Members of Congress Urge Leadership to Incorporate EPSCoR Provisions in Conference Bill

September 1, 2021

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, today joined 33 Senate and 26 House colleagues in a letter to congressional leaders highlighting important provisions included in the Senate-passed United States Innovation and Competition Act (USICA) to strengthen the Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR). The members called on leadership to incorporate these landmark provisions as both chambers consider legislation to improve U.S. competitiveness, especially against China.       

Despite its statutory mission to “avoid undue concentration” of scientific research and education, the National Science Foundation (NSF) spends nearly half of its research and development (R&D) budget in six states plus the District of Columbia. Congress established the EPSCoR program to improve the competitiveness of institutions and researchers in jurisdictions that receive comparatively small amounts of R&D funding by setting aside funds to strengthen research capacity and capability. Today, 25 states and three territories qualify to participate, and five federal agencies have EPSCoR programs including the NSF, Department of Energy, Department of Agriculture, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and National Institutes of Health.

“If the United States is going to stay a step ahead of China, we need to promote the scientific talent, expertise, and capabilities found throughout America, not in just a handful of states and universities,” said Wicker. “The Senate language strengthens the EPSCoR program by helping ensure that institutions and researchers across the country receive a fair share of federal R&D funding and contribute to innovation in key technology areas. My support for this legislation is dependent on these provisions remaining in the bill.”

Wicker authored the EPSCoR provisions highlighted in the letter and shepherded its passage through the Senate Commerce Committee and Senate floor. Specifically, these sections of USICA would require the NSF to allocate at least 20% of its annual funding to the EPSCoR program, including for the new Technology Directorate. It would also require NSF to make at least 20% of its STEM workforce awards to institutions located in EPSCoR jurisdictions including undergraduate scholarships, graduate fellowships and traineeships, postdoctoral awards, and other awards.  

“We strongly support this approach and believe that it is necessary to leverage every state and community in the nation to remain globally competitive,” the members wrote. “With the robust investment in R&D funding included in the United States Innovation and Competition Act, this approach will continue to support states that traditionally receive a high amount of NSF research dollars while also supporting innovation in underserved regions.”

 Members who joined Wicker in the letter to Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., include: Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., James Inhofe, R-Okla., Jack Reed, D-R.I.,  Christopher Coons, D-Del., Jerry Moran, R-Kan., Roger Marshall, R-Kan., Susan Collins, R-Maine, Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., Thomas Carper, D-Del., Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Jon Tester, D-Mont., Bill Cassidy, R-La., Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., Angus King, I-Maine, Tim Scott, R-S.C., Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, John Boozman, R-Ark., Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., Mike Rounds, R-S.D., James Risch, R-Idaho, Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, John Barrasso R-Wyo., Deb Fischer, R-Neb., Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Richard Shelby, R-Ala., Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.V., and James Lankford, R-Okla. The letter also includes: Reps. David Cicilline, D-R.I., Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., Sharice Davids, D-Kan., Andy Barr, R-Ky., James  Langevin, D-R.I., Trent Kelly, R-Miss., Chris Pappas, D-N.H., Nancy Mace, R-S.C., Dina Titus, D-Nev., Jake LaTurner, R-Kan., Steven Horsford, D-Nev., Don Bacon, R-Neb., Teresa Leger Fernandez, D-N.M., Ron Estes, R-Kan., Chellie Pingree, D-Minn., Garret Graves, R-La., Melanie Stansbury, D-N.M., Tracey Mann, R-Kan., Peter Welch, D-Vt., Ralph Norman, R-S.C., Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Del., Don Young, R-Calif., Tom Rice, R-S.C., Hal Rogers, R-Ky., William Timmons, R-S.C., and Joe Wilson, R-S.C.

Find a copy of the letter HERE.

Leaders from universities in Mississippi are expressing support for the EPSCoR provisions:

“The EPSCoR program has been vital in assisting universities in smaller and disadvantaged states become more competitive for research funding,” said Dr. David Shaw, Provost and Executive Vice President of Mississippi State University. “Zip code should not determine whether talented students can develop the workforce of the future, the new ideas for entrepreneurial businesses, and the economic development so desperately needed in some of our more depressed economies. MSU strives for all students, but particularly those from under-represented and disadvantaged populations, to be successful. To do that, however, we must be provided the resources to involve these students in creative discovery, technology development, and entrepreneurship to ensure that they are given all the tools necessary to be successful in their lives and careers.”

“The State of Mississippi has significantly benefited from EPSCoR funding, providing numerous means to attract top researchers as well as invest in state-of-the-art equipment,” said Dr. Gordon Cannon, Vice President for Research at University of Southern Mississippi. “During my 35 year tenure at The University of Southern Mississippi, I have seen firsthand the significant impact of EPSCoR funding has on research faculty and students. Senator Wicker's leadership and continued support of the EPSCoR program will ensure the continued growth of Mississippi's research enterprise. We appreciate Senator Wicker's ongoing support of vital programs like EPSCoR, as they will ensure that the United States remains technologically competitive in the emerging global research market.”

“The United States is fortunate to have tremendous science and engineering talent across our nation, but the federal funding for research and development is concentrated in a small number of states,” said Dr. Josh Gladden, Vice Chancellor for Research and Sponsored Programs at University of Mississippi. “The EPSCoR program has been extremely beneficial in helping states like Mississippi build the research and development infrastructure required to unleash the talent of our researchers to create innovations that benefit society. With four research-intensive universities, these additional funds will generate significant opportunities for the research enterprise in the state with impacts for the country and the world. We thank Sen. Wicker for his leadership and vision to benefit the lives of Mississippians and all Americans through discovery.”

"We commend Senator Wicker's foresight and leadership in championing the EPSCoR set-aside provisions in the Endless Frontier Act/ US Innovation and Competition Act, and look forward to the impact this set aside will have on research and innovation in EPSCoR states,” said Dr. Joseph Whittaker, Vice President for Research and Economic Development at Jackson State University. “As an HBCU, this proposed level of support would enable Jackson State University (JSU) to increase its competitiveness through capacity building as well as enhanced research and technology infrastructure development.”