An Influential Voice in Washington, A Central Role in CSME

December 8, 2002


For his final column as SIAM president, Tom Manteuffel (right) elaborates on recent SIAM efforts in the public policy domain. He is shown here in Philadelphia, at the SIAM 50th Anniversary Meeting, with SIAM president-elect Mac Hyman (second from left), co-chair of a recent IMA/SIAM "hot topics" workshop on mathematics in biodefense (described in Barry Cipra's article, in this issue), Tony Chan, dean of physical sciences in UCLA's College of Letters & Science, and NSF program director Deborah Lockhart.

Talk of the Society
Thomas Manteuffel

This is my last chance to address you in this forum---on January 1 Mac Hyman will take over as SIAM president. I would like to take this opportunity to share with you some of my thoughts and hopes for SIAM, both present and future.

First, I want to say that being SIAM president has been a very interesting and rewarding experience. One of the best parts of the job has been getting to know the terrific SIAM staff, especially Jim Crowley. I worked very closely with Jim, trading phone calls on a daily basis. Jim is a truly remarkable individual. He has a tremendous amount of knowledge at his fingertips, about issues and about people. He seems to know just about everyone in our organization! Jim's competency made my job tenable; his easy-going nature and consistently positive attitude made the job a real pleasure. SIAM is fortunate to have him as executive director.

Another rewarding aspect of being SIAM president was working with the SIAM leadership. At Board and Council meetings, I found myself surrounded by extremely talented people who were willing to give their time and energy to make SIAM a better organization. What impressed me most was that these very influential people were able to check their personal agendas at the door. That is one of the things that I like best about SIAM---it is open and unassuming, collegial and supportive. My hope for SIAM is that it will continue to have these qualities.

SIAM celebrated its 50th birthday this past summer. In 50 years it has become an organization of which we can all be proud. Currently there are approximately 9000 members, from universities (64%), industry (18%), and national laboratories (18%). SIAM is an international organization: Nearly 40% of our members are from countries outside the U.S. The SIAM journals are continually rated among the very best in applied mathematics, this year occupying seven of the top 25 spots in the Institute for Scientific Information's "impact ratings." The conferences and services provided by SIAM are first class, as exemplified by the superb annual meeting this summer in Philadelphia. More than 1200 people attended that meeting, which featured an impressive list of speakers and activities.

Quality journals and conferences are two of the ways in which SIAM serves its members. Another important service is advocacy in public forums for the disciplines that SIAM represents. I am very pleased to say that SIAM has found its voice in Washington. Because this activity is perhaps less visible to the membership than journals, conferences, and other services, I would like to share with you some of the ways in which SIAM has worked to influence public policy.

Our most basic interactions have been with the funding agencies. SIAM has sought to engage the funding agencies in a dialogue, supporting program managers as they work to convince others at their agencies of the contributions that applied and computational mathematics can make. We also provide program managers with information for their use in shaping programs that include the mathematical and computational sciences. As a representative of these disciplines, SIAM can provide information about promising research developments, provide a forum for the agencies to communicate to our membership, and help the agencies choose participants for workshops and panels.

Another important service we can perform is to help the agencies obtain additional funding for programs that support the disciplines represented by SIAM. The budget process involves debate, within both the executive and the legislative branches of the federal government. The agency program managers themselves are severely constrained in the extent to which they can engage other parts of the executive branch and especially the legislative branch. This is where societies like SIAM can play a very important role.

The Office of Management and Budget, for example, assembles the president's budget, which is then presented to Congress. OMB staff work under tremendous pressure and have limited resources to make decisions about priorities in science funding. They see a society like SIAM as an information resource that can help them as they make these decisions. Over the past several years SIAM has established a good working relationship with key OMB personnel. Last year, a group of us gave a briefing to OMB staff on the importance of mathematics to the scientific infrastructure and to the high-tech economy. We often invite OMB personnel to address the SIAM Committee on Science Policy.

Once the president's budget has gone to Congress, opportunities for the funding agencies to defend their priorities become even more limited. Communication is permitted only at the highest levels, and it's at this stage that the involvement of organizations like SIAM is even more important. One of the things SIAM has done is to give testimony before the House Appropriations Committee on the importance of funding for NSF in general and mathematics in particular. Giving testimony is a way of showing support for the agencies and for the disciplines we represent. Perhaps more effective are visits to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, both to members of Congress and to committee staff. Also important, although with benefits that are more long term, are visits to the members of the congressional Science Committees.

I think that it is fair to say that SIAM's activities have played an important role in the recent increases in the budget for NSF's Division of Mathematical Sciences, which grew from $105 million in fiscal year 2000 to $151 million in FY 2002, and is poised to grow to $180 million in FY 2003. While no budget is final until both houses of Congress approve, the House version of the spending bill for FY 2003 includes the entire $30 million increase; unfortunately, the pending Senate version does not. Recent visits by the SIAM leadership to staff of the Senate Appropriations Committee give us reason to believe that the full amount will be restored to the final version of the bill.

I am very proud of these successes and hope that SIAM's influence in public forums will continue to grow. One mechanism for educating and activating SIAM members on policy issues is through the Committee on Science Policy, which has become quite active in recent years. The CSP will hold its fall meeting in Washington in December. We hope to welcome representatives from the Office of Science at the Department of Energy, NSF's Division of Mathematical Sciences, OMB, and the Senate Appropriations Committee staff, to whom invitations were extended this fall. I urge individual members to become involved in policy issues by contacting their congressional representatives; the SIAM office is ready to help members who wish to make such contacts.

Another challenge/opportunity I see for the future arises from the growing importance of computational and applied mathematics within the scientific community. While computation is becoming more important to science in general, other disciplines are coming to understand the importance of mathematics within their own disciplines. The area of endeavor that draws from application sciences, applied and computational mathematics, and computer science has come to be known as computational science, mathematics, and engineering (CSME).

It is my hope that SIAM will choose to embrace this new discipline and come to be identified as the society that represents its participants. Many scientists whose natural home would be in a domain science have become interested in computation. Many people whose training is in the biological sciences, for example, are now interested in computational biology. I believe that SIAM should create a place for such people. To do so, we may need to develop new membership categories and new services.

Young scientists who wish to pursue careers in CSME will need to be trained in ways that are not easily accommodated by the traditional academic department structure. It is incumbent on SIAM to participate in the development of new curricula. A SIAM committee, chaired by Linda Petzold, has taken the first steps toward this goal by developing a report, "Graduate Education in Computational Science and Engineering." While no single plan will suit every academic institution, one thing common to all is the need to persuade academic administrators that recognition of CSME is important. SIAM should play a role in this process by providing outside validation of the need for programs in CSME.

To move toward a more clear understanding of these issues, SIAM is organizing a workshop on CSME; Margaret Wright is chair of the organizing committee for the workshop, which will be held next March. The workshop is being funded by DOE's Office of Science and by NSF (through both DMS and CISE-the Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering). More information will be provided in SIAM News and on the Web (www.siam.org) as the time grows near. Among the outcomes that I hope to see from this workshop and future discussions are new programs at DOE, NSF, and other funding agencies, like the National Institutes of Health, that support CSME activities.

The continued vitality of SIAM depends on a healthy membership. One effective method for ensuring a flow of new members is to engage students and to keep them interested as they progress in their careers. The SIAM Board and Council recently approved free limited memberships for all students at institutions that are academic members of SIAM. Efforts are under way, both through the newly established Membership Committee and through the Education Committee, to foster new university chapters. A special membership category for recent postgraduates, already in place, will help retain student members.

Another area of opportunity lies with our international members. As I mentioned earlier, nearly 40% of SIAM members reside outside the United States. Providing services for these members is a challenge. While our books and journals know no boundaries, conferences and other services do, or at least they have until recently. The joint SIAM/European Mathematical Society meeting held in Berlin in the fall of 2001 is one example of a successful international venture. The possibility of holding SIAM activity group meetings outside the U.S. is a current topic of discussion. These are the first of what I hope will be many efforts to better serve this large and important segment of our membership.

This column has grown in length, with no end in sight of the things I want to say about future challenges and opportunities. I will close by thanking you for the allowing me to serve as SIAM president. SIAM is a terrific organization served by a competent staff and supported by some very dedicated volunteers. I am very proud to have been associated with SIAM; it is in good hands and has a bright future.


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