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Dr. Bordogna's Remarks


Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Deputy Director
Chief Operating Officer
National Science Foundation
15th Annual NSF EPSCoR Conference
Orange Beach, Alabama

November 1, 1999

I am delighted to be here at the NSF EPSCoR Annual Conference.

All of you know NSF as a partner and friend. For many years, partnerships have been focused elements in NSF's long range planning process. During the past five years, the concept of partnerships has become a major theme throughout the recent editions of our formal Strategic Plan. They are fundamental for accomplishing our goals and objectives across all Foundation initiatives. Needless to say, EPSCoR has veteran experience in partnering.

This year marks 30 years of the Internet, almost 20 years since the first EPSCoR program, and 10 years since the Web. Each of these ideas represents a milestone in national societal advance. Each has catapulted us into vast new capabilities.

In EPSCoR's two decades, the program has reached a maturity of purpose and experience that makes it appropriate to both review the past and plan for the future.

Earlier this year, at the 10th anniversary of the EPSCoR Coalition, NSF Director, Rita Colwell, made some very comprehensive and important remarks. Many of you were at that celebration meeting. I would like to reiterate some of her comments as background for addressing today's discussion on future direction.

EPSCoR has evolved into one of NSF's major and most successful investments. Most of the credit for that success belongs to you. So first I should say congratulations; and second, I want to say thank you for all your hard work and creative endeavor.

Throughout history, civilizations have advanced on the backs of new ideas--unique concepts that have changed the social order of society in some way. In the United States, federal government support of efforts to serve the "common good" has marked every era of our history.

The country has consistently expanded opportunities to a broader base of participants, first, by opening the frontier and granting ownership to anyone willing to develop the land. Milestones in education include land grant colleges and universities, higher education benefits for veterans, and head-start programs to ensure that all our youngsters are prepared to begin school. We can proudly add EPSCoR to that list.

As we look back on those expansive ideas and initiatives, it is hard to imagine how anyone could oppose them. But at the time, some very smart and highly respected people did dissent.

A classic example of just such a reaction occurred in 1848, at a crucial moment for a young nation. In a speech on the Senate floor, Daniel Webster railed against the acquisition of California and New Mexico.

He said, " I cannot conceive of anything more ridiculous, more absurd, and more affrontive to all sober judgment than the cry that we are profiting by the acquisition of New Mexico and California. I hold that they are not worth a dollar!"

Many of us here remember opposition to the EPSCoR concept. Like California and New Mexico, EPSCoR holds its own as a worthy investment. Nevertheless, it is useful to set down for public record and historical value the reasons for its establishment.

The geneticist, Maxine Singer, said it succinctly in an interview with Bill Moyers several years ago. Singer reminded us, "On any day, if you look at the front page, half the stories usually have a technical or scientific component in them. A society that turns its back on science has to face decay and deterioration."

It is important to note that Singer speaks of the society "as a whole" and not some narrow and exclusive segment of society. EPSCoR, in many ways, represents the concept of the "society as a whole." It is the expansion and enrichment of research in the same way that land grant colleges and the GI Bill of Rights represented the enrichment of higher education in America.

EPSCoR was established to ensure that the United States was the beneficiary of its vast science and engineering talent and capability--a capability that resides in every corner of our nation.

We know for certain that the nation's need to benefit from all of its science and engineering talent will not only continue but it will grow. Every institution of higher education has a contribution to make, and every contribution will be needed to keep the nation competitive.

Even more, we need to enable top-notch research and education at the frontier of knowledge across the broadest swath of our national landscape because it will enhance prosperity for an increasing number of our citizens.

EPSCoR is based on the principle that no one region, no one group of institutions, and no special communities have a corner on the market of good ideas, smart people, or outstanding researchers. Great ideas can come from just about anywhere.

EPSCoR has grown and evolved. We've seen each institution develop its own unique models for partnerships and outreach that have much broader application.

Beyond these important understandings, EPSCoR was also an experiment in the way we think about research and development, as well as, research and education. We know that good decisions about R&D investments have always been rooted in two basic principles, peer review and competition for funds. These principles underscore EPSCoR's work and have ensured its success.

In our system of higher education, research and education were designed to fit together and enhance each other. But, over time, in some places, these two objectives became unhitched, to the detriment of both, I would say.

The principles that undergird EPSCoR represent a mid-course correction in our larger research system.

EPSCoR provides funds and opportunities to build research capability across a broader set of institutions. Through EPSCOR, we have changed the shape of research in our higher education system. From it, we have learned new ways to build stronger connections between research and education, to enrich and embolden each.

Your institutions and states have also developed innovative, even ingenious, ways to tie the fundamental research in your institutions to the economic and social needs of your state and regional populations. In that respect, you serve as models to emulate for the broader community in higher education. Good ideas are always worth sharing.

The proven successes of initiatives like EPSCoR and SBIR has served as examples for the Administration, members of Congress, and state governors of "what works."

A case in point is a 1997 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the White House Office of Science and Technology, several federal agencies including NSF, and the National Governors' Association. Its support for Innovation Partnerships is validation of the EPSCoR and SBIR concepts.

The agreement, titled the "U.S. Innovation Partnerships" (USIP), calls for the expansion of a good idea--"what works." It's a little like a repeated refrain with different verses. EPSCoR should be proud of its exemplar position.

We know that the environment for research is shifting across the nation. We know that a seamless path threads from research and discovery to marketplace innovation and application. We know that companies with highly-cited and highly science-linked patents tend to have substantially higher market-to-book values than companies with lower impact, less science-linked patents.

This makes the work of NSF and its partners increasingly immediate and integral to the nation's economic growth and prosperity. This puts the partners in NSF programs at center stage.

We will continuously look toward both our external program participants and our internal program staff to provide vision, new direction, and leadership.

What does this mean for EPSCoR? It means that your past success enhances our expectations for new ideas and directions from your institutions, your states, and your organizations. And, I might add, from the staff within NSF.

All of you here today are experts in partnership building. You know that successful partnerships rest on trust among the partners. Partnerships also rely on the diversity of contributions that the participants bring to the table. A partnership of government and industry will move differently than a partnership of government and academe. When you include all three, you have different goals and outcomes.

The EPSCoR team now has strong and broad experience with the Federal government, with state governments, with SBIR members, and with local schools and communities. It is time to integrate this experience into a greater whole.

You are models of partnership-building and the whole of NSF has learned much from your experiences and examples. You also know that those lessons have had a much broader impact. All those with whom you have partnered have benefited from your insight and adaptability.

The connections you have built in partnerships are forming a whole new infrastructure that can become the basis for wealth creation across a broader range of regional and state economies around the country.

Your greatest strength may be in the very diversity of combinations and partners that you have assembled. We should always view these combinations as creative arrangements. We must understand that they are not formulas to be automatically replicated. Rather, they are new patterns to be ingeniously enhanced each time the next combination is created.

Information technologies have played a transforming and facilitating role in EPSCoR's capability to get the job done within greatly differing circumstances. IT networks have given every EPSCoR institution an immediate, real-time connectedness. IT access and capability have changed the definition of distant, remote, and isolated.

We know that a new concept of distance and disconnection comes from being IT poor or deprived. On the other hand, geographical remoteness disappears with hook-ups to sophisticated IT networks and systems.

With the creation of Partnerships for Advanced Computational Infrastructure (PACI), in October 1997, every EPSCoR state was guaranteed connection to the National Technology Grid of supercomputers.

This broad inclusion gave all 19 states access to:

  • large sophisticated supercomputers
  • computer codes, computational techniques, and the most advanced software
  • hundreds of highly skilled computing experts--our national computing talent pool.

The PACI connection elevated every EPSCoR State to a new plateau. The horizon is broader and the opportunities grander for the nation's entire science and engineering enterprise.

A moment ago, I said that from EPSCoR we have learned new ways to build stronger connections between research and education. That has become just one part of a much more expanded picture.

With the link between NSF's SBIR program and the EPSCoR program, you have been able to create a process that moves from research ideas toward innovation and marketplace application. This, in fact, is the intended goal of the Innovation Partnerships. EPSCoR has both the experience and the connections to lead the way here.

This is a good time to consider how the future will be different from the past--how NSF and EPSCoR can continue to evolve. At NSF, we put together a working group on partnerships to advance innovation. These collaborations would connect the federal government, States, the universities, and small and large private sector partners.

This must have a very familiar ring to you. This concept is rooted in the very skills and expertise developed by EPSCoR participants. Thus, EPSCoR can take a more prominent strategic position in helping to develop NSF's 21st century vision. The goal will always be to move discoveries and knowledge into the service of society.

But the "service to society" concept continues to broaden. For example, the infrastructure, which you have so skillfully designed over the last two decades, can also be a launching platform for teacher training at universities.

The nation's need for highly trained teachers is accelerating at a rate far faster than we can fulfill. The greatest need will be for teachers in the areas of EPSCoR's best connections--science, math, technology, and engineering.

It would be both presumptuous and rude of me to ask you to use "your connections" on our behalf. But, I think that's exactly what I'm doing.

In the larger picture, NSF does not want to direct your vision. In fact, just the opposite is the case. We are counting on EPSCoR to help direct our vision. That's what partnerships should do. And we are good partners from the years behind, and for the years ahead. I personally look forward to that continuing fruitful relationship. And I speak for all of NSF in this quest.



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