SIAM News Blog

SIAM Committee on Science Policy Discusses Priorities in Current Political Climate

By Karthika Swamy Cohen, Miriam Quintal, and Eliana Perlmutter

A key objective of SIAM is to promote the value of applied mathematics research and ensure its application in solving real-world problems. To this end, the SIAM Committee on Science Policy monitors developments in the federal and state governments that are of interest to SIAM and its members.

The committee meets biannually in Washington, D.C., and held its spring meeting in April to discuss SIAM policy goals and advocate for these priorities in Congress. Representatives from relevant offices at the National Science Foundation (NSF), Department of Energy (DOE), and Department of Defense (DoD) offered updates on their respective agencies. Additionally, the committee met with staff in the offices of key members of Congress and congressional committees to highlight the value of federal investment in applied mathematics and scientific computing at the NSF, DOE, DoD, and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). 

Lewis-Burke Associates, the organization that supports SIAM’s government affairs in Washington, hosted the meeting. They kicked off the session with an overview of the latest updates from Washington. Representatives from the firm discussed the likelihood of an omnibus bill to fund government agencies and programs for the last five months of fiscal year (FY) 2017, which has since been passed by Congress and signed into law (Public Law 115-31).  

Despite the cuts proposed by the Trump administration, the omnibus increases federal investments in many research areas. Congress appropriated $7.472 billion—essentially flat funding—for the NSF and $5.392 billion for the DOE Office of Science, an increase of $42 million, or 0.8 percent, over the FY 2016 enacted level. Advanced scientific computing research at the DOE will receive an increase of $26 million over FY 2016 levels, for a total of $647 million for FY 2017. Basic research at the DoD was allocated $2.3 billion, a 1.4 percent decrease from the FY 2016 level. The NIH was appropriated $34 billion, an increase of $2 billion, or 6.2 percent, above the FY 2016 enacted level. In the end, the administration relented on its top priorities, such as funds for a border wall, and increased defense spending to avoid a government shutdown.

The president’s full budget proposal for FY 2018, anticipated the week of May 22nd (after this issue went to press), is expected to mirror the skinny budget released by the administration in March. For projected increases in national security, the budget would make steep cuts to federal research agencies, targeting programs focused primarily on research, the environment, international assistance, housing, and loans and grants. The proposal is expected to diminish DOE research programs by $3.1 billion and NIH funding by $5.8 billion. NSF and DoD research programs have not been discussed publicly by the administration, and the budget blueprint provides no details on the science and technology programs at these agencies.

Congress has the power of the purse to control funding levels in appropriations bills, and is likely to reject the deep cuts proposed by the administration. For example, the administration’s budget blueprint proposes cutting the NIH by close to $6 billion, but NIH funding has bipartisan support and received a $2 billion increase in the omnibus. The most likely appropriations scenario for FY 2018 is a full-year continuing resolution (CR), which would continue to fund the government at FY 2017 levels. If Congress is able to pass appropriations bills for the next fiscal year instead of a CR, evidence indicates that such bills would be considerably different from the president’s budget request to reflect congressional priorities.  

Barbara Helland, associate director of Advanced Scientific Computing Research at the DOE Office of Science, updated the committee on DOE priorities and changes. She talked at length about the Exascale Computing Project (ECP), emphasizing the project’s role in providing strategic leadership and a foundation for capable exascale systems. The ECP identifies and supports research ventures to expedite applications, software, hardware platforms, and architectures imperative to the development of a capable national exascale ecosystem to support key DOE missions and contribute to the nation’s economic competitiveness.

Michael Vogelius, director of the Division of Mathematical Sciences (DMS) at the NSF, reported on activities in his division. As Vogelius is nearing the end of his term as division director, he urged the mathematical sciences community to suggest replacement candidates. The job posting is available on USAJOBS

Vogelius described four types of solicitations comprised in the DMS Workforce Program: Mathematical Sciences Postdoctoral Research Fellowships, Enriched Doctoral Training in the Mathematical Sciences, Research Experiences for Undergraduates Sites, and Research Training Groups in the Mathematical Sciences. He emphasized the division’s commitment to continuing the mathematics institutes, underscored the importance of mathematics in biology, and expressed interest in making mathematical biology more quantitative. He added that the DMS is working with the NSF Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) on a new initiative to support collaborations between biologists and mathematical scientists to advance the NSF “Rules of Life” big idea on predicting phenotype from genotype and environmental inputs. Vogelius also stated his interest in involving data science more heavily in the DMS portfolio, and noted that the new Transdisciplinary Research in Principles of Data Science program enhances collaboration on fundamental data science among mathematicians, theoretical computer scientists, and statisticians. 

As part of SIAM’s effort to connect with the international applied math community, Michael Günther, the European Consortium for Mathematics in Industry (ECMI) representative of the European Service Network of Mathematics for Industry and Innovation (EU-MATHS-IN), spoke to the committee. EU-MATHS-IN aims to leverage the impact of mathematics on innovations in key technologies by fostering communication among stakeholders in Europe. Günther explained that EU-MATHS-IN is a unique network of networks with members in each European country. The ECMI—which is itself a network of 97 institutional members in 22 European countries and Israel—focuses on using excellent science and industrial leadership to address societal challenges. 

Günther referred to a Deloitte report, which assesses the economic impact of mathematics on the Dutch economy at the request of the board of Platform Wiskunde Nederland, an organization representing the Dutch mathematics community. The Dutch report found that the mathematical sciences yield significant value for the economy, supporting a quarter of the Dutch national income and 26% of all jobs in the Netherlands, and contributing to 30% of gross value added. It also determined that almost a million Dutch employees use mathematical sciences, with many occupations requiring math as part of daily work routines. The report concluded that a coordinated effort is needed to enhance cooperation between mathematics and business/society.

Frederica Darema, director of the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR), updated committee members on her office, framing the AFOSR as the “NSF for the Department of Defense.” She described the agency’s “find, fund, forward” mission, explaining that the AFOSR aims to identify breakthrough research opportunities, foster evolution of all basic research for AFOSR needs, and transition technologies to the DoD and industry. Program ideas are shaped by program managers, professional societies, and the community, she said. Darema spoke of the 36 programs in the basic research division and 20 programs in the international office. The current emphasis includes programs on computational biology, quantum biology, and quantum computing.  

On the second day of the meeting, members of the committee met with staff from key congressional offices to convey support for robust federal investment in applied mathematics and computational science. Discussion included the importance of basic research through the NSF, the DOE, the DoD, and the NIH, as well as the role of applied mathematics and computational sciences in strengthening national security and preserving U.S. leadership in biomedical research, energy science, and computing capabilities.

Interested in learning more about the future of science and math under the Trump administration? Attend a minisymposium on Thursday, July 13th at the 2017 SIAM Annual Meeting, during which speakers from the National Science Foundation, Department of Energy, and Department of Defense will analyze the current administration’s plans for implementation of national priorities and the potential contributions of major mathematics funding agencies. Lewis-Burke will also be present to answer questions about the Trump administration and moderate the session.

Karthika Swamy Cohen is the managing editor of SIAM News.
  Miriam Quintal is SIAM’s Washington liaison at Lewis-Burke Associates LLC. Eliana Perlmutter is a Legislative Research Assistant at Lewis-Burke Associates LLC. 
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