The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) primary extramural grants program – Science to Achieve Results (STAR) – has played an integral role in addressing environmental and human health research priorities that help improve air and drinking water quality and protect children’s health, among other outcomes, says a new report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. EPA should continue to use the program to respond to the nation’s emerging environmental and health challenges, the report recommends.
Established in 1995, the STAR program provides research grants to support individual investigators, multidisciplinary centers, and graduate fellows. The results of research funded by STAR grants have enabled improvements in public health, and some results could reduce the cost of regulatory compliance for industries, states, and localities by potentially improving environmental testing and modeling methods, says the report.
Between the last Academies review of the program in 2003 -- which strongly endorsed the program as an essential part of EPA’s overall research capabilities -- and 2015, STAR awarded grants to 541 individual investigators and 53 centers. These grants have produced influential research results that were utilized in local, state, and federal government regulatory and decision support documents. The research has also been incorporated into guidance documents of organizations like American Public Health Association. STAR also awarded 800 fellowships, but recently science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs and activities across the federal government were consolidated and the resources for STAR fellowships were redirected to the National Science Foundation.
While the program has produced many public benefits, EPA does not consistently track and synthesize them, the report finds. A more robust database that could be easily searched to detect the link between grants, fellowships, and public benefits would be useful. And the program should partner with other federal agency efforts to improve communication of the public impacts of the research. The agency should also consider developing a mechanism to allow public input to the STAR research agenda or the submission of unsolicited proposals, the report recommends. Additionally, the recently discontinued STAR fellowship program that supported master’s and doctoral students should be restored.
A Review of EPA’s Science to Achieve Results Research Grants Program is available for immediate release. Media inquiries should be directed to the National Academies’ Office of News and Public Information; tel. 202-334-2138 or email firstname.lastname@example.org