SIAM News Blog

SIAM Committee on Science Policy Discusses Federal Priorities

By Eliana Perlmutter, Miriam Quintal, and Ben Kallen

The SIAM Committee on Science Policy (CSP) meets twice a year to review the society’s science policy priorities and engage with federal agency leaders in positions relevant to computational and applied mathematics. In December, the committee met with officials from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Department of Energy (DOE), Department of Defense (DoD), and National Institutes of Health to discuss the applied mathematics community’s perspective on current and future agency priorities. Committee members also spoke with budget examiners in the Office of Management and Budget to convey the critical importance of federal funding for applied mathematics in future presidential budget requests.

Lewis-Burke Associates, SIAM’s government relations consultants and Washington, D.C. office, opened the meeting with a presentation on the federal funding and policy landscape. Despite challenges in 2017, the science community engaged in successful advocacy on key issues. Congressional champions also stepped up to safeguard the research ecosystem from proposed funding and tax changes.

The meeting consisted of general discussion and presentations from federal officials. Tie Luo, acting director of the NSF’s Division of Mathematical Sciences (DMS), talked about department programs and initiatives relevant to the applied mathematics community. He provided an overview of “10 Big Ideas for Future NSF Investments,” the strategic framework guiding the agency’s future research investments. Luo focused on the three ideas most pertinent to applied mathematics: Harnessing Data for 21st Century Science and Engineering, The Quantum Leap: Leading the Next Quantum Revolution, and Understanding the Rules of Life: Predicting Phenotype. The DMS plans to continue implementing programs as part of these big ideas, such as the Transdisciplinary Research in Principles of Data Science program and the NSF-Simons Research Centers for Mathematics of Complex Biological Systems.

Dawn Tilbury, assistant director of the Directorate for Engineering (ENG), offered an overview of ENG programs and focused much of her presentation on the need to address challenges inherent to the ENG community, including diversity enhancement and inclusion and adjustment to flat or decreasing budgets. To that end, ENG is piloting an Advanced Placement engineering class to broaden student access to engineering inside the classroom. ENG is generating the program’s curriculum with plans for implementation. To help with tight budgets, the Division of Civil, Mechanical and Manufacturing Innovation (CMMI) is heading the Leading Engineering for America’s Prosperity, Health, and Infrastructure (LEAP HI) program, which involves partnerships with industry, government, and international collaborators.

Robin Staffin, who at the time of the meeting was weeks away from retiring as  Director of Basic Research at the DoD,  spent much of his session reflecting on his tenure and initiatives to promote and ensure the future sustainability of basic research at the agency. He also discussed his efforts to leverage his position to help foster engagement between industry and academia, most recently through the new Defense Enterprise Science Initiative (DESI). DESI seeks to incentivize use-inspired basic research programs by partnering universities with industry to solve key defense challenges and address capability gaps.

Patricia Brennan, director of the National Library of Medicine (NLM), spoke about her vision for the NLM to catalogue and make data and models usable, similarly to how PubMed Central has made scientific publications accessible to researchers. The committee gave Brennan extensive feedback on the challenge of cataloguing models.

Barbara Helland, associate director of Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR) at the DOE’s Office of Science, gave an update on ASCR’s budget outlook and programs, noting that its budget continues to grow as it implements the Exascale Computing Project. Helland outlined recent ASCR focus areas in machine learning and quantum computing, and presented several upcoming opportunities for the applied mathematics community, including a new Mathematical Multifaceted Integrated Capabilities Center solicitation. Additionally, she reaffirmed ASCR’s support for early-career researchers, including through the Computational Sciences Graduate Fellowship program.

David Bressoud, a CSP member and director of the Conference Board of the Mathematical Sciences, provided an update on Transforming Post-Secondary Education in Mathematics (TPSE Math), an initiative focused on educational reforms for the mathematical community. TPSE Math addresses students’ lack of persistence to complete mathematics degrees and helps improve the success of traditionally underrepresented students. The committee conversed about whether external advisory boards to engineering departments could inform departmental offerings to better match workforce needs.

The CSP will meet again with federal agency representatives this April. Additionally, the committee will engage with delegation offices and committee staff on Capitol Hill to advocate for increased funding for critical agencies and discuss the importance of applied and computational mathematics to areas of national importance, such as health, economic development, and national security. The CSP is also welcoming an inaugural class of Science Policy Fellowship recipients, who will be joining the spring meeting and assisting with advocacy. These recipients will have opportunities to hone their science policy skills and act as additional ambassadors for SIAM’s science policy engagement.

Eliana Perlmutter is a Legislative Research Assistant, Miriam Quintal is SIAM’s Washington liaison, and Ben Kallen is a government relations associate, all at Lewis-Burke Associates LLC.

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