University officials from around the country fear that a key engine of U.S. innovation and economic power is in danger of stalling: federal investment in basic research. The nation needs to spend more, they say, in pursuit of discoveries with unknown and long-term payoffs. Sometimes, they say, lawmakers focus too much on research with short-term goals. The time it takes for basic research to yield a payoff can be 10, 15, or 20 years. That translates to five or 10 congressional elections.