Time to contact your representatives in congress about NSF Funding!

Many of you who have your research supported by the federal government receive funding from the National Science Foundation. You might receive funds from another agency, like the National Security Agency (the NSA Mathematical Sciences Program entertained a total of 340 research proposals in 2015), but the NSF is the only federal agency with the primary goal of supporting research across the full spectrum of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. And, we’ve just learned that the NSA cannot give any awards this year to individual researchers, so even more demand for funding mathematics research might come to the NSF.

Ever wonder how the NSF gets money to fund our mathematical research and efforts in education in the mathematical sciences? The amount that the NSF has at its disposal to fund research is determined every year, and is done so through the “appropriations” process. While not all members of Congress sit on the committees that draft the bills to provide annual funding (appropriations) for federal government programs, every member of Congress has the opportunity to submit their opinion through “member appropriations requests.” As your members of Congress begin submitting their requests for fiscal year 2018 (FY18), you can encourage them to assign a high priority to the NSF.

I work in Washington with the Coalition for National Science Funding, and we have decided to request $8 billion for the NSF for fiscal year 2018. In an effort to keep this post somewhat readable and not terribly long, I will not explain the reasoning here but am always happy to answer questions.

This is the right time to ask the members of your congressional delegation to include funding for the NSF in their FY18 appropriations requests.

There are many federal budget pressures, such as the President’s $54 billion increase for defense funding, and we are concerned that the budget for basic science research (including NSF) will get cut exactly at the time when other countries are increasing investment.

Don’t know who your representative and/or senators are? The government has user-friendly websites for finding your Representative in the House and your two Senators. You can then write your own, individualized letter (see editable text below) and send a hard copy to their Washington DC office, or you can check out their websites for email submission instructions. By the way, if you live and work in different districts, feel free to send your letter to the two different representatives.

A few facts. Appropriations for the NSF are the jurisdiction of the House Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Subcommittee, one of the twelve subcommittees of the House Committee on Appropriations. Although this post is about actions you can take with your representative in the House; Senate-side action can be taken in a similar way.

I repeat, this is the right time to ask the members of your congressional delegation to include funding for the NSF in their FY18 appropriations requests!

The deadline for your representative to submit her/his appropriations requests is April 4. Your letter will help inform the request your representative submits so I would encourage you to get your letter in by March 25. The sooner the better.

The New Yorker’s very recent article “Call and Response” by Pulitzer Prize winner Kathryn Schulz gives a fascinating and detailed account of how Congressional offices interact with people who contact them (March 6, 2017, p 26-32). One point it makes — personalized emails, personalized letters and editorials in local newspapers are effective ways to influence lawmaker’s opinions.

Use the editable text below to personalize a letter to your Congressional representatives urging them to request robust funding for the NSF. Tell a story! If you have an NSF grant, or know of one at your home institution that benefits faculty and students, I encourage you to add text to tell a little bit about what the grant is for, and how it benefits their home district or state. If you can, tell how the NSF award benefits the students, either explicitly or in some subtler way.

Another idea: a powerful letter could come from a mathematics department (especially one at a public institution) and you could change all the words like “I” and “my” to “we” and “our” in the below and send this letter on behalf of the department. Imagine your representative receiving a letter from one of her/his district’s most important departments in higher education telling a story about training the workforce for the area.

Thank you, in advance, for doing your part to protect NSF funding.

Dear [Recipient],

As your constituent, I appreciate the challenge Congress faces as it allocates scarce discretionary dollars across numerous federal agencies and programs. As you determine your appropriations priorities for Fiscal Year 2018 (FY18), I hope you will consider including my request to ensure maximized funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF). I ask that you ensure our nation continues to reap the benefits of a strong National Science Foundation (NSF) by providing $8 billion in your Fiscal Year 2018 (FY18) appropriations requests.

The NSF supports America’s basic research in science and engineering, and helps ensure young people have access to education and careers in science, technology, engineering and math.  Both of these functions are strategic imperatives if our nation is to maintain its global economic leadership. Please request robust funding for NSF in FY18.

Optional: add a story

Thank you for your leadership and for stewarding our nation’s unrivaled research capacity.

[Your closing]

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The Washington Office – A Primer

Welcome! This is the first post for this new blog. I look forward to writing to you about what we are doing in Washington for the AMS, and about ways in which you can be involved in this.

I began as Director of the AMS’s Washington Office in January, succeeding Sam Rankin who had been in the position for over two decades. The Washington Office is at the center of the AMS’s science policy and advocacy efforts.

According to a McKinley survey done as part of recent AMS strategic planning efforts, only 58% of AMS members even know this office exists. I am looking forward to capitalizing on the fact that this same survey shows that 95% of respondents, when asked about future priorities of the AMS, list increased advocacy as a most important priority (62%) or as a somewhat important priority (33%).

The first thing to know is that we are located at Dupont Circle, a vibrant area in DC that is exactly one mile north of the White House, and about another mile down Pennsylvania Avenue to the US Capitol building. All AMS members are warmly invited to drop by and visit. If you are planning a visit, and I have fair warning, I can arrange visits for you with your representatives in Congress, help you figure out what to talk about with them, and likely accompany you on these visits. More about how to make effective Hill visits in further posts!

Many congressional members and staff understand that mathematics is the foundational discipline upon which technological innovation and global competitiveness depends. A central goal is to expand their understanding of scientific and mathematical issues and concerns in order to have them push for increasing the federal investment in research and education that will fuel future economic growth.

How do we do this work?

It is not quite “location, location, location” but more “relationships, relationships, relationships.” Key to my work is establishing trusting relations with folks from congressional offices, government agencies, other professional organizations in the sciences, university umbrella groups (such as the APLU), and business and industry so that the AMS (and indeed the mathematical community more broadly) is viewed as a partner and resource. I am following the annual federal budget process to educate myself as I advocate for maximized funding for scientific research and education, and establishing relations with congressional offices. I want mathematicians “at the table,” and I want congressional offices – from both parties – to look to us as a resource.

It is part of the privilege of my position that I can attend Congressional hearings. I attended the first in a series of hearings on cybersecurity, a hot topic in DC. One of the witnesses at this hearing – Dr. Charles Romine (National Institute of Standards and Technology) – is a mathematician. And, I attended parts of the confirmation hearings of our new Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and our new Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

Since January, I’ve made visits to several members of Congress. We talk about maximizing funding for basic research and the current congressional priorities as laid out, for example, by House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Chair Lamar Smith (TX-21-R). In hindsight, it is often easier to appreciate how basic research in mathematics benefits our society and economy. However, congressional members (most) often would not know, for example, that advances in theoretical mathematics were employed to develop the PageRank algorithm, now famously used by Google. We know these stories, and congressional members can use them to push for more funding for science in their annual budget-setting process. It is our job to make sure they know these stories too. My experience is that congressional staff members like to talk about math, and I leave them not only with information about NSF investments in their home districts and states, but also with a beautiful AMS calendar and, lately, because it is timely, point out that April is Mathematics and Statistics Awareness Month.

These examples are just to give you an idea of what the AMS’s advocacy efforts in DC look like.

Tune in here to this new blog for regular news, background information about our work, and opportunities for how you can engage in the discussion in DC.

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