By Hans Kaper and David Levermore
For readers who would like to know more about SIAM’s Committee on Science Policy, CSP members Hans Kaper and David Levermore (chair) offer highlights of recent projects and concerns pursued by the committee.
The SIAM Committee on Science Policy represents the interests of the SIAM membership in Washington, DC. SIAM is supported in this effort by a contract with Lewis–Burke Associates, a government-relations firm in Washington that specializes in advocacy for the public policy interests of universities and other research and education organizations. In 2013, the CSP worked to make SIAM’s voice heard by the appropriate decision makers in a variety of areas, including federal funding for research, reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act, undergraduate mathematics education, and the Computational Science Graduate Fellowship program of the Department of Energy.
The CSP, whose 25 members are appointed by the SIAM president, meets twice a year in Washington, DC, to discuss legislative and policy issues that have the potential (real or perceived) to affect our disciplines. The agenda of a typical meeting includes an update on pending legislation from Lewis–Burke staff, discussions with invited guests from agencies that oversee funding in the mathematical and computational sciences (mainly the Departments of Defense and Energy, National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation), and deliberation about priorities for future action.
The second day of the spring meeting is usually devoted to visits to Capitol Hill, where CSP members meet separately or in small groups with congressional staff (normally those connected to key committees). The schedule sometimes also includes visits to offices in the Administration, such as the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Science and Technology Policy. The CSP met most recently on December 4 and 5, 2013.
Between meetings, CSP members engage in lively discussions via e-mail. Among the topics discussed between the spring and winter meetings in 2013 was a consolidation of federal STEM education programs proposed in the president’s budget request for FY 2014. Of particular concern to the SIAM community, DOE’s Computational Science Graduate Fellowship program would be terminated under the consolidation in favor of an expansion of NSF’s Graduate Research Fellowship program. Given the strong support for the CSGF program among CSP members, and in the SIAM community at large, the CSP wrote to Senate and House majority and minority appropriators outlining the relevance of the program to specific research needs of DOE. The fate of the CSGF program remains uncertain.
A focus of earlier discussions was a February 2012 report of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (Engage to Excel: Producing One Million Additional College Graduates with Degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and its potential impact on the teaching of mathematics at the college level. An important finding of the study was that increased student success in STEM disciplines would require improvements in mathematics education at the K–12 and undergraduate levels.
Many in the mathematical sciences community expressed concern about the report’s suggestion that non-mathematicians be engaged in the teaching of undergraduate mathematics for non-majors. In response to the report, the SIAM Education Committee and the CSP joined to prepare a formal white paper, which was sent to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and NSF.
Following up on those efforts in 2013, CSP chair David Levermore participated in a presentation with Mark Green (co-chair, “Math 2025”), Eric Friedlander (former president of the American Mathematical Society), and David Bressoud (former president of the Mathematical Association of America) to PCAST on July 18. (See related statement in "Meeting the Challenges of Improved Post-Secondary Education in the Mathematics Sciences" [SIAM News, March 2014].) Given the influential voice of PCAST on S&T matters, the CSP recognizes the importance of having the interests of our community represented on PCAST. We encourage qualified candidates to consider submitting their names for nomination.
Setting priorities means looking for budget drivers. In his proposed budget for FY 2014, President Obama called for an initiative in brain research. This is likely to be a major budget driver in future budgets of NSF and other agencies. The goals of the initiative include the development of imaging tools and the creation of “tools to influence the activity of every neuron individually.” Most related to our area of science is the third-stated goal: “to understand circuit function.” This includes methods for modeling and analyzing data. The CSP is actively considering how research in our field could support the initiative and encourages the SIAM membership to suggest ideas for a planned white paper.
Another budget driver lies in the realm of cybersecurity. The Networking and Information Technology Research and Development program, which operates under the umbrella of the National Science and Technology Council in the executive branch of the government, prepared a strategic plan for federal cybersecurity research and development activities. Late in 2012, the CSP responded to a request for feedback on the draft plan, emphasizing areas of applied mathematics that could be effective in advancing cybersecurity research. This is one example of SIAM’s interaction with decision makers in shaping future R&D activities across agencies.
Setting priorities also means looking for policy drivers. Modernization of graduate education is emerging as an important priority area for the Administration and for a number of agencies, including NSF and NIH. The main aim is to ensure that graduate students acquire skills for the full range of STEM careers. In the course of meetings with NSF, OSTP, and OMB staff, SIAM has been invited to provide feedback on this topic; again, we invite readers to suggest ideas for a planned white paper.
Improving undergraduate education has also been a focus for the Administration. There is bipartisan concern about the cost of higher education. Silicon Valley has Washington’s ear about ways in which technology can transform education. Educators tout evidence-based and inquiry-based teaching methods. SIAM continues to engage in discussions of these issues when they affect the membership, and the CSP is working with the SIAM Education Committee to ensure a greater voice in these matters for the SIAM community. Cooperative efforts are under way with other mathematical professional societies through the Joint Policy Board on Mathematics and through outreach to larger organizations, such as the AAAS and the Association of American Universities, that have related initiatives.
Given the volatile political climate in Washington, members of the CSP and their friends at Lewis–Burke Associates will continue to keep their ears close to the ground to pick up any signals, positive or negative, from Congress and the Administration.
We encourage readers interested in receiving updates on policy issues and/or funding opportunities to sign up for occasional e-mail alerts on matters of general interest to the mathematical and computational sciences community. Information about other policy alerts of interest to the SIAM community can be found below.
SIAM, like many professional organizations, regularly updates members on developments in the science policy arena. Some of the latest information on these developments, from SIAM and several other organizations, can be found at the following web links:
Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics
Science Policy and Funding
American Institute of Physics
FYI: The AIP Bulletin of Science Policy News
subscribe at aip.org/fyi/subfyi.html
American Geophysical Union
Science Policy Updates
American Mathematical Society
Policy and Advocacy News
American Physical Society
Capitol Hill Quarterly
American Society for Engineering Education
Capitol Shorts Newsletter
Association for Computing Machinery/U.S. Public Policy Council
ACM Washington Update
Computing Research Association
Computing Research Policy Blog
Many of these websites also provide information for readers interested in visiting their representatives in Washington, DC.
Hans Kaper, founding chair of SIAG/MPE and editor-in-chief of SIAM News, is an adjunct professor of mathematics at Georgetown University. David Levermore is a professor in the Department of Mathematics at the University of Maryland, College Park.