Dr. Arden L. Bement, Jr.
Dinner Remarks to EPSCoR Coalition
National Science Foundation
Four Points Sheraton
March 8, 2005
Good evening, everyone, and thank you, Dr. Engstrom, for that gracious introduction. I also want to thank Joe Danek for inviting me to speak with you this evening. The meal was wonderful, and I've enjoyed many interesting conversations.
I join you tonight in enthusiastic support of the EPSCoR program. I think back, somewhat wistfully, to my days at the University of Idaho in the late 1950s, 20 years before the founding of EPSCoR. I was working toward my Master's in Metallurgical Engineering, and I can't help but wonder how much easier, and perhaps better, the research would've been had there been an EPSCoR program to bolster my efforts.
Recently, Sherry Farwell, head of NSF's EPSCoR office, summed up the program's value when he said, "If there's an Einstein in Nebraska, let's not ignore him." There are no doubt hundreds of Einsteins and Marie Curies throughout our nation.
NSF is mandated to develop this science and engineering talent, wherever it is. EPSCoR is vital in meeting that charge. The program is instrumental in building capacity and broadening participation for less populous states and territories, as well as in supporting underrepresented minorities. Approximately 30 percent of the nation's minority-serving institutions are in EPSCoR jurisdictions, including about fifty percent of the historically black colleges and universities and 70 percent of the tribal colleges and universities.
EPSCoR is one of NSF's most successful endeavors, enjoying widespread support in academe, industry and government.
Members of Congress recognize the program's contribution to the nation, as indicated by a March 2004 letter from 29 senators representing EPSCoR states. They wrote to Christopher Bond and Barbara Mikulski in their former capacities as chair and ranking member, respectively, of NSF's Senate Appropriations Subcommittee, to petition for increased EPSCoR funding in FY 2005. The senators wrote, "NSF EPSCoR has been successful in our states... [the program] contributes to the educational experience of students, helps faculty develop and maintain expertise..., and lays the foundation for local economic development." The letter concludes "EPSCoR is considered a model federal/state partnership."
Indeed, the success of NSF's EPSCoR program led to the formation of six EPSCoR, or "EPSCoR-like," programs across the Federal government, in agencies such as the Departments of Defense and Energy, NASA, and NIH. In 1993, Congress directed NSF to form the EPSCoR Interagency Coordinating Committee, the EICC, to coordinate the efforts of the Federal EPSCoR programs.
NSF plays a leadership role, with the head of NSF's EPSCoR office serving as chair of the EICC. By focusing the resources of the individual agency programs, the EICC wrings the most value from the limited tax dollars available.
We are currently seeking a more coherent set of program objectives and management practices for EPSCoR among these participating agencies.
The letter from those 29 EPSCoR Senators also raises the crucial point I want to discuss tonight: the evolution of EPSCoR. The Senators refer to modifications made to EPSCoR in past years, specifically, the co-funding initiative and the Research Infrastructure Improvement program. Those changes were made in response to the increasing role that technology expertise plays in sustained economic growth.
The Senators commended NSF for the new initiatives, writing, "NSF now has an innovative and comprehensive approach that has great promise.... Under the new structure, [EPSCoR] promises to be more effective than ever."
This Senatorial praise confirms that EPSCoR must continually evolve to build upon its established track record. We must recognize and adapt to changes in the scientific, academic and political environment. Last year, the National Science Board voted to eliminate cost sharing. That decision was itself an adaptation to changes facing the academic community.
Universities now operate under stringent compliance mandates, including the Patriot Act and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Ensuring compliance with these laws results in additional expense for the institutions, making it harder for them to contribute cost sharing funds for research.
In addition, we've found that smaller baccalaureate and minority-serving institutions--a significant part of EPSCoR awardees--are unable to fully participate in NSF programs because of the cost sharing requirements. While cost sharing was viable when implemented in 1970, it is less so in 2005, especially if it puts undue hardship on the community that EPSCoR is pledged to support.
I know that the end of cost sharing is a sore subject. However, we are not strangers to adaptation. All of us, as researchers, educators, and administrators, pride ourselves on pushing the frontiers of science and engineering. Throughout our careers, we have embraced new ideas, adapted to new procedures, and embraced new technologies. Likewise, we need to look at the elimination of cost sharing as a stimulus to explore new ideas and innovative approaches for state-federal partnerships, and not as a barrier to such partnerships.
There are all kinds of partnerships, and they need to extend beyond economic leveraging. They need to also extend to intellectual and geographic leveraging.
For years, NSF has helped to build research capacity in the EPSCoR states and territories. Now, it's time to do more with that capacity.
The EPSCoR jurisdictions bring both technical capabilities and novel ideas to the table and can continue to form partnerships that transcend mandates for cost sharing. Among other things, successful partnerships can be established with an exchange of knowledge, an exchange of personnel, or the use of shared facilities.
The state of New Mexico provides an excellent example of the types of innovative partnerships we need to create. In February of this year, seven New Mexico research institutions, including Sandia National Laboratories, the University of New Mexico and the non-profit MIND Institute, announced a standardized approach to technology licensing. Under the agreement, private companies can license technology from any of the participating institutions. This bundling will result in faster product development, since technology transfer issues, like royalty pricing, have already been established by the agreement. The New Mexico EPSCoR office helped develop this partnership, which will serve as a model for other technology transfer agreements.
The state of Idaho provides another example of new partnerships, this one involving facilities. Several years ago, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service deeded a fisheries lab to the state. Idaho is the nation's largest commercial producer of rainbow trout; thus, aquaculture, or fish farming, is a critical research area. With NSF EPSCoR support, the donated fisheries lab became part of the University of Idaho's Aquaculture Research Institute. Known as the Hagerman Fish Culture Experiment Station, the lab is developing into a world-class facility for fish physiology and genomics research. In addition to supporting the state's aquaculture industry, the Hagerman station provides employment, community outreach and research opportunities to Native Americans.
These two examples are partnerships contained within individual EPSCoR states. However, partnerships can expand beyond geographic boundaries. Your institutions can partner on a regional basis, building alliances across the country, to focus on areas of mutual interest. Cross-country, indeed cross-global, partnerships are becoming common-place.
NSF's Long-Term Ecological Research Network (LTER) is a good example. Several EPSCoR jurisdictions participate in LTER, including Alaska, Kansas and Puerto Rico. Originally designed to conduct ecological research at isolated, completely natural sites, LTER has evolved to recognize ecosystems ranging from "near-pristine" to "constructed"--from the Kansas prairie to the "wilds" of urban Baltimore.
LTER is also an example of international partnership, with the U.S. LTER joining similar networks in South America, Asia and Australia to track long-term global ecological events.
Just as LTER evolved to recognize new ecosystems, so EPSCoR must continue to evolve. The program is a terrific success--a jewel in the Federal R&D crown. To capitalize on the progress we've made, and ensure continued progress into the future, EPSCoR must innovate, departing from traditional ideas of collaboration to embrace new partnerships.
Like all change, EPSCoR's evolution may sometimes be inconvenient, even painful, but we will emerge better equipped to encourage and support budding Einsteins and Marie Curies in Nebraska and beyond.
In closing, I want to thank all of you for your dedication to NSF EPSCoR. The program could not, and will not, proceed without your continued commitment, talent and enthusiasm. You, your institutions and the National Science Foundation are part of a rewarding, successful partnership that I hope will continue far into the future. Thank you, and I'll be happy to take your questions.