U.S. National Science Foundation: Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR)
Prepared for Members and Committees of Congress
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
EPSCoR began in 1979 with five states and funding of approximately $1.0 million. Currently,
EPSCoR operates in 25 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
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.
On June 30, 2008, the President signed into law the Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2008 ( P.L.
110-252, H.R. 2642). The act provides an additional $62.5 million for the NSF in FY2008. Report
language directs that $5.0 million of the supplemental be available solely for EPSCoR activities.
This report will be updated periodically.
Backgr ound ..................................................................................................................................... 1
EPSCoR Goals and Mission............................................................................................................3
Operation and Funding....................................................................................................................4
Issues ............................................................................................................................................... 8
Figure 1. NSF EPSCoR-Participating States...................................................................................3
Table 1. Estimated EPSCoR Funding: FY1998-FY2007................................................................5
Author Contact Information...........................................................................................................11
The Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) of the National Science 1
Foundation (NSF) was authorized by Congress in 1978, partly in response to concerns from
Congress and from some of those in academia and the scientific community about the geographic 2
distribution of federal research and development (R&D) funds. Additional concerns resulted
from the practice of congressional earmarking—allocating funds for specific institutions or 3
research projects. Historical data revealed 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 4
might ensure a dichotomy between the “haves” and “have-nots.”
As designed, EPSCoR is to help achieve broader geographical distribution of R&D support by
improving the research infrastructure of those states that historically have received limited federal
R&D funds. While these states fall outside of the top 10 states in receipt of federal R&D support,
according to the NSF, they have “ ... demonstrated a commitment to improve the quality of 5
science and engineering research and education conducted at their universities and colleges.”
The premise of the program is that “academic research activity underpins every state’s overall 6
competitiveness.” James Savage, writing in Funding Science in America, describes EPSCoR’s
creation as a type of “affirmative action program designed to aid less successful states and their 7
universities in their competition for federal research funds.” W. Henry Lambright, Director,
1 Initial support for EPSCoR was contained in P.L. 95-392 (H.Rept. 95-1265), Department of Housing and Urban
Development-Independent Agencies Appropriation Act, 1979.
2 House Committee on Science and Technology, Subcommittee on Science, National Science Board: Science Policy
and Management for the National Science Foundation, 1968-1980, Report, 98th Cong., 1st Sess., January 1983, p. 121.
See also Colwell, Rita, Director, National Science Foundation, Speech before the Tenth Anniversary of Coalition of
EPSCoR States, Washington, DC, March 23, 1999, http://www.nsf.gov/news/speeches/colwell/rc90323epscor.htm, p.
2. The charter of the NSF directs the agency to, among other things, “... avoid undue concentration of such research and
education.” National Science Foundation Act of 1950, Sec. 3. 7(c). U.S. Congress, House Committee on Science and thnd
Astronautics, A Bill to Amend the National Science Foundation Act of 1950, 89 Cong., 2 Sess., April 19, 20, and 21,
1966, pp. 2-3.
3 Congressional earmarking remains a concern in the scientific and academic community. See for example Dennis,
Steven T., “Artfully Redefining Earmarks,” Roll Call, January 12, 2009,pp.1, 22, and Brainard, Jeffrey and JJ Hermes,
“Colleges’ Earmarks Grow, Amid Criticism,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, v. 54, March 28, 2008, p. A1.
4 The historic concentration of federal R&D support to institutions has changed slightly. In FY2005, the first 100
institutions (in terms of receipt of federal R&D funds) accounted for 78.6% of the total federal R&D support for
science and engineering to colleges and universities. In FY1996, the top 100 institutions commanded 83.4% of support;
in FY1986, the proportion was 85.5%. National Science Foundation, Federal Science and Engineering Support to
Universities, Colleges, and Selected Nonprofit Institutions, Fiscal Year 2005, NSF07-333, Arlington, VA, October
2007, Table 19, Federal Science and Engineering Support to Universities, Colleges, and Nonprofit Institutions, Fiscal
Year 1996, NSF98-331, September 1998, Table B-4, and Federal Support to Universities, Colleges and Selected
Nonprofit Institutions FY1986, NSF87-318, January 1988, Table B-9. An analysis of state profiles for FY2006 reveal
that the top 10 states accounted for 57.3% of federally funded academic R&D, while the 10 states with the smallest
share totaled 2.5%. The states with the smallest share are all EPSCoR states. National Science Foundation, Science and
Engineering State Profiles: 2005-2007, NSF08-314, Arlington, VA, August 2008, Summary Tables. State profiles are
based on data for the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.
5 National Science Foundation, Annual Report FY2002, Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research,
Education and Human Resources Directorate, Arlington, VA, October 23, 2002, p. 1.
6 [National Computer Science Alliance] NCSA Access: EPSCoR Conference, http://access.ncsa.uiuc.edu/Stories/
97Stories/EPSCoR.html, p. 1.
7 Savage, James D., Funding Science in America: Congress, Universities, and the Politics of the Academic Pork,
Center for Environmental Policy and Administration, Syracuse University, stated that “EPSCoR 8
was not intended as an entitlement, but rather as a catalyst.” Lambright noted further that
EPSCoR had a “troubled birth,” having been rejected in its first vote by the National Science 9
Board, the policy-making arm of NSF. In order to win approval, the program had to be modified,
expressing values consistent with those of the NSF: “... merit, with the emphasis on an institution, 10
EPSCoR began in 1979 with five states and funding of approximately $1.0 million. Currently,
EPSCoR operates in 25 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
(See the Figure 1 for the participating states.) To date, NSF has invested approximately $920.0 11
million in EPSCoR programs and activities. The EPSCoR program is approximately 1.8% of the
NSF budget. When established, it operated solely in the NSF. Congressional action led to its
expansion in the mid-1980s and early 1990s, and by 1998, seven other agencies had established 12
EPSCoR or EPSCoR-like programs. This report is limited to a discussion of EPSCoR programs
at the NSF.
Cambridge University Press, New York, 1999, p. 61.
8 Lambright, W. Henry, Syracuse University, Paper prepared for the American Association for the Advancement of
Science, Workshop on Academic Research Competitiveness, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, Building State Science: The
EPSCoR Experience, October 1-3, 1999, http://www.aaas.org/spp/rcp/epscor/lambright.htm, p. 2.
9 U.S. Congress, House Committee on Science and Technology, The National Science Board: Science Policy and
Management for the National Science Foundation, 1968-1980, Report prepared by the Science Policy Research thst
Division, Library of Congress for the Subcommittee on Science, Research and Technology, 98 Cong., 1 Sess.,
January 1983, p. 121.
10 Lambright, W. Henry, Workshop on Academic Research Competitiveness, p. 3.
11 National Science Foundation, EPSCoR 2020: Expanding State Participation in Research in the 21st Century—A New
Vision for the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), A report to the National Science
Foundation, August 2006, p. iii. The current 27 participating jurisdictions account for 20% of the U.S. population, 18%
of employed scientists and engineering, and approximately 25% of research institutions. Ibid.
12 EPSCoR and EPSCoR-like programs are operational in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration,
Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Defense, National Institutes of Health, and
Department of Commerce. In FY1998, the Department of Commerce (DOC) established the Experimental Program to
Stimulate Competitive Technology (EPSCoT). It was designed as a technology complement to EPSCoR-like programs.
In FY2006, 6 agencies provided a total of $353.4 million for EPSCoR/EPSCoR-like programs. In FY2006, EPA
discontinued releasing separate EPSCoR program solicitations. National Science Foundation, Science and Engineering
Indicators 2008, Volume 1, NSB08-01, Arlington, VA, January 15, 2008, p. 5-17. In FY1993, congressional action led
to the creation of the EPSCoR Interagency Coordinating Committee (EICC), with the purpose of improving
coordination among the participating agencies and ensuring consistency in implementation of EPSCoR policies. NSF is
the lead agency within the Federal-wide effort, and an NSF official serves as chair and executive secretary of EICC.
Figure 1. NSF EPSCoR-Participating States
Arden L. Bement, Jr., Director, NSF, states that: “EPSCoR is based on the premise that no one
region and no one group of institutions has a corner on the market of good ideas, smart people, or 13
outstanding researchers.” EPSCoR is a joint program of NSF and selected states and territories.
Its goal is to build competitive science by developing science and technology (S&T) resources
through partnerships involving state universities, industry, government, and the federal R&D
enterprise. The program is a partnership between the NSF and a state to improve the R&D
competitiveness through the state’s academic S&T infrastructure. The mission of EPSCoR is to
raise the capability of a research institution or to assist in making a less-competitive institution 14
more research intensive. Eventually, EPSCoR supporters hope those states receiving limited
federal support would gain some level of equity in competing for federal and private sector funds
through the regular grant system.
The goal of the program as described by NSF is to:
...Provide strategic programs and opportunities for EPSCoR participants that stimulate
sustainable improvements in their R&D capacity and competitiveness, and to advance
science and engineering capabilities in EPSCoR jurisdictions for discovery, innovation and
13 Written remarks of Dr. Arden L. Bement, Jr., Director, National Science Foundation, before the NSF EPSCoR
Project Directors and Administrators Annual Meeting, Arlington, VA, August 11, 2008.
14 Approximately 30% of minority-serving colleges institutions are in EPSCoR jurisdictions. This includes 50% of
historically black colleges and universities, 70% of tribal colleges and universities, and 23% of Hispanic serving
overall knowledge-based jurisdictions. EPSCoR achieves its objectives by: (1) catalyzing
key research themes and related activities within and among EPSCoR jurisdictions that
empower knowledge generation, dissemination and application; (2) activating effective
jurisdictional and regional collaborations among academic, government and private sector
stakeholders that advance scientific research, promote innovation and provide societal
benefits; (3) broadening participation in science and engineering by institutions,
organizations and people within and among EPSCoR jurisdictions; and (4) using EPSCoR
for development, implementation and evaluation of future programmatic experiments that 15
motivate positive change and progression.
EPSCoR, while designed as a sheltered program, has been integrated into the performance of all 16
NSF directorates. Its grants are awarded on a competitive peer- or merit-reviewed basis.
Proposals submitted vary, and come from academic, state, profit and nonprofit organizations, and
individuals. Also, support is provided to cooperative programs among institutions in different
EPSCoR states, or between a state’s research institution and a primarily undergraduate institution.
All principal investigators of NSF EPSCoR projects are required to be associated with research
institutions, organizations, or agencies within the participating state. In addition, all of the
projects must be designed to contribute to the research competitiveness of the colleges and
universities in the particular state.
EPSCoR funding was not intended to replace existing federal, state, institutional, or private sector
support, but to “ ... add specific value to the state’s academic infrastructure not generally available 17
through other funding sources.” Responsibility for operating the program rests within the
individual states. A state is required to provide matching funds. An EPSCoR governing committee
is established in each participating state to identify opportunities for EPSCoR awards. States
devise strategies that allow them to adapt to vastly different federal funding environments. The
programs are reviewed periodically by external panels and assessments are performed by
Data reveal that the 27 EPSCoR jurisdictions account for more than 20% of the U.S. population,
about 25% of research institutions, and an estimated 18% of employed scientific and technical
personnel. As a whole, these 27 jurisdictions receive approximately 10% of all NSF R&D 18
funding. In FY2007, NSF provided an estimated $102.1 million for EPSCoR activities, an 19
increase of $3.9 million (4%) above the FY2006 level. (See Table 1 for funding levels of
15 About EPSCoR, http://www.nsf.gov/od/oia/programs/epscor/about.jsp.
16 A report of a FY2006 workshop on EPSCoR directed that funding for EPSCoR be moved from the Education and
Human Resources (EHR) Directorate to Integrative Activities (IA) of the Research and Related Activities Account
(R&RA). It was determined that the activities, management, and cross-directorate interactions of EPSCoR would be
more fully coordinated and maximized within the R&RA. Beginning in the FY2008, EPSCoR was transferred from the
EHR to the IA account.
17 National Science Foundation, EPSCoR Research Infrastructure Improvement Grant Program (RII), Program
Solicitation, NSF 03-528, Arlington, VA, January 2003, p. 5.
18 The 10 top NSF funded states account for more than 60% of NSF appropriations. EPSCoR 2020: Expanding State
Participation in Research in the 21st Century—A New Vision for the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive
Research (EPSCoR), A report to the National Science Foundation, Prepared by Jerome D. Odom, August 2006, p.6.
19 Funding levels include support for EPSCoR in the EHR Directorate and also co-funding available through the
Research and Related Activities Account.
previous years.) Funding was provided through three complementary investment strategies—20
research infrastructure improvement grants, co-funding, and outreach and workshops.
Table 1. Estimated EPSCoR Funding: FY1998-FY2007
(dollars in millions)
Infrastructure Outreach/TechnicFunding Year
Fiscal Year Improvement Co-Funding al Assistance Totals
FY1998 $22.7 $15.5 $0.0 38.2
FY1999 26.3 22.2 0.2 48.7
FY2000 31.0 20.5 0.2 51.7
FY2001 40.4 34.4 0.1 74.9
FY2002 40.7 38.8 0.2 79.7
FY2003 46.9 42.1 0.2 89.2
FY2004 55.9 38.1 0.2 94.2
FY2005 58.1 35.2 0.1 93.4
FY2006 61.7 36.4 0.1 98.2
FY2007 65.8 36.2 0.1 102.1
$449.5 $319.4 $1.4 $770.3
Note: Funding levels provided by NSF Budget Office, March 6, 2008.
NSF’s current portfolio for EPSCoR includes three complementary investment strategies—
research infrastructure improvement (RII) grants, co-funding of disciplinary and multidisciplinary
research, and outreach and workshops. RII grants support S&T infrastructure improvements that
have been designated by a governing committee in the EPSCoR state as essential to the state’s 21
future R&D competitiveness. RII grants are of two types—RII Track 1 and RII Track 2. RII
Track 1 grants are made to individual jurisdictions and are awarded up to $15.0 million for a
period of up to 60 months. RII Track 2 grants are made to consortia of EPSCoR jurisdictions and
are limited to a maximum of $2.0 million for up to 36 months. Examples of RII grants include
startup funding for faculty research, faculty exchange projects with major research centers,
development of nationally competitive high-performance computing capabilities, acquisition of
state-of-the-art research instrumentation that is unavailable through the NSF’s regular grant
system, creation of graduate research training groups that encourage multidisciplinary
experiences, developing linkages between industry and national laboratories, and development of
programs to expand minority participation in science, engineering, mathematics, and technical
disciplines. RII grants are the principal focus of the EPSCoR program. NSF funding for EPSCoR
RII grants in the FY2009 budget request was $76.0 million, a $2.0 million increase over the
FY2008 estimate of $74.0 million.
20 Different investment strategies existed prior to the transfer of EPSCoR from the EHR to IA. See Note 15.
21 Eligibility to participate in the EPSCoR Research Infrastructure Improvement competition is restricted to those states
that received 0.75% or less of the total NSF research funds to all sources within a state averaged over the most recent
three-year period. If in a rare instance a single large NSF-funded national or international facility skews the data, an
adjustment to the eligibility criteria could be made. National Science Foundation, EPSCoR Research Infrastructure
Improvement Grant Program, Program Solicitation, NSF08-500, Arlington, VA, January 4, 2008, p. 5.
The co-funded grant mechanism encourages EPSCoR researchers and institutions to move into
the mainstream of federal and private sector R&D support. Co-funding is an internal, cross-22
directorate, NSF funding mechanism. Co-funding activities are applicable in the various
directorates, the Office of Polar Programs, the Office of International Science and Engineering,
the Office of Cyberinfrastructure, and the Office of Integrative Activities. Co-funding allows 23
states to receive more support than would have available under EPSCoR alone. Proposals
supported are in areas that have been identified by the state’s EPSCOR governing committee as
critical to the future R&D competitiveness of the state or jurisdiction, and include, among other
things, individual investigator-initiated research proposals and R&D encompassed by the various 24
crosscutting and interdisciplinary programs in NSF. To receive support for co-funding, a grant
proposal must be, among other things, rated at or near the same level as the highly rated grants in
the regular grant process. The FY2008 estimate for co-funding is $36.0 million. In the FY2009
request, the co-funding strategy was proposed at level funding—$36.0 million.
The outreach funding mechanism of EPSCoR provides support for NSF program directors and
relevant personnel to visit participating researchers in EPSCoR states and to further familiarize
the states and researchers with NSF policies, practices, and programs. Also, it allows agency
personnel to become more cognizant of the availability of resources within the states and their
institutions. Outreach visits take two forms - those initiated by a host of an EPSCoR state or
jurisdiction, and those initiated by NSF program officers. The visits may result in colloquia or
seminars. It is NSF’s contention that the contact provided by outreach visits will lead to an 25
increase in both the quality and quantity of grant proposals submitted by participating states.
Funding for the outreach strategy in the FY2009 budget request was $1.5 million, an increase of
$400,000 over the FY2008 estimate of $1.1 million. The increase will allow for expansion of
activities that build regional and jurisdictional research infrastructure.
In 1994, an evaluation of the EPSCoR program was conducted by the COSMOS Corporation.26
The evaluation, released in May 1999, covered the period 1980-1994, and was designed to,
among other things, determine whether participating states and their institutions had increased
22 Proposals can not be submitted directly for co-funding. This mechanism is primarily internal to NSF, with reviews
conducted by the EPSCoR office and the managing program office of the grant proposal. EPSCoR co-funding is
limited to awards made by principal investigators at the eligible NSF EPSCoR jurisdictions.
23 For expanded discussion of co-funding, see, for example, U.S. Congress, House Committee on Appropriations,
Department of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development, and Independent Agencies Appropriations for thnd
2001, 106 Cong., 2 Sess., April 4, 2001, pp. 60-63, and Annual Report FY2002, Experimental Program to Stimulate
Competitive Research, pp. 3-4.
24 These crosscutting programs include those supported by multiple directorates in NSF and also joint agency
programs. They include the Faculty Early Career Development Program, Professional Opportunities for Women in
Research and Education, Major Research Instrumentation, Information Technology Research, Small Business
Technology Research, Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers, Research Experiences for Undergraduates,
Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training, and Grant Opportunities for Academic Liaison with Industry
25 EPSCoR Outreach http://www.nsf.gov/od/oia/programs/epscor/outreach.jsp.
26 National Science Foundation, An REC-Sponsored Report on Evaluation, A Report on the Evaluation of the National
Science Foundation’s Experimental Program To Stimulate Competitive Research, NSF99-115, Arlington, VA, May
1999, 36 pp.
NOTE: The evaluation covered the period 1980-1994.
their share of federal R&D funds and to identify the EPSCoR program strategies that led to
improvement of the state and institutions research competitiveness. The evaluation found that
states’ R&D competitiveness did improve and that EPSCoR had contributed to this
competitiveness. The report stated that:
Based on the observed changes in federal and NSF shares, it can be concluded that the
EPSCoR states’ share of R&D funding did increase relative to the shares of the other states.
To this extent, EPSCoR was associated with a lessening of the undue geographic
concentration of R&D in the United States. Although the changes were small in absolute
terms, this was a notable accomplishment in an era when research universities in non-27
EPSCoR states also were thriving and upgrading substantially.
The report noted that NSF EPSCoR had facilitated the development of partnerships and linkages
among institutions, state and federal government, and the private sector. It also revealed that
while no state had graduated from EPSCoR (no longer receiving EPSCoR support), many
EPSCoR research clusters had become fully competitive and no longer sought EPSCoR 28
resources. The evaluators determined that for colleges and universities in EPSCoR states, the
cluster strategy may have been a more effective approach to improving research capability than
that of supporting individual researchers or single research projects, a strategy used in the early
years of EPSCoR.
More recently, an August 2006 report, EPSCoR 2020: Expanding State Participation in Research st
in the 21 Century—A New Vision for the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive
Research (EPSCoR), finds that while some participating states and jurisdictions have developed
S&T capabilities that address national issues, they need to progress at a faster pace in order to 29
benefit more fully in a national research agenda. The report states that:
The task now is to accelerate the positive trends in building research infrastructure and
capacity in the states, and to incorporate the expertise and capabilities of these states into the
larger national research agenda. As we move into a time of doubling the federal commitment
to basic research, it is particularly critical and appropriate to make a new commitment to the
EPSCoR states that have been left behind in the S&T community... . It is imperative that all
of NSF’s science, engineering, and education programs adopt the concept of broadening
geographical and cultural participation in NSF activities as part of their objectives.
Programmatic planning should consider how best to include all states and their research 30
institutions as potentially important S&T resources.
The workshop that generated this report proposed that a more flexible RII grant program should
be instituted. The position of the workshop participants was that since the states are heterogenous, 31
a “one-size program” should not be applied to the 27 different jurisdictions. Rather, the
27 Ibid., pp. 19-20.
28 “A cluster is a related group of research projects, often interdisciplinary, and awards are made to a cluster’s principal
investigator as well as to the component research projects. This strategy has led to the development of laboratories or
centers, and not just the recruitment of cadres of new, research-oriented faculty in a number of EPSCOR universities.
The cluster strategy also has been used to promote interdisciplinary collaboration among universities and between
universities and industry.” Ibid., p. 36.
29 EPSCoR 2020: Expanding State Participation in Research in the 21st Century—A New Vision for the Experimental
Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), 15 pp.
30 Ibid., p. iv.
31 Speaking before the 18th Annual EPSCoR National Conference, Sherry Farwell, Head, NSF EPSCoR Office, stated
that it is necessary to provide funding opportunities for EPSCoR jurisdictions that account for their “ ... inherent
individual needs of the states should be a factor in determining the most effective strategy for
infrastructure improvement. The current award structure is viewed as being no longer adequate
for some jurisdictions to achieve a higher level of competitive science in some areas of research.
It was proposed that RII grants be awarded for a period of up to five years, in the amount of $3.0
-$5.0 million per year, per state or jurisdiction. The longer period of time for the grant would
enable states to better implement their strategic plans. The increased level of funding would be 32
related to the size of the jurisdiction and the extent of the “S&T transformative challenge.”
Another suggestion from the workshop was to place the EPSCoR program in NSF where its
cross-directorate interactions would be maximized and integrated into all of the cutting edge
initiatives of the agency. The FY2008 budget request for NSF did transfer the EPSCoR program
from the Education and Human Resources Directorate to the Integrative Activities in the
Research and Related Activities account. The FY2008 budget submission states that “The
relocation will allow the EPSCoR program greater leverage for improving the research
infrastructure, planning complex agendas, and developing scientific and engineering talent for the st33
An additional recommendation of the workshop was for EPSCoR states and jurisdictions to
become a “test bed” for new initiatives. The report notes that because EPSCoR has matured as a
program, it should expand its research capacity by developing expertise in areas of national
importance, such as homeland security and national defense, cyberinfrastructure, environmental
observatories, coastal and ocean issues, and energy expenditures. With the proposed flexibility to
the RII grant mechanism, the participating states and jurisdictions could pursue multiple
strategies, such as support for transformative research and innovation that has been outlined in 34
NSF’s strategic plan. The workshop participants maintain that “Developing expertise in topics 35
of national importance will enhance success of proposals in other competitions.”
At the beginning of the EPSCoR program, some questioned the length of time required for a state
to improve its research infrastructure. It was suggested to be five years, but that proved to be “ ...
jurisdictional heterogeneity. That is, jurisdictions vary in their current capacities and capabilities, and hence in their th
relative positions on the trajectory leading to competitiveness.” Written statement of Sherry Farwell, 18 EPSCoR
National Conference, Puerto Rico, September 26, 2005.
32 EPSCoR 2020: Expanding State Participation in Research in the 21st Century—A New Vision for the Experimental
Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), p. 9.
33 National Science Foundation, FY2008 Budget Request to Congress, Arlington, VA, February 2007, p. IA-1.
34 National Science Foundation, Investing in America’s Future, Strategic Plan FY2006-2011, NSF06-48, Arlington,
VA, September 2006, 19 pp. NOTE: NSF describes transformative research as “... research that has the capacity to
revolutionize existing fields, create new subfields, cause paradigm shifts, support discovery, and lead to radically new
technologies.” National Science Board, Enhancing Support of Transformative Research at the National Science
Foundation, NSB07-6, Arlington, VA, January 23, 2007, p. 3.
35 EPSCoR 2020: Expanding State Participation in Research in the 21st Century, p. 13. For update of this workshop see
for example National Science Foundation, Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, Update: The
EPSCoR 2020 Scorecard, August 11, 2008,
unrealistic, both substantively and politically.”36 Questions remain concerning the length of time
states should receive EPSCoR support. There are those in the scientific community who believe
that some states and their institutions should assume more responsibility for building their
research infrastructure and become less dependent on EPSCoR funds. They argue that some
researchers and states have become comfortable with EPSCoR funding and are not being
aggressive in graduating from the program. It continues to be called an experimental program 37
after 28 years, and no state has yet graduated from the EPSCoR program. The issue of
graduation from the program has generated considerable Congressional interest.
In August 2005, the NSF’s Committee of Visitors (COV) released a review of the EPSCoR 38
program for the period FY2000 through FY2004. One of the issues in the August 2005 review
was centered on determining when states would become independent of EPSCoR resources.
Questions included What initiatives are there to promote graduation from EPSCoR and
mainstreaming in the regular grant making process? What level of progress must a state achieve
to justify that it is no longer eligible for EPSCoR resources? The COV admitted that
graduation/progression from the EPSCoR program is a “challenging” issue and has been debated
from the beginning of the program within NSF and among the various stakeholders and
participating states and jurisdictions. The review determined that it has become necessary to
revisit what it means to “graduate” from the program. Because of the importance in developing a
mechanism or measure for graduation from the program, the COV proposed the creation of a
dedicated EPSCoR Advisory Committee (external) that would make recommendations for both
eligibility for and graduation from EPSCoR. The report stated that:
Clearly, a fixed definition of graduation would be a moving target, especially in an
environment where jurisdictions are still being added to the EPSCoR family. The current
Office Head has articulated a vision of “programmatic graduation/progression,” which
necessarily includes the evolution of the EPSCoR programs themselves as infrastructure
continues to grow. This vision should be further developed, vetted, and eventually 39
The issue of increasing the number of states seeking support through the program was addressed
in the review. The COV noted that the increase in the number of eligible jurisdictions has strained
limited resources. In FY2002, 5,595 proposals were received, and 1,511 awards were made with a
funding rate of 27.0%. In FY2006, 7,037 proposals were received, and 1,489 awards were made 40
with a funding rate of 21.0%. The report stated that:
Given the likely budgetary constraints to be imposed on EPSCoR in the coming years, the
program runs the danger of not being able to serve its core clientele with the limited funds
available if the number of eligible states and institutions continues to increase. At some
point, the Foundation must more fully address infrastructure, capacity, and geographic
36 Lambright, W. Henry, Workshop on Academic Research Competitiveness, p. 4.
37 In April 2006, it was announced that Tennessee has become the first state to “begin the process of successfully
transitioning out of the NSF EPSCOR program.” The co-funding transition period in Tennessee will continue for three
years, until April 2009. East Tennessee State University, Office of Research and Sponsored Programs. Reflections, v.1,
July 2006, p.1.
38 National Science Foundation, Education and Human Resources Directorate, Experimental Program to Stimulate
Competitive Research (EPSCoR), Committee of Visitors, Final Report, August 16, 2005, 25 pp.
39 Ibid., p. 21.
40 National Science Board, Report to the National Science Board on the National Science Foundation’s Merit Review
Process, Fiscal Year 2006, NSB07-22, March 2007, p. 31.
distribution in its other grant programs. One solution might be for the Foundation to re-
organize some of its existing programs in order to create an EPSCoR-like program that used
“institutional competitiveness” rather than “state competitiveness” as the primary definitional 41
criterion for support.
Additional issues and questions were included in the August 2005 review by the COV. The
review found that the majority of EPSCoR programs were capacity building based
(infrastructure). The COV proposed that the significant number of capacity building programs
should be supplemented with “complementary programs for building capability and 42
competitiveness.” The SBRC grant mechanism was cited as important to expanding the
“competitiveness” building component of EPSCoR. Also, the COV report found that while
EPSCoR’s program portfolio was diverse, and included minority serving institutions, community
colleges, and high schools, it was determined that EPSCoR jurisdictions should further strengthen
the linkages between faculty at minority serving institutions and those at research intensive
An examination of the review process for large RII-type proposals concluded that the review
process should be more rigorous. The COV proposed including site visits in the review process,
and in enlarging the pool of reviewers in the scientific and technical areas proposed for research.
The review noted that with the current, relatively small number of reviewers of EPSCoR 43
programs, there is “insufficient injection of new viewpoints in the review process.” The report
suggested that the pool of reviewers should be expanded by rotating in a minimum of 25.0% new
reviewers each year. The report further proposed that EPSCoR management use the review model
employed by NSF’s Engineering Research Centers, Science and Technology Centers, and Science
of Learning Centers.
Many of the questions posed by the EPSCoR COV following its review of the program are those
that are being debated by the various stakeholders in the EPSCoR community. In particular,
questions concerning the criteria used to determine when a state or jurisdiction graduates from the th
EPSCoR program may continue to receive Congressional attention during the 111 Congress.
On March 2, 2007, Senator Rockefeller introduced S. 753, EPSCoR Research and
Competitiveness Act of 2007. S. 753 would authorize appropriations for FY2008 - FY2012 to
NSF for EPSCoR in the following amounts: FY2008, $125.0 million; and FY2009-FY2012,
$125.0 million and “... $125,000,000 multiplied by a percentage equal to the percentage by which
the Foundation’s budget request for such fiscal year exceeds the total amount appropriated to the 44
Foundation for fiscal year 2008.” Language in the bill would require the development of plans
that allow EPSCoR states and jurisdictions to participate in NSF’s Cyberinfrastructure Initiative
and Major Research Instrumentation program. S. 753 would require the NSF Director to obligate
not less than 20.0% of the EPSCoR budget on co-funding projects that are ranked, by peer
review, in the top 20.0% of all submitted grant proposals. Also, EPSCoR states and jurisdictions
41 Ibid., p. 23.
42 Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), Final Report, p. 12.
43 Ibid., p. 24.
44 S. 753, EPSCoR Research and Competitiveness Act of 2007, Section 3.
participating in the RII grant mechanism are to include in the proposals, partnerships with out-of-
state research institutions. S. 753 was referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education,
Labor, and Pensions.
The America COMPETES Act was signed into law on August 9, 2007 (P.L. 110-69, H.R. 2272).45
The COMPETES Act, among other things, provides an authorization of $22.1 billion for the NSF
over a three-year period—FY2008 ($6.6 billion), FY2009 ($7.3 billion), and FY2010 ($8.1
billion). P.L. 110-69 authorizes appropriations in the following amounts for EPSCoR: FY2008, 46
$120.0 million; FY2009, $133.2 million; and FY2010, $147.8 million.
On June 30, 2008, the President signed into law the Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2008 (P.L.
language directs that $5.0 million of the supplemental be available solely for EPSCoR activities.
On September 30, 2008, the President signed into law the consolidated Security, Disaster
Assistance, and continuing Appropriations Act 2009 (P.L. 110-329, H.R. 2638). The act includes,
among other things, three of the 12 regular appropriations acts for FY2009. The Continuing
Appropriations Act funds the NSF until passage of the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related
Agencies Appropriations bill or until March 6, 2009, whichever occurs first. P.L. 110-329 funds
the NSF at the FY2008 level. EPSCoR is estimated at $111.1 million in FY2008.
Christine M. Matthews
Specialist in Science and Technology Policy
45 America COMPETES Act—America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology,
Education and Science (COMPETES) Act.
46 NSF’s FY2009 budget request for EPSCoR was $113.5 million, a 2.2% increase ($2.4 million) above the FY2008
estimate of $111.1 million. National Science Foundation, FY2009 NSF Budget Request to Congress, February 4, 2008.
47 P.L. 110-252, Section 7002(b)(2)(A)(iv).