Program Overview

EPSCoR/IDeA: A Necessary and Sound Investment in our Nation’s Future

The National Science Foundation established EPSCoR in 1979 because Congress was troubled by the uneven distribution of federal research and development grants. After World War II, federally funded academic research grew dramatically, but national science policy at the time tended to funnel resources to a small number of centers of excellence. Grants gravitated toward the few states and institutions that had historically benefited. This status quo ignored the dramatic growth in regional educational and research institutions, and therefore, the nation wasn’t profiting fully from the wealth of ingenuity and skill embedded across the country.

Imbalance Map

EPSCoR, which stands for “Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research,” was the answer. Today, four other federal agencies have followed the National Science Foundation in creating EPSCoR or EPSCoR-like programs: the National Institutes of Health, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the Departments of Energy and Agriculture. The National Institute of Health’s Institutional Development Award (IDeA) program is the largest of the EPSCoR or EPSCoR-like programs.

EPSCoR/IDeA helps researchers and institutions improve their research capabilities and quality in order to compete more effectively for “mainstream” competitive research funds.  EPSCoR/IDeA expands and improves the research capability of scientists and institutions in eligible states, allows them to compete more effectively for "mainstream" federal academic research and development money, builds eligible states' technical workforces in order to foster innovation and to contribute to the state’s and the nation’s economy.EPSCoR/IDeA projects undergo merit reviews at the state level to align projects with state and institutional needs and priorities. At the federal level, they undergo rigorous external merit review to make sure they meet national standards of quality. EPSCoR/IDeA funds only high-quality research that “adds significant value” to the existing science and technology enterprise.

Importance of EPSCoR/IDeA

Through EPSCoR/IDeA, 24 states as well as Guam, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico receive about ten percent of federal academic research dollars. Put another way, the research institutions in more than half the states still do not fully participate in the $36.8 billion federal R&D investments in academia.  Yet scientific and technological research cannot be limited to a few states if the nation is to maintain world leadership and reach its full potential. Researchers in EPSCoR/IDeA states are needed for the nation to meet its most pressing priorities in health, cyberinfrastructure, and homeland security. A broad science and technology base is especially important in an era when different regions have unique issues involving natural resources, health, security, and the environment.


And strong academic research centers are important to every state in order to provide sound education and research opportunities for its students (most students attend college within 50 miles of home), a trained workforce, and support for both existing and emerging businesses, especially in the high technology area. Studies show that high technology businesses tend to cluster where they have a trained workforce and strong research capability and support. Through EPSCoR/IDeA, participating states and territories are building a high-quality, university-based research infrastructure, a backbone to their scientific and technological enterprises, and a strong and stable economic base into the next century.

Global competition demands a highly skilled workforce, and the country’s economic future depends on scientific and technological advances everywhere.  Recent data shows that the United States is now tenth among OECD nations in over-all R&D investment as a percentage of GDP.  As the US loses its competitive edge, countries like China are increasing their research investments in order to stimulate economic growth.  The US should shore up its scientific enterprise to continue the advantage it has held as an engine of innovation that generates new discoveries and stimulates job growth, and EPSCoR states are major participants in many  of the  areas  begging  for  attention.  For example, they educate large numbers of engineers; they are major energy producing states; they lead in oceans policy and research, and they are in the forefront of disciplines related to climate, weather and natural resource issues.

Why Epscor

EPSCoR/IDeA: Making A Difference

In 2013, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) completed a study of the EPSCoR and IDeA programs and concluded that: "The Nation requires the talent, expertise, and research capabilities of all States in order to prepare sufficient numbers of scientists and engineers, remain globally competitive, and support economic development.“ The NAS study also concluded that "EPSCoR programs have enhanced the nation’s human capital by strengthening research infrastructure and training many future scientists and engineers in states where, in some cases training opportunities had been scarce and largely inadequate prior to the program’s arrival.”  An evaluation of the National Science Foundation’s EPSCoR program, released by the Institute for Defense Analysis (IDA) Science and Technology Policy Institute (STPI) in December 2014, found that “the EPSCoR program has contributed meaningfully to jurisdictions’ increased competitiveness for NSF funds,” and also that “jurisdictions across all EPSCoR cohorts have developed their research bases and increased their S&E research and education programs, reaching, in certain cases, parity with non-EPSCoR jurisdictions.”  

But more work remains. The uneven distribution of federal academic research funding persists. Just five states receive 40 percent of these funds, while the 27 jurisdictions eligible for EPSCoR/IDeA receive only 10 percent. In every state, talented American youth aspire to careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.  Over the past decade, the scientific talent and the research infrastructure in EPSCoR/IDeA jurisdictions have undergone enormous change, but these states are poised to do even more for the nation.


EPSCoR/IDeA operates in 27 jurisdictions. The set of eligible jurisdictions varies among agencies.

In each EPSCoR/IDeA jurisdiction, a statewide committee guides the program. Senior university officials, representatives from state legislatures and governor’s offices, and representatives from the private sector usually make up these state committees.

The committees lead new policies and infrastructure development, generate high levels of collaboration, keep EPSCoR/IDeA responsive to state and regional needs, and cultivate broad-based support for science and technology within the jurisdictions.

The high caliber of these committees encourages each state to allocate the resources necessary for their EPSCoR/IDeA projects to succeed.


By increasing the quality of research within the EPSCoR/IDeA jurisdictions, the federal program:

  • Facilitates U.S. world leadership in science and technology by strengthening the nation’s research capability;
  • Encourages all parts of the country to participate in and benefit from a strong scientific and technological enterprise;
  • Builds local, state, and national support for stronger science and technology research and education;
  • Expands economic opportunity and creates jobs through improved education and technology transfer; and,
  • Prepares a diverse and highly-competent technical workforce.
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