Federal Funding Prospects for the Math Sciences in 2014

June 3, 2013

On April 10, President Obama released his budget request for fiscal year 2014. Although unlikely to become reality, the budget is interesting to our community as a reflection of the Administration's priorities for research in the coming years. It continues strong support for basic research, alongside a marked emphasis on programs and initiatives in such areas as clean energy, "big data," cybersecurity, advanced manufacturing, materials research, neuroscience, robotics, and STEM education. We can expect new solicitations and federal agency plans in several of these areas in coming months.

One notable change for FY 2014 is a proposal to consolidate all federal educational fellowship programs, including the Department of Energy's Computational Science Graduate Fellowship (CSGF) program, and move them to the National Science Foundation's Directorate for Education and Human Resources. Such a consolidation may make sense on some level---simplifying the application process and providing greater visibility for the programs---but it may not be optimal for a program that, like CSGF, places fellows in national laboratories as part of the research experience.

In broad-brush summary, the Administration has proposed the following significant FY 2014 investments in agencies and programs critical to the applied mathematics and computational science research communities:

National Science Foundation
In FY 2014, Research & Related Activities at NSF would receive $6.212 billion, a 3.8% increase over FY 2013; Education and Human Resources would receive $880 million, 1.7% below FY 2013 funding.

At $244.5 million, the FY 2014 request for the Division of Mathematical Sciences represents a decrease of 0.19% from the FY 2013 request, but a $6.8 million increase (2.9%) over the FY 2012 actual level. Compared with the other MPS divisions (Astronomy, Chemistry, Materials, and Physics), DMS would receive the smallest increase over FY 2012 levels; Chemistry and Materials would lead, with increases of 8.4% and 6.8%, respectively.

In a mid-April phone call, Fleming Crim, recently appointed NSF assistant director for the Mathematical and Physical Sciences, emphasized his support for core programs, pointing out that DMS core programs have been protected to a large extent from funding decreases. New funds for a division, he noted, are usually associated with an initiative or focus area.

An example is DMREF (Designing Materials to Revolutionize and Engineer our Future), an NSF-wide program introduced in 2013 as part of the ongoing Materials Genome Initiative. The response of the mathematical sciences community to DMREF was relatively low, despite a call for proposals from DMS. Low response rates to Administration priorities generally lead to lower participation in these initiatives and, hence, to smaller budget growth.

About 53% of the FY 2014 request for DMS would be for new research grants to individual researchers. The following are details of some of the other proposed DMS activities for FY 2014:

Discusssions of the budgets for NSF's Computer and Information Science and Engineering Directorate, and for other federal agencies, are for another article, in another issue of SIAM News. (We note here that the substantial growth in the CISE budget is actually in large part a reflection of the relocation of the Office of Cyber-infrastructure to CISE.)

Several themes emerge from discussions of the Administration's FY 2014 budget. First, it is clear that national priorities continue to play a major role in driving research budgets. New initiatives, many of which support these research priorities, remain the means for enhancing the budgets of related research areas. Sastry Pantula, director of DMS, and Hank Warchall, deputy director of DMS, have emphasized the need for exciting new ideas---suggestions for research that supports national priorities and has the potential to drive new initiatives, as well as to advance the discipline. Pantula and Warchall have addressed these budget issues during presentations at the Conference Board of the Mathematical Sciences and the Joint Policy Board for Mathematics, respectively.

How can the community help? We can communicate new ideas to leaders in the appropriate agencies. The SIAM Committee on Science Policy can support the community in these efforts.

A second theme that emerges is the need for the community to respond as vigorously as appropriate to calls for proposals. The magnitude of the response ("proposal pressure") can play a role in determining future allocations for a given initiative or program.

Finally, while in general our community has enjoyed strong funding support from the federal agencies, it is increasingly important to show how research advances in our discipline are essential to progress in science and engineering, as well as how research in our field is ultimately important to society. We need to tell our story. SIAM News continues to welcome such stories from the community.---JMC (with the assistance of Lewis-Burke Associates in preparing the background material for this report).

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