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The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, Medicine
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Frequently Asked Questions

How and when did the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine 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. In 2015, the Institute of Medicine became the National Academy of Medicine (NAM).  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 NAM 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 seven program units of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

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 Academies' program units.

The National Academy 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. Consensus studies and other projects are carried out by the programs of the Institute of Medicine.

What is the relationship of the Academies 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 Academies are private and do not receive direct federal appropriations for their work. Studies that the institution undertakes for the government usually are funded out of appropriations made available to federal agencies.

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

No. A very few members assume full-time positions within the 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 as volunteers. 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 Academies' major source of funding?

The federal government funds about 85 percent of the institution's work. The remainder 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 institution 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 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 or federal agency interest.

Quasi-public institutions, private companies, and foundations may participate in sponsoring work by the Academies. 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 institution do classified work? Under what circumstances?

Yes, the Academies will accept classified work if they can contribute useful scientific and technological guidance. For all such studies, unclassified summaries are made available on request. Further, to accept a classified study, the Academies must be satisfied that (1) the particular study is an appropriate activity for the institution 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 Academies' 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 National Academy of Sciences' congressional charter have had the effect of limiting the recovery of expenses from the federal government to "actual expenses" incurred for work performed for federal agencies, 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 Academies cannot recover a fee for or profit from 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 (NAP) is the publisher for the Academies. NAP 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 NAP 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 and guidance of ongoing research programs; 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 Academies to scientific organizations overseas? To state and local academies of science?

The NAS, NAE, and NAM cooperate with numerous foreign scientific 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), and an advisory committee is housed in the Board on International Scientific Organizations. The ICSU 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 present, there are about 40 such represented in the 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 Academies deal regularly with foreign academies of science and with scientific organizations abroad.

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