The National Science Foundation established EPSCoR in 1979 because Congress was troubled by the uneven distribution of federal research and development grants. After World War II, federally funded academic research grew dramatically, but national science policy at the time tended to funnel resources to a small number of centers of excellence. Grants gravitated toward the few states and institutions that had historically benefited. This status quo ignored the dramatic growth in regional educational and research institutions. The nation wasn’t profiting fully from the wealth of ingenuity and skill embedded across the country.
EPSCoR, which stands for “Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research,” was the answer. Today, six other federal agencies have followed the National Science Foundation in creating EPSCoR programs: the National Institutes of Health, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Departments of Defense, Energy, and Agriculture. The National Institute of Health’s Institutional Development Award (IDeA) program is the largest.
Through EPSCoR/IDeA, 24 states as well as Guam, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico receive about one tenth of federal academic research dollars. This is a better distribution of resources than before, but not yet consistent with the talent in these jurisdictions. The states and territories hold about one-fifth of American doctoral institutions, university scientists, and research engineers, and about the same percentage of the country’s population. In every state, talented American youth aspire to careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
EPSCoR/IDeA expands and improves the research capability of scientists and institutions in states that had been neglected. It allows them to compete more fairly for federal academic research and development money, to build their technical workforces, to foster innovation, and to contribute to their state’s and the nation’s economy. In each of the agencies, merit-based review strategies decide how to allot EPSCoR/IDeA funding.
The nation cannot afford to neglect any part of the country’s research community. Global competition demands a highly skilled workforce, and the country’s economic future depends on scientific and technological advances everywhere, not just in a few places. Through EPSCoR/IDeA, participating states and territories are building a high-quality, university-based research infrastructure, a backbone to their scientific and technological enterprises, and a strong and stable economic base into the next century.
Just as a state’s agricultural, industrial, and natural resources led technological and economic development in the 20th century, EPSCoR/IDeA universities, their faculty, and students are leading the way in the 21st century. These researchers are needed for the nation to meet its most pressing priorities in health, cyberinfrastructure, and homeland security. A broad science and technology base is especially important in an era when different regions have unique issues involving resources, health, security, and the environment.
Scientific and technological research cannot be limited to a few states if the nation is to maintain world leadership and reach its full potential. Along with stimulating competitive research and promoting excellence in education, EPSCoR/IDeA improves access to that high-quality education and cutting-edge research, expands economic opportunity, creates jobs, and improves the quality of life across the nation.
EPSCoR/IDeA projects undergo merit reviews at the state level to align projects with state and institutional needs and priorities. At the federal level, they undergo rigorous external merit review to make sure they meet national standards of quality. EPSCoR/IDeA funds only high-quality research that “adds significant value” to the existing science and technology enterprise.
EPSCoR/IDeA helps researchers and institutions improve their research capabilities and quality in order to compete more effectively for “mainstream” competitive research funds.
Since the inception of EPSCoR/IDeA, the success of the programs is clear. At the National Science Foundation, for example, the percentage growth in proposals submitted and awards won by EPSCoR researchers exceeds the percentages from non-EPSCoR states. The National Institute of Health’s IDeA program reports similar progress. But more work remains. The uneven distribution of federal research and development funds persists. Just five states received 40 percent of these funds, while the 25 states and two territories of EPSCoR/IDeA states received approximately 10 percent of federal research funding. Over the past decade, the scientific talent and the research infrastructure in EPSCoR/IDeA jurisdictions have undergone enormous change. These states are poised to do more for the nation.
In each EPSCoR/IDeA jurisdiction, a statewide committee guides the program. Senior university officials, representatives from state legislatures and governor’s offices, and representatives from the private sector usually make up these state committees.
The committees lead new policies and infrastructure development, generate high levels of collaboration, keep EPSCoR/IDeA responsive to state and regional needs, and cultivate broad-based support for science and technology within the jurisdictions.
The high caliber of these committees encourages each state to allocate the resources necessary for their EPSCoR/IDeA projects to succeed.
By increasing the quality of research within the EPSCoR/IDeA jurisdictions, the federal program: