The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mission is to protect human health and to safeguard the natural environment—air, water, and land—on which life depends. The EPA Strategic Plan (EPA 2000) emphasizes the role of science in accomplishing the agency’s mission: “science is the foundation that supports all of EPA’s work, providing us with the knowledge and technologies to detect, abate, and avoid environmental problems.” In fact, one of the agency’s goals is “sound science, improved understanding, and innovation.” EPA has sought to support its goal of sound science by establishing a research program encompassing both human-health and environmental disciplines.
Several previous reports have addressed the role of science in EPA and the issue of whether a research program should be maintained within the agency (EPA 1992, 1994; NRC 1997, 2000; Powell 1999). Those reports have all stated emphatically that research is vital to the agency’s mission and that EPA needs to support and maintain a strong research program. The 1992 EPA Science Advisory Board report Safeguarding the Future: Credible Science, Credible Decisions concluded that EPA needs its own strong science base to provide the background required for effective environmental protection programs. Similarly, Building a Foundation for Sound Environmental Decisions, the 1997 report of the National Research Council’s Committee on Research Opportunities for EPA (NRC 1997), concluded that EPA needs a strong in-house research program. The Research Council’s 2000 report Strengthening Science at the U.S. Environmental Protection
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1 Introduction The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mission is to protect human health and to safeguard the natural environment—air, water, and land—on which life depends. The EPA Strategic Plan (EPA 2000) emphasizes the role of science in accomplishing the agency’s mission: “science is the foundation that supports all of EPA’s work, providing us with the knowledge and technologies to detect, abate, and avoid environmental problems.” In fact, one of the agency’s goals is “sound science, improved understanding, and innovation.” EPA has sought to support its goal of sound science by establishing a research program encompassing both human-health and environmental disciplines. Several previous reports have addressed the role of science in EPA and the issue of whether a research program should be maintained within the agency (EPA 1992, 1994; NRC 1997, 2000; Powell 1999). Those reports have all stated emphatically that research is vital to the agency’s mission and that EPA needs to support and maintain a strong research program. The 1992 EPA Science Advisory Board report Safeguarding the Future: Credible Science, Credible Decisions concluded that EPA needs its own strong science base to provide the background required for effective environmental protection programs. Similarly, Building a Foundation for Sound Environmental Decisions, the 1997 report of the National Research Council’s Committee on Research Opportunities for EPA (NRC 1997), concluded that EPA needs a strong in-house research program. The Research Council’s 2000 report Strengthening Science at the U.S. Environmental Protection
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Agency (NRC 2000) agreed that a vigorous research program should be maintained in EPA, stating that moving the research program out of the agency would most likely weaken, not strengthen, the scientific foundation of EPA’s decisions and actions ... An EPA devoid of a research program would not be likely to attract substantial scientific talent, and an EPA without scientific talent would be ineffective and potentially harmful to the nation (NRC 2000). EPA’S RESEARCH PROGRAM EPA’s current research program consists of “core” and “problem-driven” research. Those terms were coined by the National Research Council committee that wrote Building a Foundation for Sound Environmental Decisions, which recommended that EPA’s research program maintain a balance between problem-driven research, targeted at understanding and solving particular identified environmental problems and reducing the uncertainties associated with them, and core research, which aims to provide broader, more generic information to help improve understanding relevant to environmental problems for the present and the future. The report described problem-driven research as the kind of research and technical support activity that EPA’s Office of Research and Development (ORD) has pursued most in the past—efforts that are driven largely by current or expected regulatory efforts of other EPA offices. The 1997 Research Council report pointed out that the distinction at EPA between core and problem-driven research is not always clear-cut, and it is important to note that the terms are not the same as basic vs applied research, fundamental vs directed research, or short-term vs long-term research, which are typically used by other federal agencies and researchers. Research in EPA is overseen by the Office of Research and Development (ORD), which is based at EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C. ORD’s mission is to conduct leading-edge research and to foster the sound use of science and technology to fulfill EPA’s mission to protect human health and safeguard the natural environment. That mission commits ORD to conduct its research in a way that will have a direct and meaningful influence on EPA’s decisions and programs (EPA 2001). The ORD Strategic Plan (EPA 2001) defines the goals and strategies for achieving its missionrelated activities.
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ORD has dual roles: providing technical support for regulatory programs and acting as an independent source of scientific research and assessment (Powell 1999). ORD therefore encompasses diverse activities, including conducting an intramural R&D program, administering competitive and noncompetitive extramural R&D programs, managing some of the agency’s scientific databases, providing technical support to program offices, conducting substance-specific risk assessments, and helping program offices with risk-assessment guidance (Powell 1999). ORD comprises the National Center for Environmental Research (NCER), the National Center for Environmental Assessment, the National Exposure Research Laboratory, the National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory, the National Risk Management Laboratory, the Office of Science Policy, the Office of Resources Management and Administration, and the National Homeland Security Research Center. Users of ORD research include not only the program and regional offices of EPA but also state, tribal, local, and international government agencies that make environmental decisions; other federal agencies; academe; and the public. EPA has a science and technology budget of $700 million, of which about $544 million goes to ORD, $106 million to the Office of Air and Radiation, and $50 million to all other programs (http://www.house.gov/ science/hearings/ets02/apr23/ets_charter042302.htm). About one-third of ORD’s funding is spent on intramural research, and two-thirds on extramural research (J. Puzak, EPA, Washington, D.C., personal commun., August 19, 2002). About $100 million of ORD’s extramural funding is spent on the Science To Achieve Results (STAR) research grants program. THE STAR PROGRAM The STAR program was established in 1995 to augment EPA’s research and scientific activities through coordinated funding efforts in the academic and nonprofit communities. The program was intended to ensure the best possible quality of science in fields of greatest importance to the agency. The STAR program, operated by ORD’s NCER, constitutes EPA’s largest single investment in extramural research. The research support awarded by the STAR program is of three main kinds: grants awarded to individual investigators or small groups of investigators, grants awarded to multidisciplinary (and sometimes multi-institutional) research centers, and fel
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lowships to support graduate work in environmental sciences at the master’s and Ph.D. levels. The program focuses specifically on meeting the research needs of EPA and is run in accordance with the ORD Strategic Plan (EPA 2001). Research conducted under the STAR program covers a wide array of topics, including highly technical research on toxicology and environmental chemistry and physics, community monitoring, and socioeconomic topics. Some of the major research fields represented are air pollution, water and watersheds, ecosystem analysis, and environmental technology. The STAR program was created in response to specific needs identified by Congress in 1994 (Senate Report 103-311). Robert Huggett, assistant administrator of ORD at the time, reorganized ORD and initiated the STAR program by reallocating $57 million in funds from other EPA research efforts. THE NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL COMMITTEE The director of NCER approached the National Research Council’s Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology about conducting an independent assessment of the STAR research grants program. To conduct the study, the Research Council convened the Committee to Review EPA’s Research Grants Program, which prepared this report. The committee’s members were selected for expertise in research program administration, program evaluation, technology transfer, environmental science, risk assessment, risk management, and environmental engineering. None of the committee members was a current recipient of a STAR grant, nor did any committee member apply for a STAR grant during the course of the study. The committee was charged with conducting a program review of the STAR competitive extramural grants program, assessing the program’s scientific merit, its demonstrated or potential influence on policies and decisions, and other program benefits that are relevant to EPA’s mission. It was asked specifically to examine the program’s research priorities, research solicitations, peer-review process, current research projects, and results and dissemination of completed research in the context of other relevant research conducted or funded by EPA and in comparison with those of other basic and applied research grants programs. To address its task, the committee held three public sessions in which it heard presentations from EPA officials in ORD, program offices, regional
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offices, and the Board of Scientific Counselors; the General Accounting Office; the National Science Foundation; the Department of Energy; the U.S. Department of Agriculture; the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences; and academe. The committee also evaluated background information provided by EPA. Committee members held meetings and conference calls with ORD project officers, STAR grant recipients, and fellowship recipients. Committee members also attended EPA-sponsored STAR workshops and meetings. The committee was urged by ORD to develop and use metrics in its evaluation of the STAR program. In addressing its charge, the committee was mindful of several facts. It was tasked with reviewing how well the STAR program is operating, not with revisiting the decision to establish the STAR program or assessing the overall structure of the EPA research program. Research follows a longterm course, typically requiring 3-5 years to conduct laboratory or field studies, analyze the results, and finally publish the results in peer-reviewed journals. The committee recognized that because the STAR program is relatively new, only about 40% of the research projects funded to date have been completed, and many results have not yet appeared in the published literature or been cited in regulatory documents. In the committee’s evaluation, it focused on the grant program’s quality, relevance, and performance in accordance with the recent Office of Management and Budget (OMB) guidelines on evaluating research programs as required by the Government Performance and Results Act; the committee considered that analyzing the STAR program in terms of OMB’s criteria would provide valuable guidance to EPA (OSTP/OMB 2002). The committee used quantitative and qualitative metrics that permitted it to form judgments regarding the scientific merit of the program and its influence on the agency. Finally, the committee is aware that the STAR program has been the subject of several other recent reviews and considered them when forming its conclusions and recommendations. ORGANIZATION OF THE REPORT The body of this report is organized in five chapters. Chapter 2 presents an overview of the STAR program, including the components and operation of the program. Chapter 3 compares the procedural aspects of the STAR program with those of other federal competitive extramural grant programs. Chapter 4 reviews metrics and their use in evaluation of research programs. Chapter 5 presents the committee’s evaluation of the STAR program, using
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both quantitative and qualitative metrics to assess whether the program is achieving its stated objectives. The evaluation was conducted in the context of OMB’s R&D criteria: quality, relevance, and performance. REFERENCES EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency). 1992. Safeguarding the Future: Credible Science, Credible Decisions. The Report of the Expert Panel on the Role of Science at EPA. EPA/600/9-91/050. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC. EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency). 1994. Research, Development, and Technical Services at EPA: A New Beginning, Report to the Administrator. EPA/600/R-94/122. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC. EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency). 2000. EPA Strategic Plan. EPA 190-R-00-002. Office of the Chief Financial Officer, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC. September 2000. 104pp. EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency). 2001. ORD Strategic Plan. EPA/ 600/R/01/003. Office of Research and Development, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC. [Online]. Available: http://www.epa.gov/ospinter/strtplan/documents/final.pdf [accessed Jan. 22, 2003]. NRC (National Research Council). 1997. Building a Foundation for Sound Envi-ronmental Decisions. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. NRC (National Research Council). 2000. Strengthening Science at the U.S. Envi-ronmental Protection Agency, Research-Management and Peer-Review Prac-tices. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. OSTP/OMB (Office of Science Technology and Policy/Office of Management and Budget). 2002. FY 2004 Interagency Research and Development Priorities. Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies, from John Marburger, Director, Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Mitchell Daniels, Director, Office of Management and Budget, The White House, Washington, DC. May 30, 2002. Powell, M. 1999. Science at EPA: Information in the Regulatory Process. Wash-ington, DC: Resources for the Future.