• Determine the main environmental research problems on the US environmental-research landscape.
• Sustain and continually rejuvenate a diverse inhouse scientific research staff—with the necessary laboratories and field capabilities—that can support the agency in its present and future missions and in its active collaboration with other agencies.
• Strike a balance between inhouse and extramural research investment. The latter can often bring new ideas and methods to the agency, stimulate a flow of new people into it, and support the continued health of environmental research in the nation.
Those multiple objectives can lead to conflict. For example, ORD resources that are applied to expanding staff and expediting science reviews and risk assessment in the National Center for Environmental Assessment may divert resources from longer-term program development and research. However, the agency has shown itself capable of maintaining a longer-term perspective in several instances, such as the establishment and maintenance of the Science to Achieve Results (STAR) grant program for extramural research, anticipatory moves to develop capability in computational toxicology, and the development and sustained implementation of multiyear research plans, for example, for research on airborne particulate matter (now the Air Quality, Climate, and Energy multiyear plan). In each of those cases, EPA identified ways both to give longer-term goals higher priority and to identify and commit resources to them. However, the tension between the near-term and longer-term science goals for the agency is likely to increase as more and more contentious rules are brought forward and as continuing budget pressures constrain and reduce science resources overall.
In light of the inherent tension, the emerging environmental issues and challenges identified in Chapter 2, and the emerging science and technologies described in Chapter 3, this chapter attempts to identify key strategies for building science for environmental protection in the 21st century in EPA and beyond. Specifically, the chapter lays out a path for EPA to retain and expand its leadership in science and engineering by establishing a 21st century framework that embraces systems thinking to produce science to inform decisions. That path includes staying at the leading edge by engaging in science that anticipates, innovates, is long term, and is collaborative; using enhanced systems-analysis tools and expertise; and using synthesis research to support decisions. In supporting environmental science and engineering for the 21st century, EPA will need to continue to evolve from an agency that focuses on using science to characterize risks so that it can respond to problems to an agency that applies science to anticipate and characterize both problems and solutions at the earliest point possible. Anticipating and characterizing problems and solutions should optimize social, economic, and environmental factors.