receive salaries (nor are their institutions reimbursed for the time that they devote to Academy work). Membership and participation in activities are voluntary. Committee members serve pro bono. Reimbursement of travel costs and subsistence support is the only compensation provided.

How many staff members are associated with the work of the Academies?

There are approximately 1,100 staff members.

What is the Research Council's major source of funding?

The federal government funds about 85 percent of the institution's work. The other 15 percent is funded by other entities such as foundations, nonprofit institutions, and state and local government.

Is there a committee in Congress that has continuing legislative, budgetary, or oversight responsibility for the Academies?

Overall, no. However, the Committee on the Judiciary of the U.S. House of Representatives reviews the Treasurer's Report of the National Academy of Sciences each year.

Do the Academies respond to both the executive and the legislative branches of government? Do they also work with state governments and quasi-public institutions?

Yes. The Academies strive to be similarly responsive to requests from the executive and the legislative branches of government for guidance on scientific and technological issues.

In special cases, the National Research Council will undertake a project or study or sponsors a meeting at the request of a state government. Some such projects carried out in recent years have involved joint requests to the Research Council from a unit of a state government and a federal agency. The institution would not normally undertake a project on a state or local issue in the absence of significant national policy implications of federal agency interest.

Quasi-public institutions, private companies, and foundations may participate in sponsoring work by the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine. However, industry cannot provide more than 50 percent of the support for a project. Similar criteria are applied by the institution to all prospective projects, including self-initiated ones. Generally, projects will be undertaken only if they address national or international issues involving science, technology, human health, or environmental quality.

Does the National Research Council do classified work? Under what circumstances?

Yes, the National Research Council will accept classified work if it can contribute useful scientific and technological guidance. The Governing Board of the National Research Council must, in any case, approve all classified studies. For all such studies, unclassified summaries are made available on request. Further, for the National Research Council to accept a classified study, it must be satisfied that (1) the particular study is an appropriate activity for the Research Council and for the unit within which it will be done; and (2) that classification is necessary and that the proposed level of classification is warranted.

The congressional charter of the National Academy of Sciences contains the statement that the Academy "shall receive no compensation whatever for any services to the Government of the United States." What does this statement mean?

Committee members are not paid for the time they contribute to the Research Council's work. However, the institution is reimbursed for costs associated with operating committees, such as subsistence and travel costs for committee members, staff support, and charges connected with preparing and disseminating reports of the committees' findings.

Various rulings by the comptroller general of the United States interpreting the Academy's congressional charter have had the effect of limiting the Academy's recovery of expenses from the federal government for work performed for federal agencies to "actual expenses" incurred, subject to any limitation on the maximum amount payable under a particular contract as provided for in that contract and to applicable government procurement regulations. As a result of the comptroller general's interpretations, the National Academies cannot recover a fee or profit for their services to the federal government, and must comply with applicable government procurement regulations regarding allowable costs.

What is the National Academies Press?

The National Academies Press is the publisher for the National Academies. The Press offers the full range of services available from a commercial publishing house, from publication planning and editing to marketing and distribution.

Does the National Academies Press generate income for the institution?

No. The policy of the Press is to price its volumes so as to generate a self-supporting income, with neither gains nor losses.

Is the work of the Academies limited to study projects?

No. While study projects comprise much of the institution's work, the organization fulfills other important roles. These include:

  • as a convener, through activities such as those of the Government-University-Industry Research Roundtable;
  • as a focus, for long-term activities such as the administration of associateship programs by the Policy and Global Affairs Division and the multifaceted missions of the Transportation Research Board; and
  • as a locus, for the continuing representation of U.S national committees on organizations overseas, for scholarly communication with other countries, for a resident fellows program, and for scientific and technical cooperation programs with developing countries.

What are the relationships of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine to scientific organizations overseas? To state and local academies of science?

The NAS, NAE, and IOM cooperate with numerous foreign scientific and engineering organizations, including other academies.

On behalf of American scientists, the National Academy of Sciences is the institutional member of the International Council for Science (ICSU). The ICSU Advisory Committee is housed in the Research Council's Board on International Scientific Organizations. The Advisory Committee is the focal point for ensuring effective participation by American scientists in international scientific unions and it provides liaison among U.S. national committees for the individual scientific unions. NAS is also part of the InterAcademy Council, created by the world's science academies to support decision-making through sound science, and the InterAcademy Panel on International Issues, a global network of more than 100 national science academies. As an adhering body to a number of international scientific organizations, the National Academy of Sciences has established U.S. national committees to facilitate the participation of U.S. scientists in these organizations. At the present time, there are about 40 such represented in the National Academies.

Also, the National Academy of Engineering is the U.S. member of the Council of Academies of Engineering and Technological Sciences, a nongovernmental, international organization promoting engineering and technology throughout the world.

In addition, the presidents of the two Academies and the Institute deal regularly with foreign academies of science and with scientific and engineering organizations abroad.

There are no formal relations with state and local academies of science, although often there is informal dialogue.