Helping to Make the Case for the Math Sciences in Washington

May 3, 2002


On April 16, SIAM president Thomas Manteuffel (right) testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee for VA-HUD-Independent Agencies on the FY 2003 National Science Foundation budget request. Among his listeners were Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) and (partially obscured behind him) Rep. Carrie Meek (D-FL).

Talk of the Society
Thomas Manteuffel and James Crowley

In Washington, April is the month of budget hearings, and this year again SIAM was invited to testify on behalf of the National Science Foundation. The federal agencies are now in the midst of developing plans for FY 2004, but the focus of our testimony was somewhat closer: the FY 2003 budget, which Congress is now in the process of finalizing.

The president's budget request for FY 2003 includes a substantial increase for NSF's Division of Mathematical Sciences (DMS): a $30 million increase over the FY 2002 budget (which, at a total of $151 million, includes a $30 million increase over the previous year's funding). True to her promise, NSF director Rita Colwell has made the mathematical sciences a priority. Unfortunately, program transfers aside, the overall NSF budget request calls for an increase of only about 3.5% for current programs. Because of inflation, many programs will remain stagnant or lose ground (see Mark Marin's analysis in the March issue of SIAM News).

It is Congress that sets the final budget and appropriates the money, of course, and the temptation is great for Congress to flatten the proposed increase for DMS, distributing additional funding among all programs. It was therefore especially important for SIAM to express its support for the proposed investment in the mathematical sciences and, at the same time, to urge the committee to increase the overall NSF budget beyond the level of the president's request.

On April 16, I (T.M.) had the privilege of representing SIAM before the House Appropriations Subcommittee for VA-HUD-Independent Agencies, which is responsible for the NSF budget. In four minutes of testimony (see Testimony), I tried to make the case that the proposed increase for the mathematical sciences is an important and long overdue investment. I relied on computational examples to make the point that mathematics is fundamental to many important scientific advances. I also tried to make a convincing argument that the overall NSF budget should be raised-that research, both basic and applied, is essential to stimulate the economy, to maintain technological leadership, and to ensure national defense. While DMS provides the majority of funding for mathematics at universities, many members of the SIAM community are involved in interdisciplinary teams supported by various other programs at NSF and by other agencies. Obstacles to progress in any area of science have a potential impact on the SIAM membership. The Coalition for National Science Funding has recommended a 15% increase in the overall NSF budget for FY 2003. This would keep NSF on track to double its budget in five years. SIAM has endorsed that proposal.

Along with the oral testimony, SIAM was given the opportunity to submit up to five pages of written testimony. Both the oral and written versions of the testimony were the result of a great deal of effort, involving both of us in addition to our Washington advisers, Mel Ciment and Mark Marin. After much cutting and several practice sessions, the oral testimony was honed to a concise expression of the main points we wanted to make.

In the committee chambers, Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) was presiding, and Rep. Carrie Meek (D-FL) was in attendance. The room was populated with committee staff and others waiting to give testimony. After a brief introduction, a timer was started. A green light shone for 3 1/2 minutes, turning to yellow with 30 seconds left and finally to red at precisely 4 minutes. I am proud to say that I finished the testimony with 6 seconds to spare. Once again, I was amazed at the stamina of the Representatives and staff, who were attentive to each speaker.

While in Washington, we took the opportunity to visit staff members from several other important congressional committees. We met with Joel Widder from the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on VA-HUD, with John Darnell, Gabe Rozsa, and Diane Auer Jones from the House Science Committee, and with Allen Cutler from the Senate Budget Committee. In each case we delivered the same message: Applied and computational mathematics is an important scientific endeavor, and increasing the overall NSF budget is important for the country. We also pointed out that the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense are important sources of funding for research in applied mathematics and computation.

The next day we took the Metro north to Bethesda for a meeting with James Cassat, the acting director of the Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology at the National Institutes of Health. CBCB is part of the National Institute for General Medical Sciences (NIGMS). Unlike, say, the Heart or Cancer Institute, NIGMS is interested in general medical issues like genomics and cellular biology. NIGMS and DMS have a joint program in mathematical biology. The NIH campus is in a beautiful wooded location, where buildings seem to be sprouting like mushrooms. To put things in perspective, the NIGMS budget for FY 2002 is $1.7 billion, as compared with $4.7 billion for all of NSF. The president's requested increase for NIH in FY 2003 is $3.7 billion---of the order of magnitude of the entire NSF budget.

Cassat was very receptive to the idea of cooperating with SIAM to bring computational scientists together with researchers associated with his institute. He also offered to be a point-of-contact for computational scientists interested in working with other NIH institutes. One valuable insight he provided is that breaking in to the NIH funding structure may require several attempts; SIAM members need to be persistent.

The final visit of this trip was to the Congressman from Boulder, Rep. Mark Udall (D-CO). Mark is a member of the House Science Committee and has been very helpful to SIAM on several occasions. Responding to advice from the staff of the Senate and House Appropriations Committees, we asked him to mention the importance of NSF in general, and of the investment in the mathematical sciences in particular, in his "member request" letter to the Appropriations Committee. Such letters have a major impact on committee deliberations, and we encourage readers in the U.S. to contact their own Representatives, urging them to include similar wording in their member request letters. For help in obtaining addresses, contact the SIAM office (jcrowley@siam.org).


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