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]

About Karen Saxe

Since January 1, 2017, Karen Saxe is Director of the Washington Office of the AMS which works to connect the mathematics community with Washington decision-makers who impact science funding. Before joining the AMS, Karen was DeWitt Wallace Professor in the Department of Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. Over many years she has contributed time to the AMS, MAA, and AWM, including service as vice president of the MAA and in policy and advocacy work with all three. She was the 2013-2014 AMS-AAAS Science & Technology Policy Congressional Fellow, working for Senator Al Franken on education issues, with focus on higher education and STEM education. In Minnesota she has served on the Citizens Redistricting Commission following the 2010 census and serves on the Common Cause Minnesota Redistricting Leadership Circle. She has three children and, when not at work especially enjoys being with them and reading, hiking, skiing, and sharing good food and wine and beer with family and friends.
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