SEPTEMBER 16, 1996
Let me begin by saying how delighted I am to join Jack Gibbons and Governor Geringer and all of you for this year's EPSCoR Conference and discuss the future of science and education and the role of the EPSCoR states. I would also like to thank our moderator Dr. Luther Williams, Rich Anderson and all the EPSCoR staff and of course Joe Danek, for their fine work in putting together this year's conference and for making the EPSCoR program a model for supporting excellent research and education. So I look forward to a thoughtful and rich exchange of ideas on how the EPSCoR program can contribute to the meeting the challenges facing the research and education community as we approach the next century.
Before I begin my comments this morning, I must confess to being somewhat disappointed that we are be here in Washington for this year's meeting. While I'm sure that most of you are happy to be here to get the scoop about what is happening inside the beltway, I was hoping to get outside the confines of DC to visit one of your states.
Actually, I was hoping we'd be meeting in:
the Rockies of Idaho or Montana, the Green Mountains of Vermont, or maybe on the coast of Maine.
New Orleans or Las Vegas would be nice, or perhaps the Black Hills of South Dakota. And I think I could be persuaded into enjoying South Carolina's beaches or Alabama's Gulf Coast.
Even better--and I'm sure Governor would agree--we could be enjoying the unrivalled rugged beauty of the Grand Tetons of Wyoming.
On second thought, we could all just take a short drive up Route 70 to the wild rivers (very wild these days) and beautiful vistas of West Virginia.
Indeed all of our EPSCoR states have much to offer.
I could go on but let me stop here before you get the wrong idea: I am not hoping for more travel. But what I am hoping to point out is that the EPSCoR states are truly national treasures with so much to offer the nation. The EPSCoR states are national treasures not just because of their wonderful natural resources, but because of their people, their leadership and their unique and indispensable role in building an intellectual bridge to the 21st Century.
These assets are the focus of my remarks to you today: they provide the intellectual capital that is so vital for the future of our nation and your states. For if we are going to build an intellectual bridge to the 21st Century, institutions that participate in the EPSCoR program will have a critical role to play in constructing that span. And if we are to move confidently into the next century we must rely on many of the commitments that have made EPSCoR such a success. These include the commitment to quality as determined by merit review with peer evaluation, the commitment to working in partnership with universities and colleges, private industry and government at both the state and Federal levels, as well as the commitments to K-12 education and to public outreach.
Contrary to what we may see on television sitcoms, we know that America's best and brightest come from all over the country. They come from South Dakota and South Carolina, from Maine and Mississippi. Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia likes to point out that the President of MIT, Chuck Vest, is a West Virginian and graduate of the University of West Virginia. I would also note that Dr. Philip Sharp--1993 Nobel Prize Winner in Medicine and member of the PCAST --is a Kentuckian and graduate of Union College in Kentucky. EPSCoR states have produced both major party presidential candidates in 1996. And I am happy to point out that the Director of the National Science Foundation comes from the prairies of Oklahoma.
With so much to offer the nation, it would be an injustice if the residents of the EPSCoR states were prevented from having the same opportunities to excel and achieve as those in other states. The National Science Foundation is responsible for progress in science, engineering and mathematics in this nation, and that means everywhere in the Nation. That is why NSF programs must ensure that all talented individuals enjoy the same opportunities. Factors such as race, ethnicity and geography should not be limiting factors in any way.
As some of you may have heard me say in the past, my first exposure to the EPSCoR program came when I was a division director at NSF in 1979-80 and then through my participation as a reviewer in several site visits for EPSCoR programs. Before that time--I will confess--I was skeptical of EPSCoR.
But what I saw during my experience as a reviewer really opened my eyes and adjusted my attitude. I was struck by and impressed with the quality and depth of the EPSCoR research that we reviewed.
I am happy to say that this very favorable impression created by the EPSCoR researchers so many years ago has only been reinforced as I visit other EPSCoR states as NSF Director. Just this spring for example, I had a chance to visit Montana with Jack Gibbons and Senator Conrad Burns, talk with faculty and students in the labs of Montana State University out in the field in yellowstone in Wyoming, to hear Jack Horner speak about fascinating paleontological discoveries in Montana. On another trip this year , I had the pleasure of seeing top-flight K-12 students giving science presentations at the University of Puerto Rico as part of NSF's systemic reform initiative in Puerto Rico. I also had the chance to visit with EPSCoR researchers in materials science and biotechnology. I was particularly impressed with the integration of the work of the Puerto Rico EPSCoR researchers with the on-going research effort at Puerto Rico's Long-term Ecological Research site funded by NSF's Biological Sciences Directorate.
But before I let my excitement and enthusiasm for all the great research and education projects I have seen as NSF Director get me off track, let me turn briefly to a somewhat sobering subject. It is a subject that makes clear why the commitments of the EPSCoR program that I spoke of earlier are so important, and that is the realities of the outlook for research funding.
When it comes to research funding, I often tell people the devil is not just in the details, it's in the totals. You may read about so-called "out-year projections" of NSF's or other agencies' budgets through the year 2002. They're not very good. Still-- we don't place great currency in those projections, because those numbers are revisited every year by the President and the Congress, when they set the actual budgets for the year.
The aggregated overall totals projected for the major categories of Federal spending do deserve our attention, particularly the category known as domestic discretionary spending. This includes most of what we think of as the day-to-day running of the government--parks, highways, prisons, NSF, NIH, NASA, most of DOE, NEA, NEH, EPA, DoED and scores of other programs and agencies. You might be surprised to learn that this category makes up less than 1/6th of the total Federal budget.
Even more surprising and of more concern is that this small slice of the pie is slated to bear a lion's share of the spending reductions needed to balance the budget. In fact, this 1/6th slice of the pie is expected to drop to 1/7th of the pie by 2002 according to most projections (CBO estimate). That reflects a decline in purchasing power of some 20 percent.
Again, while we can't predict with any precision how this will affect NSF or any other agency, we do know that there will be increased competition for funds from this shrinking slice of the pie. We also know that for several decades, federal support for R&D has tracked very closely with total domestic discretionary spending.
It would be folly to ignore the real possibility that the federal investment in research, including that in universities, could decrease in real terms by 20% or more over the next 5 to 10 years if trends continue as they are now. In a way, this Nation is getting ready to carry out an experiment it has never run before to see if we can reduce the purchasing power of research investment by 20% and still be a world leader in the 21st century. That is a high-risk experiment.
But before we let these dark clouds rain on our parade, let us remember that we are not helpless bystanders in this debate. When it comes to budgets and politics, the best advice comes from the great sage, Yogi Berra--"it ain't over until it's over." He also said "when you come to a fork in the road--take it"--So let's take it!
It is especially ironic that NSF and other agencies that support research and education in science and engineering find themselves in this uncertain position at this particular time. We are on the threshold of a truly revolutionary era of discovery and progress in research and education.
Nowhere is that more evident than in the story of the now-famous Martian Meteorite. If you read the newspaper articles or watched the TV news accounts, you got a version of the story in a nutshell: scientists in Antarctica find a meteorite from Mars, slice it up, take pictures of it, zap it with lasers, and presto, they find potential signs of ancient microbial life. A nice, concise, orderly storyline with no loose ends. Or at least that's how the story looks at first glance.
But the real story comes through only by examining all the different and seemingly unrelated subplots that needed to come together in order for there to be a story in the first place. Why were scientists in Antarctica looking for Meteorites? How do we know the meteorite is from Mars? What technologies allow us to see details in structures 20 nanometers in diameter, or to detect the chemical signals of life after 3.6 billion years and a wayward journey through the solar system?
I won't attempt to go into great detail answering these key questions or try to do justice to the complexity of the science involved but I do want to highlight the story they tell about modern science. In many ways it's a familiar story to all of us. It is a story about the inherent unpredictability of fundamental research, the importance of leading-edge instrumentation and facilities for research, the requirement for a strong, stable national investment across the full spectrum of science and engineering fields, and the need to engage the public and build appreciation for our efforts in research and education.
When we look across science and engineering, we can see similar stories--many developing in the EPSCoR states--both in terms of the excitement they generate and in terms of their potential impact on society. These don't always generate banner headlines about little green people or microbes. But they nevertheless hold the potential to revolutionize how we remedy social ills and spark economic growth. In fact, there is wide agreement that we are entering an era where science, engineering, and technology will exert greater influence on daily life than at any time in human history.
Our future as a society is one where all citizens will be active learners, reliant upon leading-edge tools from science and technology. Our era is often described as the information age, where knowledge has become the most valuable resources. Leaders and thinkers as diverse as Peter Drucker and Carl Sagan and Newt Gingrich and Al Gore all agree that knowledge has surpassed labor, capital, and natural resources as the key to quality of life and economic growth.
This is not so much a vision of the future, as it is a challenge to shape a future that has already arrived. Albert Einstein once said, "I never worry about the future; it comes soon enough." I believe the science and engineering community, and especially the EPSCoR community, should think about the future because it has a central and leading role to play in making sure that the arrival of the information age benefits all Americans and is an era of growth and progress.
There is no disputing the arrival of the information age. Personal computers reside on virtually every office desktop and have moved into over one-third of U.S. homes, according to the latest statistics. The Internet attracts tens of millions of users each day, even after discounting the estimates for doublecounting and other survey biases.
Despite these compelling statistics, our society has barely begun to reap the benefits offered by this new era. Yes, computers are becoming ubiquitous, but most serve as little more than glorified typewriters. Yes, networks and networking tools are a commercial success, but their immense potential for revolutionizing communication and collaboration remains largely untapped. Far too many people equate producing mass quantities of information with the generation of knowledge that is organized, integrated, evaluated, accessible, and therefore truly valuable.
Of course when looking at the accomplishments of EPSCoR, I am reminded of not only EPSCoR's fine research and education activities but the innovative experiments in information technology that allow many diverse groups take advantage of the fruits of these activities. EPSCoR institutions--indeed the entire EPSCoR program--has been a leader in meeting the daunting challenges of the information age.
The networking experiments spawned by EPSCoR have enabled individual investigators at colleges and universities, state and local governments, and private industry to form new partnerships that help break down some of the barriers that have isolated these groups in the past. In addition, EPSCoR's emphasis on networking and communication has allowed other groups and institutions with unique needs like the Tribal and Native American Colleges to participate in EPSCoR-sponsored research and education activities.
These projects remind me of another point. I spoke earlier of the commitments of EPSCoR: commitment to merit review through peer evaluation, to partnerships, and to education at all levels--but there is one other commitment that I think is critical if we are to move confidently into the next century. It is a hallmark of EPSCoR--part of its name in fact. I am speaking of the commitment to experimentation and I believe the entire academic enterprise would benefit from adopting a similar commitment.
One key area where I see that EPSCoR experiments having the potential for national leadership is the area of integrating research and education. At NSF, we want to see that all students have the skills and tools needed to deal with the complex and the unpredictable.
This requires investing in activities that promote learning through inquiry, exploration, and discovery: the tools of research. We call this the integration of research and education and it is a key theme in the NSF Strategic Plan, and one of the priorities in our FY 1997 budget request.
A centerpiece of our efforts is a new pilot activity, which we are calling Recognition Awards for the Integration of Research and Education. These awards are aimed at identifying and recognizing research universities that have already shown bold leadership, exceptional innovation, and tangible accomplishment in linking research and education.
Perhaps more important is that these institutions will have established an environment that values, encourages, and rewards faculty members not only for their research but for their teaching and other educational activities as well--such as linking student learning to research in innovative ways.
There is a widely held perception that many universities have allowed the linkage between research and teaching to deteriorate over time. The EPSCoR program by contrast has encouraged institutions to build capacity in research in ways that contribute directly to the schools' educational mission. This is a major reason why all of us at NSF believe EPSCoR institutions could provide national leadership as we work together to restore the natural linkages between research and education.
In conclusion, if we are to successfully build an intellectual bridge to the 21st century, we in the science and engineering community must be willing to make some important commitments.
Given the budgetary climate over the next decade, we must be willing to look at new and innovative ways of supporting research, especially through partnerships. We must utilize technology in a manner that will clarify and streamline the flow of information. We must revitalize and reform the way students learn science and technology to better reflect the true nature of discovery.
It is no surprise that many of these are features of the EPSCoR program. The mission of EPSCoR is not only to produce the new knowledge necessary for improving our society and our economy, but to spur comprehensive reform of the entire science and technology enterprise in each of the EPSCoR states. By stimulating this reform through experimentation and commitment to creative partnerships, EPSCoR investments in networking, education, and of course cutting-edge, merit-based, peer reviewed research can serve as important models for all of us in the science community as we seek to build a better system of science and engineering research and education for the 21st Century.
Thank you. I look forward to our discussion.