Remarks By
JOHN H. GIBBONS
Assistant to the President for Science and Technology

12th Annual EPSCoR National Conference

Renaissance Hotel
Washington, DC

September 16, 1996


Thank you. I am pleased to be with you today and to bring a message from the President of the United States. He was disappointed he could not be here with you himself, but wanted to send his best wishes.

Warm greeting to everyone gathered in our nation's capital for the 12th annual EPSCoR National Conference, hosted by the National Science Foundation and the EPSCoR Foundation.

To prepare for the challenges of the twenty-first century, America must remain at the forefront of innovation in science and technology. EPSCoR's conference and its theme, "Effecting Change Through EPSCoR," reflect your commitment to promoting research and human resource development of the highest quality. Operating in 18 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research has been vital in developing the ideas, the technologies, and the applications that can accelerate our nation's progress.

I salute your dedication to excellence and your leadership in science. Your efforts have the potential to benefit generations to come in ways we are just beginning to imagine today.

Best wishes for a productive conference and every future success.

We are witnesses to fundamental change in the relationship between the federal and state governments. The devolution of responsibilities to the states for major income support and health programs is now taking place. This social revolution will require now more than ever that states develop sustainable capacities for stimulating community and regional economic development, drawing from the scientific and technological advances of their universities, other educational institutions, and private industry.

Devolution is occurring along with the movement toward a balanced budget. The President remains committed to achieving a balanced federal budget by the year 2002. But he firmly believes that we must continue to invest in science and technology to assure a bright future for each and every American. He understands that scientific and technological advances are crucial to the economic development and vitality of regions, states, and localities. Such economic development the jobs it creates and the improved quality of life for community residents it produces are the basic building blocks of the President's bridge into the twenty-first century.

Within the context of these very recent developments, the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), which was, as you know, created in 1980, was extraordinarily visionary.

Its creators understood that our nation, founded on democratic principles, cannot tolerate the existence of science rich/science poor states and regions. In an era of declining federal research budgets, intensified competition for research dollars, and increasing state responsibilities for many programs that were formerly federal activities, the EPSCoR concept was ahead of the times and responded creatively to the needs and opportunities of communities and regions in advance of historic devolution. The results have been increased numbers of new enterprises and good in communities where economic restructuring was having severe consequences for family survival, and technological diversification in struggling local economies where traditional agrarian or industrial sources of income were declining.

EPSCoR has demonstrated that universities can join with industry and state and federal government to promote high-quality scientific investigations that benefit not only the state, but the entire country. Based, as EPSCoR is, in different social, cultural, and biological niches of 18 eligible states, scientific and technological advances that may have been dormant and undeveloped have flourished, to the benefit of the entire nation. As examples: the discovery that tree fungi can produce anti-cancer compounds occurred at Montana State University by a team of plant pathologists as they observed a fungus nestled in the bark of the yew tree, a source of an antięcancer compound, taxol.

EPSCoR recognized, long before the heightened interest in human capital development in science and technology, that we cannot accept anything less than a scientifically literate and science-supportive citizenry, including our elected representatives, in every state of the nation. The expanding global economy requires such a citizenry in order for communities, states, and regions to compete with countries throughout the world for the good jobs of the future. We are indebted to EPSCoR for making major contributions to human capital development in science and technology, including stimulating research careers among underrepresented groups and regions who are vitally needed for our nation's scientific and technological future.

The federal investment, $80 million in 1996, has been relatively small, but the yields have been great. Enhancing the capacity of "have not" states to become competitive for federal research support was EPSCoR's original reason for being; that goal is even more critical in the budgetary climate sixteen years later. But while EPSCoR deserves its strong bipartisan support in the Congress and state legislatures and in the private sector, it, along with other highly meritorious programs, is now a target for reduction or elimination as part of deficit reduction. I am confident that EP SCoR will continue to flourish, for the very reason that it is an innovative, adaptive strategy that has earned strong intersectoral support from the key sources of funding in the private and public arenas.

But we must remain vigilant throughout the upcoming budgetary cycle, and use this meeting to address how EPSCoR, based on considerable experience of the last decade and a half, can build from its successes and experience, and be strengthened for the future.

As you are well aware, the competition for federal research dollars will only increase as we work to balance the budget. The commitment of the President to a healthy scientific and technological enterprise in the United States must be supported by bench scientists, their professional associations, and the public. EPSCoR states can play a key role in that effort.

The President has also made education one of the foundations of his bridge into the twenty-first century. He aims for every child in every classroom to be an informed and skilled driver on the information superhighway. We will continue to promote the cultivation of scientific and technological leadership for our nation. EPSCoR has fulfilled a vital role toward this national goal by supporting mentoring our future leaders in science, mathematics, and engineering. On September 25, the first group of Presidential awardees in science, technology, and engineering mentoring will be recognized at the White House. This annual award reflects the President's strong commitment to nurturing the scientific and technological talent of our country. I am immensely pleased that three of the 16 awardees come from EPSCoR states.

The EPSCoR states have accomplished a great deal since 1980, but much remains as unfinished business. Let me mention three challenges.

EPSCoR's success stories and its remaining challenges, should be used to inform future science policy in an era of balanced budgets. The EPSCoR vision has spread from the National Science Foundation to six more federal agencies, and could be expanded to others. We need to keep score in order to track the successes of EPSCoR and learn ways to improve for the future. We should treat EPSCoR as a business in a highly competitive environment.

Second, communication with the general public and with the wider scientific community about EPSCoR and its achievements is essential for its continued funding. Public support of science remains very strong, but it must be sustained through communication of concrete examples that capture the interest of the public. EPSCoR support already has contributed outstanding examples such as the findings about dinosaur behavior which inspired Jurassic Park and promoted a paleontology tourism industry in Montana.

Science, mathematics and technology education, particularly the preparation and development of teachers, remains a serious barrier to the progress we have made thus far. The U.S. Department of Education has estimated that in the year 2006, the nation will need about 190,000 additional teachers in the K-12 system. The role of EPSCoR institutions in human resource development, including teacher preparation in the sciences and technology, must be systematically assessed, and where successful, transferred to other sites. Continuing training of our citizens, especially our teachers, in the necessary science and technology skills, like information technology, is essential to our success in the twenty-first century. Institutions of higher education can play vital roles in nurturing scientific interest and talent at the pre-collegiate levels, not only in inspiring future scientists, but individuals who are interested in teaching young people.

EPSCoR attests to the power of creative, strategic ideas in how our nation invests in science and technology in economically changing times. We have much to celebrate at this meeting, but also much more to accomplish for the future. It is my hope that this gathering will do both.

Thank you.