Preposterous Universe

Thursday, June 16, 2005
How to ask the government for money for science

David Appell links to a powerpoint presentation by Joel Parriott, a self-described "worker bee" (really, Science Program Examiner) at the Office of Management and the Budget. Parriott, who received a PhD in astrophysics from Michigan, is trying to explain to scientists how they are viewed by the OMB when they come to ask for money. The interesting slides are where he explains the "Ethos and Mythos" of each community, and how scientists can most effectively make their case (edited slightly for clarity).
    Ethos & Mythos: Science/Technology Community
  • Basic research is critical to the long-term interests of the U.S.
  • More research money is always good, less is always bad
  • Producing the next generation of scientists is of paramount importance
  • The Administration must not understand (or perhaps be hostile to) our compelling arguments, or else they would follow our recommendations
  • We’re smart, so you should listen and send us more $ and we’ll do good things ... trust us
    Ethos & Mythos: OMB Staff
  • Large, sustained budget deficits should be avoided if possible
  • Basic research is a good thing and support is typically a clear Federal role, but it’s difficult/impossible to know when investment is sub-critical and generational timescales add to the complexity of the analysis
  • Appetite of community for more $$ is boundless; everyone claims to be doing compelling, ripe-for-great-advance work
  • It’s difficult to impossible for the most of the S&T community to set priorities
  • Universities are good; national labs are unique but uncontrollable entities
  • Federal gov’t needs to more wisely & efficiently spend $$
    Making a better case
  • Work to put yourselves in our shoes
    • How would you realistically implement your own recommendations within a fixed budget envelope?
    • Use the framework of the R&D Investment Criteria to drive arguments
  • Improve your consensus reports
    • Apply the same level of logical rigor as you do for peer-reviewed journals (expose assumptions & context; admit limitations; data, not anecdotes, should drive arguments)
    • Spend more time on executive summary and navigation
    • Workforce arguments are typically weak ones…let the science drive the case
    • Well grounded constructive criticism adds to your credibility (we know things are not perfect, so alternative for us is to assume less than full honesty on your part)
    • Strong outsiders add to your credibility (e.g., EPP2010)
  • Many decisions are political at their core, so community needs to be more politically astute, but partisanship should be avoided
The idea that science should drive the case is interesting. It's obvious in some sense, but earlier in the document we read about the priorities driving the President's 2006 budget, and they are mostly about the war on terror and spreading freedom. But one thing that is clear is that the government likes to hear the same thing from disparate groups of advisors -- maybe all those NASA and HEP panels do serve some purpose after all.

Ideas on culture, science, politics.
Sean Carroll

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