This study is being conducted by the National Academy of Sciences? Committee on Science, Engineering and Public Policy (COSEPUP) to support the National Science Foundation in its efforts to comply with directives of the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010. This act became Public Law 111-358, when signed by President Obama in January, 2011. The Act contains numerous elements dealing with initiatives to strengthen the nation?s science, engineering, and education enterprises and contains language specific to several of the Foundation?s Offices and Directorates, including the Office of the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR). It also contains language specific to the six other federal agencies with congressionally authorized EPSCoR and EPSCoR-like programs. Specifically, Section 517(f) calls for an assessment study of the federal EPSCoR programs at all seven agencies, and states that the National Academy of Sciences should conduct the assessment.
Intellectual Merit The EPSCoR programs seek to expand and enhance the nation?s research capacity by working with the jurisdictions that receive lesser amounts of research funds from seven federal agencies. These programs have achieved various levels of success and have been evaluated and assessed individually. This study seeks to conduct a comprehensive study of all EPSCoR and EPSCoR-like programs and provide recommendations for their enhancements and improvements to achieve program goals consistent with the specific agency missions, as appropriate. The National Academies have long demonstrated their ability to assemble committees to perform rigorous assessments of government programs.
Broader Impacts Collectively, the EPSCoR jurisdictions have developed research and education capacity and capability needed to address many of the science and engineering challenges facing the nation. Specifically, many of the jurisdictions have developed areas of expertise in energy, water and the environment, and workforce development. In addition, many of the nation?s future researchers are receiving their undergraduate or graduate training at institutions of higher learning within these jurisdictions, particularly students currently underrepresented in STEM. This study is expected to lead to recommendations to enhance coordination across the agencies with EPSCoR programs to maximize the impact of federal funding for building and sustaining competitive research infrastructure nationally. In addition, strengthened research capability in EPSCoR jurisdictions can contribute to their economic success as local industries often benefit from direct interaction with researchers who have access to infrastructure that sustains knowledge-based innovation.
The 2010 renewal of the America competes Act mandated that the National Science Foundation (NSF) contract with the National Academies to conduct a review of the Experimental Program to Stimiulate Competitive Research (EOSCoR). NSF requested that the National Academies' Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy (COSEPUP) oversee the study. The EPSCoR program began at NSF in 1978 as a way to catalyze increased research activity in those states that were not attracting a proportionate share of NSF research funding through the open competitive process. The goal of the program was to make these states more competiive in grant competition. The program spread to the Department of Defense, the National Aeronatics and Space Administration, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Institutes of Health, where it is called the Institutional Development Awards (IDeA) Program. It has involved a total of 33 states and U.S. territories. A study committee was formed, and it held four meetings to acquire information about the program. The directors of all the active EPSCoR programs came to the first meeting and proved information. At the second meeting, representatives of ten of the states that receive EPSCoR funding came to present information about the program was being implemented at the state level. At the third meeting, the committee heard from evaluation experts who had experience in assessing the effectiveness of EPSCoR programs. At the fourth meeting the committee reviewed the draft of the report and prepared the final version of its findings and recommendations. The committee provided briefings on the report to NSF, the Office of Management and Budget, and the staff of two Senate and two House committees. The report's primary findings were: The mission of ensuring that students in every state have the opportunity to participate in federally-funded research projects is an important national priority and that the program has contributed to enhancing the nation's human capital through the training of scientists and engineers. That the program has found it difficult to maintain its focus because policymakers and other interests have regularly added objectives for the program to pursue. That the eligibility criteria do not have a firm rationale. That there is considerable vatiation among the agency programs. That the states report that the program has enhanced state interest in conducting research. That program assessment efforts leave a lot to be desired. The report's recommendations include: The program should concentrate on its core elements. That all the agency programs could benefit from adopting the successful elements of other agency programs. That the agency leaders should revisit the eligibility criteria and develop a methodology that better reflects national and state needs and that all states then be required to reapply. That review of EPSCoR proposals be made more scientifically rigorous. That the agencies should develop a more robust system of data collection and rigorous third-party assessment methodology.