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Monday, October 4, 2010

U.S. National Science Foundation: Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR)

Christine M. Matthews
Specialist in Science and Technology Policy

The Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) of the National Science Foundation (NSF) was authorized by Congress in 1978, partly in response to concerns in Congress and the concerns of some in academia and the scientific community about the geographic distribution of federal research and development (R&D) funds. It was argued that there was a concentration of federal R&D funds in large and wealthy states and universities, and that the continuation of such funding patterns might ensure a dichotomy between the “haves” and “have-nots.”

EPSCoR began in 1979 with five states and funding of approximately $1.0 million. Currently, EPSCoR operates in 29 jurisdictions, including 27 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. To date, the NSF has invested approximately $920.0 million in EPSCoR programs and activities. When established, it operated solely in the NSF. EPSCoR was expanded in the mid 1980s and early 1990s; by 1998, seven other agencies had established EPSCoR or EPSCoR-like programs.

EPSCoR is a university-oriented program, with the goal of identifying, developing, and utilizing the academic science and technology resources in a state that will lead to increased R&D competitiveness. The program is a partnership between NSF and a state to improve the R&D competitiveness through the state’s academic science and technology (S&T) infrastructure. Eventually, it is hoped that those states receiving limited federal support would improve their ability to compete successfully for federal and private sector funds through the regular grant system.

Some have questioned the length of time states should receive EPSCoR support. It continues to be called an experimental program after 28 years, and observers have noted that no state has yet to graduate, or leave the program. In August 2005, the NSF’s Committee of Visitors (COV) released a review of the EPSCoR program for the period FY2000 through FY2004. One of the issues in the review was centered on determining when states would become independent of EPSCoR resources. The COV acknowledged that graduation/progression from the EPSCoR program is a “challenging” issue and it has become necessary to revisit what it means to graduate from the program.

The NSF FY2011 budget request proposes $154.4 million for EPSCoR activities, approximately $7.3 million (4.9%) above the FY2010 estimate of $147.1 million. The FY2011 request supports a portfolio of three complementary investment strategies—research infrastructure ($111.9 million), co-funding ($41.0 million), and outreach ($1.5 million). NSF indicates that approximately 65% of the funding for EPSCoR is to be used for new research awards in FY2011. The remaining is to be used to support grants made in previous years.

Date of Report: September 23, 2010
Number of Pages: 14
Order Number: RL30930
Price: $29.95

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