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GAO, Future of EPSCoR committee issue reports

August 18, 2022
By: Emily Schabes

Jurisdictions that were early EPSCoR participants benefitted more from the program with higher project approval rates, but whether program goals are being met is unclear, according to a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report examining National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR). The GAO report and another from the subcommittee on the Future of EPSCoR looked at the effectiveness of the program and made recommendations for improvement.

NSF established the EPSCoR program in 1979 to help states and territories compete for federal research funding. A jurisdiction is eligible to participate if their most recent five-year level of total NSF funding is equal to or less than 0.75 percent of the total NSF budget (excluding EPSCoR funding and NSF funding to other federal agencies). Currently 28 states and territories participate. In addition to improving the research capability, the program aims toestablish professional development pathways in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM); broaden participation of diverse groups and institutions in STEM; and impact jurisdictional economic development.

The Committee on Equal Opportunities in Science and Engineering (CEOSE), a congressionally mandated committee that provides advice on, “policies and activities of the Foundation [NSF] to encourage full participation of women, minorities, and persons with disabilities in scientific, engineering, and professional fields,” formed a subcommittee that undertook a visioning process that examined the EPSCoR program and gave recommendations on how to improve it. 

The committee offered eight recommendations in its report, which include: 

  • Ecosystem Approach to Investments: Leverage partnerships with federal agencies to increase funding and create more collaboration between EPSCoR and non-EPSCoR jurisdictions.
  • Increased Integration of NSF EPSCoR: Develop internal programs that highlight strengths of EPSCoR jurisdictions.
  • Diverse Talent and Retention: Grow the number of competitive staff and faculty, as well as continue to encourage competitive, sustainable research across jurisdictions.
  • Physical and Administrative Infrastructure: Invest in constructing or modernizing research infrastructure in order to promote sustainable research. 
  • Programs to Promote Intra- and Inter- jurisdictional Research, Education and Workforce Development:Fund collaborative research projects across jurisdictions.
  • Support for Workforce, Including Those with Diverse Career Pathways: Create more research opportunities for pre-tenure and mid-career faculty.
  • Proactive Inclusion Strategies: Provide opportunities for EPSCoR researchers from underrepresented groups.
  • Access and Opportunity: Provide greater support at Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs), Primary Undergraduate Institutions (PUIs) and Two-Year Colleges (TYCs).

Nineteen suggestions are also described in the report. The full report can be accessed here.

According to the GAO report, NSF has provided limited information on program goals, such as including underrepresented groups in research and promoting economic development. NSF officials have said the information was not included in reports to Congress because the information was not required. 

The report found statistically significant increases in research funding for jurisdictions who joined the program in the early growth stage, but not for jurisdictions who joined the program after 2000, which could be because they were involved in the program for a shorter period. 

Research methods for the GAO’s report included an econometric analysis as well as 14 semi-structured interviews with officials from seven jurisdictions, in which all seven EPSCoR jurisdictions found the program helped increase research competitiveness. According to NSF, EPSCoR engaged 6,800 academic institution faculty members, over 18,000 K-12 educators, and over 309,000 K-12 students over the last five years. 

The GAO recommended that NSF enhance its EPSCoR reporting to Congress, noting that the reports could include measures of jurisdictions’ success in broadening participation in STEM.

 

EPSCoR, gao