Algorithms, China, Congress, and us

Most of what you read in the news about Congress’s activities these days focuses on the debt limit, the infrastructure bill, reconciliation and generally passing bills to accomplish Biden’s legislative agenda to Build Back Better.

Oh, and then there is the surfacing of Facebook whistle blower Frances Haugen. This was the focus of a Senate hearing titled “Protecting Kids Online: Testimony from a Facebook Whistleblower” that took place on October 5. This was more interesting than I first expected. Just so you know, I am not on Facebook, never have been, never will be. [I do look at twitter almost daily, not a healthy habit.] What I thought was so interesting—and relevant to my job—is the shift that we are seeing in proposed legislation to curb problems with Facebook and other social media platforms. If I understand correctly, proposed legislation has typically attempted to regulate what could be posted.

We are now seeing bills introduced that, instead, would limit the further content the algorithms used are allowed to direct viewers to. One such piece of legislation is the Algorithmic Justice and Online Platform Transparency Act of 2021, introduced by Senator Markey (MA) and Congresswoman Matsui (CA, district 6). This bill would prohibit algorithms used by online platforms that discriminate on the basis of race, age, gender, ability and other protected characteristics. It would also take away the “black box” nature of current algorithms, by requiring online platforms to describe to users in plain language the types of algorithmic processes they employ and the information they collect. I know many in the math community work on this and many more care. Is it incumbent upon all of us to pay more attention? Obviously, there are others  in our community who have long been calling us to attention.

On the same date (October 5, lest you forget), the House Science Committee held a less sexy hearing titled “Balancing Open Science and Security in the U.S. Research Enterprise.” Competitiveness with China in particular is a hot topic in Washington, DC. This is not new.

Witness Maria Zuber of MIT is a co-chair of the recently constituted PCAST. She noted that National Security Presidential Memorandum (NSPM)-33—when released by the Trump administration—left unanswered questions and that clarifying information is being developed. She voiced concern “that increasingly federal agencies are attempting to impose limits on the kinds of research projects in which Chinese students can participate” and suggested that “limiting or discouraging Chinese students is the last step the U.S. should consider in countering China.” She urged that universities put in place their own clear and rigorous processes to review collaborations with China. At her home institution there is a process in place under which all collaborations with China, Russia and Saudi Arabia are reviewed.

Congressman Bill Foster of Illinois (PhD physicist) opened the hearing by observing that “Collaboration is the lifeblood of scientific discovery. Scientists build upon one another’s work, across time and around the globe. Openness in science allows reproduction and replication of work, increasing the reliability of conclusions and building public trust. It fosters cooperation across disciplines, brings in new perspectives, and sparks ideas that wouldn’t come from one solitary lab, or even one country.”

He noted that openness in the context of fundamental research does not come without risks and the goal of the hearing would be to explore what these risks are, the NSF’s workload associated with monitoring suspected cases of espionage, and with clarifying the procedures for researchers in the United States regarding propriety of foreign collaborations. Foster pointed out that these charges disproportionately target researchers of Chinese descent and that defendants with Chinese surnames were twice as likely to not be found guilty or to have all charges dropped, as compared to those with Western names.

During the hearing, Temple University’s Dr. Xiaoxing Xi’s personal story illustrated such a case and was especially moving. He recounted the day six years ago when armed FBI agents showed up at his door, raided his home, handcuffed him and led him away. Guns were pointed at his wife and young daughters. They were accusing him of passing sensitive technology to China. He told this story not to highlight his own innocence, but to point out that in such actions, the United States is not catching the real spies, and not using our tax money responsibly to protect our country. His testimony ends with

Let me be clear: a policy that targets Chinese scientists and cracks down on openness in fundamental research does not protect America’s research security. It makes the U.S. less competitive in innovation and less attractive to talents around the world. It threatens the U.S. leadership in science and technology. It must stop.”

One of my main jobs in Washington, DC (many would say my main job) is to advocate for increased funding for the NSF. One problem I see is that the agency is asked to do more and more, but funding is not provided for the staff to do so. Case in point is what we heard from another witness, NSF Inspector General Allison Lerner, who reported that investigating suspected cases of undue foreign influence is taking much of her office’s bandwidth.  Prior to late 2017, they had no foreign influence-related cases. As of October 4, 2021, such cases make up approximately 63% of her office’s caseload. They see only more cases coming at them, and have also experienced a dramatic increase in requests for assistance from the FBI since FY 2018, the vast majority of which relate to foreign influence issues. It now takes more than one full-time employee to process and assess these many requests.

The NSF also imposed a range of sanctions on the accused researchers—including suspending and terminating awards, and barring individuals from serving on panels and/or applying for grants in the future. Approximately 30 actions have been taken, and Lerner reported that the NSF has thus far recovered \$7.9 million from 23 grantees, at 21 institutions. According to an article in Science magazine, all but one of the cases involve an award to a scientist with links to China.

While we are seeing continuing scrutiny and concern, we are also seeing positive actions from the Biden administration. Congressman Foster made the tie to education at the hearing by saying that

“The United States attracts the largest share of international students worldwide, and three-quarters of them stay in the U.S. a decade after graduation, contributing to our economy. However, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, enrollment of international students was on the decline. And creating a hostile environment for foreign-born researchers will only exacerbate the problem. Asian-American advocacy groups, scientific societies, and universities have raised the alarm that prosecutions related to academic espionage have disproportionately targeted researchers of Chinese descent.”

Zuber’s statement notes that “According to the latest statistics from the National Science Foundation, 83 percent of Chinese students who received U.S. science and engineering doctorates between 2011 and 2013 were still in the U.S. five years later.”

I continue to be worried about all this anti-China in higher education stuff. When I read that dozens of Chinese students have been sent home from the University of Buffalo, or that Harvard is relocating a program from China to Taiwan (and these two are just from reading the news one morning!), I get a very chilly feeling. These are all pieces of a big puzzle.

The news isn’t all bad. I was pleased to see the recent statement of the Departments of State and Education issue a statement articulating “a renewed U.S. commitment to international education.” In this, math students are singled out—along with other science disciplines—for the contributions they make to benefit U.S. businesses upon graduation.

 

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President Biden’s Research Priorities

On August 27, the White House issued its research and development priorities memo (M-21-32). This is the Biden administration’s first such memo.

The memo is, as is usual, signed by the heads of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and Office of Management and Budget—Director Eric Lander and Acting Director Shalanda Young, respectively.

These are put out annually—at least have been by the past several administrations—and are the first step in the annual budget process (actually, this would be “step 0” if it appeared in my diagram in this budget primer).

This memo essentially tells agencies what they should include in their budget proposals for 2023. Agencies, including the NSF, will take this memo into (serious) consideration as they make their budget requests for 2023 and design future agency activities. Agency budget requests will, in turn, become part of the President’s budget proposal which is due to be released in February 2022.

The memo is 5 pages long. This compares to Trump’s first such memo, which was released on August 17, 2017 and ran 4 pages. Foci on emerging technologies and workforce remain; a Trump focus on military strength is gone.

It lists 5 top line multi-agency priorities:

  1. Pandemic readiness and prevention.
  2. Tackling climate change—this includes readiness for climate disasters, clean energy innovation, and general climate science research.
  3. Catalyze research and innovation in critical and emerging technologies—AI, quantum information science, advanced communications technologies, microelectronics, high-performance computing, biotechnology, robotics, and space technologies. This priority, in particular, has carried over from Trump’s priorities.
  4. Innovation for equity—part of Biden’s whole-of-Government equity agenda and suggests steps to improve diversity and equity in the research workforce.
  5. National security and economic resilience—prioritizes reduction of catastrophic biological, nuclear, and cyber risks.

A few other observations:

  • Rebuilding U.S. supply chains is highlighted. The phrase “invent it here; make it here” is used. Improving resilience of supply chains is also prioritized.
  • There is a section on cultivating a research environment composed of people from diverse backgrounds so that more Americans feel included in the scientific enterprise. One goal of such engagement is to empower more Americans with scientific knowledge in order to gain public trust in science. Indeed, the memo ends with a section on guidance for STEM education and engagement. HBCUs and other MSIs are specifically mentioned in this guidance. Families are described as a critical component in the effort to increase engagement.

It is important for the math community to think about how our field fits into these White House priorities, and how the NSF fits into this memo. The latter is important because most federal funding for mathematics research comes from the NSF, and this memo will help determine how much money the NSF gets from Congress to, in turn, distribute to the math community to support our work.

 

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What you missed over the summer—Part 2

 

I know that most of you reading this are or will be teaching this fall and that probably means in-person for the first time in a while (and all the academic and emotional implications this carries), and with mask and vaccine guidance changing (perhaps even often) and with controversy. You have a lot on your plate and I am eternally grateful for all educators who are doing this hard work. Thank you.

This column will begin with policy updates that could especially affect students and institutes of higher education—including Title IX and immigration news—and concludes with a very brief update on the Census and redistricting.

Education Policy News

The various large Biden-agenda bills working their way through Congress include education provisions, including the notable free community college provision. There is just too much going on, and changing too quickly, for me to provide any kind of timely reporting here. September promises to be very busy in Congress not only working on these bills (infrastructure, etc.) but also on the “regular” annual appropriations. The latter must be completed by the end of the month or else the government will shut down or a continuing resolution will be put in place. It would be an excellent moment for you to Take Action and urge Congress to provide increased funds to the NSF for fiscal year 2022. Thank you for doing that!

Immediately before I wrote Part 1, civil rights champion Bob Moses passed away. I want the United States to offer quality education to all so that we can be our best nation self. As Moses argued, education is a civil right that so many in this country, in practice, do not have. It is also argued that we should improve the quality of our (math) education simply to compete with China. Data recently released by the National Science Board shows that the United States ranked 25 out of 37 countries in mathematical literacy and United States performance on these tests has remained stagnant for over a decade. Arguably, these (number of PhDs awarded, math contests, standardized tests, etc.) are not the best metrics one could use to determine the quality of our education.

And, while I am on it, a brief digression—I find two facts in the NSB report Executive Summary (just mentioned) especially interesting:

  • Less experienced STEM teachers (as measured by years of teaching) are more prevalent in schools with high-minority enrollment or high-poverty enrollment.
  • Data collected on U.S. remote learning in spring 2020 (during the COVID-19 pandemic) revealed differences in access to technology based on household income: 57% of households with income below \$25,000 did not always have a computer available for educational purposes, whereas 90% of households with an income of \$200,000 or more did.

Neither of these are, sadly, surprising.

Title IX

As you know, Title IX refers to the part of a law that makes nondiscrimination on the basis of sex a condition for receiving federal financial assistance, including for funding to colleges and universities. Title IX first appeared in 1972 as an amendment to the Higher Education Act of 1965. In 2020, the Trump administration put in place new regulations for implementing Title IX and these marked a major change from previous guidance issued. At the time, the AMS joined many other professional societies urging that the proposed changes not be made. Our central concerns were that (1) the proposed rules gave a definition of sexual harassment that was too narrow; (2) the circumstances under which Title IX would apply were being made too restrictive; and (3) the new notice requirements were to become too restrictive. The Biden administration has begun the work to review and—in part or in full—reverse these DeVos-led regulations. This work has continued this summer. In July, the Department of Education published a Q&A about how the 2020 regulations will be implemented until their review is complete and new regulations are in place.

Student Loans

On August 6, the Biden administration announced another extension of student loan repayments through January 31, 2022. Also on August 6, the Department of Education announced that it will work this fall to make changes to a variety of regulations overseeing student loans. More information on the latter is found in this press release.

It can be argued that these issues and policies in education do not affect mathematicians doing their research. However, changes to how we pay for college and who has access have potential to dramatically change our jobs in the classroom.

Immigration Update

Of course, student visas—the ease and ability to get them—as well as the overall international climate impact the demographic of the mathematics student body, especially at the graduate level. The Trump years were very tough on international students and visiting faculty, and that administration’s policy implications for foreign students and scholars were greatly compounded by the difficulties of international travel brought on by the pandemic.

We’ve been pretty active on this front, trying to assure the United States is a welcoming place for all who want to come and study mathematics, do research here, or attend a conference or workshop. My post from October 16, 2020 details a few concerning maneuvers proposed by the Trump administration. Of particular concern for us was one targeting “duration of status” guidelines that allow some international students (typically F and J visa holders) to remain in the country for the time it takes to finish their degrees. Good news—on July 6, the Department of Homeland Security withdrew this proposed rule. Mathematics graduate students acted, and I am grateful for their advocacy efforts; it made a difference!

Indeed, international enrollments (across all fields and levels of higher education) are seeing a bounce back—rebounding from COVID and perhaps Trump-era policies that created a less welcoming environment for non-US citizens. In May and June, about 117,000 F-1 student visas were approved, which is about 93% of the number issued the same two months of 2019. According to the AMS annual survey, the majority of international PhD math students are now from China. Nearly 57,000 visas were granted in May and June to Chinese students (again across all fields and all levels), compared with about 55,000 in 2019. At the same time, we do read about some graduate students in China reporting visa denials. At least some of these rejections are thought to be related to a presidential order that blocks visas to students in STEM fields who have studied at universities alleged to have ties to the Chinese military; this order was issued by Trump and has not been reversed by Biden.

Congress is also considering student and scholar visas. On July 13, a hearing was held by the House Judiciary Committee’s Immigration and Citizenship Subcommittee that focused on our outdated immigration policies for recruiting talent—including mathematicians—to the United States. There is momentum in Congress for making it easier for (STEM field) students who do their PhD work here to stay to work. A letter from the Carnegie Mellon Graduate Student Assembly (submitted for the record) mentions a recommendation made to Congress by the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence that,

“Congress should amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to grant lawful permanent residence to any vetted (not posing a national security risk) foreign national who graduates from an accredited United States institution of higher education with a doctoral degree in a field related to science, technology, engineering, or mathematics in a residential or mixed residential and distance program; and has a job offer in a field related to science, technology, engineering, or mathematics. They should not be counted towards permanent residency caps.”

During the hearing, arguments worth merit were made on both sides. Witness Jennifer Grundy Young told the story of a scientist who was educated in the United States (with graduate degrees from Texas A&M and Carnegie Mellon), worked on a temporary visa for 18 years here, but ultimately gave up trying to secure permanent residency (i.e., a “green card”) and is now employed in Canada after completing their immigration process within months and without an attorney. Subcommittee Ranking Member Tom McClintock (CA, 4) argued that US workers are displaced by participants in the H-1B skilled visa program and the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program.

Subcommittee Chair Zoe Lofgren (CA, 19) is committed to fixing our immigration system in broad terms and including by phasing out the per-country caps on employment-based (EB) visas, and strengthening the H-1B visa program. The AMS has sent, together with other professional scientific societies, a letter to Congress urging them to increase the number of EB visas thereby smoothing the path for more mathematicians to obtain permanent resident status. [Interesting to read the CBC take on this hearing.]

Census and Redistricting

On August 12, the Census Bureau released redistricting data to the states, months late. New maps will roll out one state at a time; state deadlines for new maps vary between September and the first few months of 2022.

Because I find it interesting: The share of the nation’s population that is white declined by nearly 9% since 2010, while the population in metro areas grew by 9%, according to the data, which was collected last year during the coronavirus pandemic. The number of White people fell for the first time since 1790, and for the first time (non-Hispanic) White people now account for less than 60% of the people in the U.S. The Two or More Races category increased 276% since 2010. Other highlights can be found at the Census website.

Techniques from mathematics and statistics are used in the Census, in apportionment, and in redistricting. The 2020 redistricting data are the first to use differential privacy. In 2018, the AMS issued a joint statement with the American Statistical Association about redistricting and partisan gerrymandering in particular. In it, we urge that mathematics and statistical science be employed to evaluate the fairness of district plans. The good news is that several states—from Virginia to Illinois to Arizona to Wisconsin—are in fact bringing in mathematical scientists to help, typically by creating ensembles of maps for redistricting groups to use to assess their own proposed maps (but in other ways as well). And, this is making national news, as in this Washington Post article.

I expect future legal challenges to proposed and adopted maps to focus on partisan gerrymandering and to be considered at the state level; the Supreme Court’s 2019 decision that federal courts should have no role in deciding partisan gerrymandering claims will guide cases to state courts. I expect mathematical and statistical arguments and tools be employed regularly in these legal arguments, and an increased number of mathematical scientists who are involved at the map drawing phase and in the court cases writing amicus briefs and serving as witnesses.

Seatbelts fastened!

 

 

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Math and Congress: What you missed over the summer, so far—Part 1

Depending on how you define “summer,” you may have missed the fact that President Biden now has a mathematician serving as his top science advisor. On May 28, Eric Lander was confirmed by the Senate as Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Additionally, current American Statistical Association President Robert Santos was nominated by President Biden to serve as the Director of the U.S. Census Bureau; he awaits confirmation by the Senate.

The rest of this post covers some summer news about AMS activities on the Hill, congressional appropriations, and other legislation moving through Congress. I am planning a Part 2 to this post, with education policy news and updates on the Trump era immigration policies that affect students and mathematicians.

AMS activities on the Hill

Over the summer, I have made many “Hill visits.” As of today, I have had 31 zoom meetings with congressional staff since June 1. These include meetings with not only staff but also three members of Congress—Senator Jack Reed (RI), Congressmen Ed Case (HI 1) and Jerry McNerney (CA 9). Some of these meetings have been by myself, some with my counterparts from other scientific societies, and several with mathematicians you may know! Many of these meetings were to give members of Congress examples of NSF funded mathematics projects in their district or state and use these personal stories about how federal funding helps their own constituents to persuade Congressional members to appropriate sufficient funds to the NSF next year (see next section on Congressional Appropriations).

The AMS is a member of the Task Force on American Innovation and we held a July 22 briefing for Congressional staff titled “Future Forward: Frontiers in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Research and Innovation.” I was really pleased that math was represented well in the discussion—Clark Atlanta University’s Talitha Washington was on our panel.

Congressional Appropriations

Each year, an important part of the AMS advocacy work is in working with Congress urging them to fund the NSF (and other agencies important for mathematics) at increased and sustained levels. While the NSF is a small agency (in terms of our national investment in it), in 2018 it funded 68% of all fundamental research in mathematics done at colleges and universities. As the chart below shows, the recent years have resulted in only very moderate growth for the NSF budget. That said, our advocating has helped Congress reject past Presidents’ proposed cuts to the NSF budget. For fiscal year 2022 (FY22), the President proposes a big increase for the NSF.

Government funding runs out on September 30 of each year. FY22 will begin on October 1. Congress must pass 12 funding bills to continue to fund government programs. Each year the President and each of the House and Senate put out their “marks” for how much the NSF will have in the next fiscal year. After the House and Senate agree on these amounts, 12 bills (or combined into “minibus” or “omnibus” bills) are sent back to the President for his (her, please, some day soon!) signature into law.

The annual appropriations timeline is supposed to go like this:

In my post on June 16, I wrote about details of the President’s budget proposal and what it means for mathematics. The President has proposed \$10.2 billion and the House \$9.6 billion. The Senate has yet to indicate its mark for the NSF.

You can continue to track NSF appropriations at the budget dashboard maintained by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The American Institute of Physics keeps a similar page, which also includes STEM education funding.

Legislation Watch

It has been an active period since Senators Schumer and Young introduced their Endless Frontier Act in April, and Representatives Johnson and Lucas the NSF for the Future Act. Both of these are “authorizing” bills for the NSF and both have passed in their respective chamber. Authorizing laws establish, continue, or modify federal programs, and they normally precede the decision by Congress to appropriate funds to the program. The NSF is one such “program”—NSF appropriations occur annually, while NSF authorizations happen less frequently.

Since its introduction, the Endless Frontier Act has grown and transformed (with 616 amendments!), and the bill that passed in the Senate on June 8, with a vote of 68-32, is now called the United States Innovation and Competitiveness Act. The NSF for the Future Act passed in the House on June 28, with a vote of 345-67. The differences in these House and Senate versions need to be worked out before President Biden will consider signing into law. The most significant change appearing in both authorization proposals is the move to establish a new directorate at the NSF. The last time the NSF added a new directorate was in 1991 when the Directorate of Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences was launched.

As the new bill name suggests, many additions (but not all of them) to the original Senate bill focus on keeping the U.S. competitive, especially with China. Some lawmakers view universities as the weak link in protecting against intellectual espionage. I am in favor of a global math community and hope to keep our international collaborations vibrant, and with few barriers. It is not just mathematics research that must be kept a global collaboration. So many of the challenges we face—from public health and pandemics to food security and climate challenges—are global problems that will require global solutions and international agreements to implement. Cornell’s Wendy Wolford wrote a nice piece about this need for international science recently in The Hill. I regularly get asked how mathematics—as a field—is affected by Chinese efforts in particular. Here are some data points that show the role China is now playing in mathematics:

  • From the AMS Annual Survey:
    • In 2017-18 PhDs were awarded (by U.S. universities) to 1960 people, including 1017 Non-US citizens. These recipients represented at least 90 countries, with China accounting 47% (470), followed by India with 5% (51).
    • In 2018-19 PhDs were awarded to 1911 people, including 851 Non-US citizens. These recipients represented at least 83 countries, with individuals from China account 42% (358), followed by India with 7% (57).
  • Usage of MathSciNet in China has grown 25.7% in the last two years, far more than any other country.  My AMS colleague Ed Dunne’s recent column in the Notices about geography of MathSciNet includes more details. His chart on page 599 shows how quickly mathematical publication output from China has grown.
  • At the 2021 at the Mathematical Contest in Modeling/Interdisciplinary Contest in Modeling, China dominated. This contest takes place in February and is open to teams of undergraduate and high school students, with a maximum of three students per team. In 2021, there were approximately 26,000 Chinese teams, 400 from the U.S., and 100 from other countries. Moreover, modeling has become firmly entrenched in the Chinese curricula at the tertiary level and has now moved into the secondary schools. The AMS has endorsed the Mathematical and Statistical Modeling Education Act, introduced bipartisanly and bicamerally by Representatives Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA) and Jim Baird (R-IN) and Senators Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN). This bill would improve education in this area in the U.S.

The Senate bill amendments do not all focus on international competitiveness. They include the Supporting Early-Career Researchers Act, a bill that the AMS has endorsed. The Supporting Early-Career Researchers Act passed in the House too, and so I am hopeful that it will become law before the end of the year.

Thank for reading through to the end!

 

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Mathematicians hit the Hill

 

On June 24 and 25, mathematicians joined scientists across all fields and from across the country for the first ever “virtual fly-in,” organized by the Coalition for National Science Funding. In normal years, CNSF Hill visits[1] take place in-person, and only the AMS-sponsored CNSF exhibitor (the AMS sponsors one mathematician per year to participate in this exhibit) takes part in the coalition-led visits. CNSF is a broad umbrella group of about 140 universities and professional societies that come together to garner Congressional support for dependable and increased investment in the national science, mathematics, and engineering enterprise as funded by the NSF. Several math societies are members of CNSF—AMS, American Statistical Association (ASA), Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM), Mathematical Association of America (MAA), and Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM). If you haven’t heard me say this many times already, the NSF is very important to the math community, as over 60% of federally-funded research in mathematics done at colleges and universities is funded by the NSF.[2]

These visits were timed to take place during “appropriations season”—the time of year when Congress is deciding how much money federal agencies and programs will receive during the next fiscal year. Our key request during the meetings was to ask the Member of Congress to support at least \$10 billion for the NSF in fiscal year 2022. This number is what the AMS supports, and is also consistent with President Biden’s request for NSF funding next fiscal year. As you may have heard, the NSF will likely launch a new directorate very soon. This jump in funding—from \$8.5 to over \$10 billion—is needed to fund this new directorate and to strengthen fundamental research through the existing directorates. [The last time the NSF added a new directorate was in 1991 when the Directorate of Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences was launched.]

We pointed out that

  • Large bipartisan majorities in Congress have noted the critical importance of significantly increasing our investment in NSF to maintain our competitiveness through bills such as the US Innovation and Competition Act[3] and NSF for the Future.
  • Every year, due to inadequate resources, NSF declines thousands of research ideas and nearly \$3 billion worth of those proposals are rated “very good.”
  • Although NSF accounts for only 4% of federal R&D spending, it supports nearly 50% of the nonmedical basic research at our colleges and universities. In any given year, NSF awards reach more than 2000 colleges, universities, and other public and private institutions in all 50 states.
  • NSF underwrites the training of the next generation of scientists. About 2,000 Graduate Research Fellowships are awarded annually to help graduate and doctoral students complete their advanced degrees. It also funds opportunities for undergraduates to engage in cutting edge research.

And, we thanked them for the inclusion in the American Rescue Plan of \$600 million for NSF research related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Join us at JMM 2022 for a training session on how you too can become an advocate for math research and education. Our session “Advocacy for Mathematics and Science Policy” will take place Thursday 9:30-11:00 am. Hope to see you there!

 

[1] A “Hill visit” is a meeting with a Congressional office, usually a staff member, in their Washington, DC office.

[2] https://ncsesdata.nsf.gov/fedfunds/2018/html/ffs18-dt-tab059.html

[3] This is the current name of what was first introduced as the Endless Frontier Act.

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President Biden’s first budget shows big changes for science and math

 

On May 28 President Biden released his first full budget proposal, for fiscal year 2022 (FY22). If accepted by Congress, federal funding of mathematics research and education will grow significantly.

Law (specifically, the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921) requires the President to submit a budget proposal on the first Monday in February, although the process is often delayed. In the year following a presidential election it is often delayed significantly.

The money

This chart shows how very good indeed the Biden proposal is for science overall. He proposes a budget of \$10.2 billion for the NSF in FY22.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) provided 68% of all federal support in 2018 for basic research in mathematics done at universities. The 20% increase to NSF will impact the math community by increasing

  • the number of mathematicians and math students that the NSF is able to support,
  • some individual award amounts, and
  • the length of some awards.

To put the 20% in historical context, NSF increases have been steady over the past several years but really have just kept up with inflation (typically about 2-4% increases). This plot shows the President’s request and compares it to the amount actually allocated to the NSF each year.

What will it be spent on?

Two big themes for the coming year at the NSF will be

  • capitalizing on our national investment by funding the translation of fundamental research to commercial technology; and
  • reaching more of the “missing millions”—supporting more women and individuals from underrepresented groups to succeed in the scientific enterprise.

If Biden’s proposal is adopted, the first would be realized by the launch of a new “Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships Directorate.” This new directorate is also being pushed by Congress—in the Senate it was first proposed in the Endless Frontier Act and in the House in the NSF for the Future Act. I wrote an overview of these two bills in my post preceding this one. The former is now called the United States Innovation and Competition Act and was passed by the Senate on June 8, in a 68-32 vote. The new bill is thousands of pages long and now includes more on geopolitics and national security (read “keeping competitive with China”) and also open access in publishing (another issue of interest to for the AMS). Congressional consideration of these bills is happening quickly, and more may well have transpired by the time you read this. The last time the NSF added a new directorate was in 1991 when the Directorate of Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences was launched.

We would also see a 50% increase in funding for programs that aim to increase participation from racial and ethnic groups underrepresented in science and engineering. Funding will support curriculum design, research on successful recruitment and retention methods, development of outreach or mentorship programs, fellowships, and building science and engineering research and education capacity at HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions. Additionally, through the Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), NSF looks to enhance research competitiveness and increase participation across geographies.

Some details about the proposed budget for mathematics research

The Division of Mathematical Sciences (DMS) would grow by about 6.5%. The plot below shows actual DMS appropriations for previous years, and the President’s request for FY22. DMS will see continuing and increased emphasis on broadening participation in mathematics. In addition, DMS will see a 22.5% increase in the budget for CAREER awards for mathematicians. And, the Mathematical Sciences Research Institutes program will remain a centerpiece of the DMS portfolio.

 

Some details about the proposed budget for education

The Education and Human Resources Directorate (EHR) would grow by about 16%. The plot below shows actual EHR appropriations for previous years, and the President’s request for FY22. This directorate’s investments are guided by three underlying themes:

  • contributing to research on STEM learning and learning environments,
  • broadening participation and institutional capacity in STEM, and
  • developing the STEM professional workforce.

Two particular programs to enhance graduate education that would benefit from the adoption of Biden’s budget are

  • the Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP), and
  • the Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP).

This budget promises a 50% increase to AGEP, and nearly 12% to GRFP. AGEP funds will continue to support innovative faculty career pathway models for advancing doctoral students, postdoctoral scholars and faculty who are historically underrepresented minorities in STEM fields. The increased GRFP total will enable approximately 2,500 new fellowship awards (across all fields) in FY22.

What’s next?

The President recommends overall fiscal policy, with two main components: (1) how much the federal government should spend on public purposes, and (2) how much it should take in as tax revenues. The difference between (1) and (2) is the proposed deficit (or surplus). The President’s budget is very detailed, and lays out his (or…please, sometime soon…. her or their) relative priorities for federal programs—how much he or she believes should be spent on defense, agriculture, education, health, and so on. The President’s budget is only a request to Congress; Congress is not required to adopt his recommendations.

Only Congress can grant funding. After the President introduces a budget, it moves through the House and Senate Budget Committees, working separately, to establish top-line numbers for spending, with input from other legislators. As they form their opinions for funding, the AMS—alone and in collaboration with other scientific societies and universities—talks with many congressional offices to stress the importance of funding for the NSF. I’ve been having these meetings throughout May and June, with volunteer mathematicians and, as just said, with other scientific societies and university groups. This year, the AMS urged Congress to appropriate at least \$10 billion for the NSF.

Once Congress comes to agreement on spending, the appropriations bill(s) are sent back to the President for signature into law.

What can I read if I want to know more?

President Biden’s request for the NSF for FY22 is, in its entirety, found at the NSF website.

The President’s budget, for all federal spending for FY22, is found at the White House website.

A very brief description of the annual federal budget process is given on the AMS Government Relations website.

 

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Major changes coming to the National Science Foundation(?)

 

There is a lot going on in Washington vis-à-vis the National Science Foundation. Several at-first-separate congressional efforts are converging with increased support from the White House and renewed public enthusiasm for, and confidence and interest in science, providing a real opportunity for change. For me, this is potentially a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to grow and modernize the agency that supports more mathematics research than any other federal funding source. Indeed, over 60% of federally-funded research in mathematics done at colleges and universities is funded by the NSF.[1]

What will we see? I expect to see a new directorate at the NSF that—in some way yet to be determined—focuses on bringing fundamental research to address grand societal challenges more directly and to market more seamlessly. There will also be a significant boost in the size of NSF’s budget that will fund the new directorate. We may well see additional increased money for the NSF to address past low funding, the urgent need to broaden the STEM workforce and include all Americans who want to be involved, and to enable us to stay a strong global partner to other countries that have been investing much more than we have over recent history. This last point is often referred to as “staying competitive with China,” but can also be thought of as “giving the U.S. the opportunity to be our best selves.”[2]

Every year, Congress decides how much money the NSF will get for the next year; this occurs through the annual appropriations process. In addition, and every so often, Congress passes a law that modifies what the NSF can do, and what it must do, with its appropriated funds.[3] “Reauthorizations” for the NSF take place regularly; the most recent comprehensive one took place in 2010.[4]

Right now, there is a flurry of activity related to reauthorization of the NSF. As you know, for a bill to become law, the House and Senate must each pass the identical bill. At this stage, there are competing bills:

  • The Endless Frontier Act
  • The NSF for the Future Act

The Endless Frontier Act has been introduced (identical versions) in both Senate and House, while the latter only in the House. They have bill numbers S 1260, HR 2731, and HR 2225, respectively, if you are wonky and want to have a look at the full bill texts, the bill summaries, or the list of cosponsors. In recent weeks, there have been at least three congressional hearings on these bills. For a gentler read, see their press releases, here and here. Nice coverage of the NSF for the Future Act, written by House Science Committee Chair Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, appears here.

The main point of this post is to tell you a little bit about the bills, including some key differences. I have been working with science society and university government relations colleagues in DC to give feedback and help shape these bills. The AMS Committee on Science Policy has also weighed in. Our communities have been listened to, and some of the provisions in the original Endless Frontier bill (introduced last year) that concerned us are now gone. These bills bring significant increases in funding to the NSF, and modernize the agency.

Both bills expand the NSF by adding a new directorate, increasing the number of directorates from seven to eight. The NSF for the Future Act authorizes programs across the NSF to address societal and national problems, including the establishment of the new directorate, which they name the “Directorate for Science and Engineering Solutions.” The Endless Frontier Act establishes the new “Directorate for Technology and Innovation,” and would additionally legislate how the money is spent—35% must go to university technology centers, 15% to scholarships and fellowships, and so on. The NSF for the Future Act does not dictate in this way.

The Endless Frontier’s new directorate is to advance innovation in ten key technology areas:

(1) artificial intelligence, machine learning, and other software advances

(2) high performance computing, semiconductors, and advanced computer hardware

(3) quantum computing and information systems

(4) robotics, automation, and advanced manufacturing

(5) natural and anthropogenic disaster prevention or mitigation

(6) advanced communications technology

(7) biotechnology, medical technology, genomics, and synthetic biology

(8) cybersecurity, data storage, and data management technologies

(9) advanced energy, batteries, and industrial efficiency

(10) advanced materials science, engineering, and exploration relevant to the other focus areas

The focus areas for the NSF for the Future’s new directorate are to be determined by the NSF Director but should address these challenges:

(1) Climate change and environmental sustainability

(2) Global competitiveness in critical technologies

(3) Cybersecurity

(4) National security

(5) STEM education and workforce

(6) Social and economic inequality

Both bills require regular review and updating of these topics.

The bills have lots of provisions. Examples that appear in one or both and may be of interest to the math community include:

  • Protects congressional funding to the other directorates so that this directorate cannot grow without the rest of NSF growing as well;
  • Provides guidelines for how the new directorate can partner with the existing directorates;
  • Creates new programs to facilitate and accelerate the transfer of technologies from the lab to the marketplace and authorizes coordination with state and local economic development stakeholders to build regional innovation ecosystems in communities across the country;
  • Defines “Emerging Research Institution” (ERI) as a university with an established undergraduate student program that receives < \$35M in federal research funding and establishes a pilot program connecting R1 and ERI “partners” to advance research and education;
  • Requires consortia awards to include (as lead or partner) at least one Historically Black college or university (HBCU), Minority Serving Institution (MSI), institution participating in EPSCoR, ERI, or Community College;
  • Creates a Chief Diversity Officer at NSF;
  • Adds several items to improve graduate education:
    • Supports activities to facilitate career exploration for graduate students and postdoctoral researchers;
    • Increases the number of graduate student fellowships (through GRFP) and research traineeships for graduate students (through NRT) in all fields;
  • Provides significant increases to the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program and requires outreach to HBCUs, MSIs, higher education programs that serve veterans and rural communities, and ERIs;

In President Biden’s American Jobs Plan, he included \$50 billion for NSF, in part for a new directorate. Additionally, the President’s preliminary fiscal year 2022 budget requests \$10.2 billion for the NSF. These proposals from the President indicate to me that—even if we don’t see the huge amounts of new funding for the NSF as proposed in the current legislative proposals—we will see a very healthy increase to NSF appropriations for fiscal year 2022.

As mentioned, there have been hearings in Congress about these efforts. NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan—who began this lead position in June 2020—has presented his vision for the new directorate as well as his other priorities for the agency and has been questioned by House and Senate appropriators. The Endless Frontier Act was to have its mark-up in the Senate on April 28, but this was postponed (so, it may have happened by the time you read this).

What are the remaining concerns and details to sort out? Concerns, of course, come from all sides, and are focused on a variety of the bills’ provisions. While expanding the NSF has bipartisan support, appropriators on both sides have not directly endorsed the administration’s request for a 20% increase in NSF’s \$8.5 billion annual budget (to \$10.2 billion) or the \$50 billion in the American Jobs Plan. The creation of a new NSF directorate is in the hands of authorizers—not appropriators—but, nonetheless, they have expressed a variety of views on what any expansion of the NSF should prioritize. One view, held especially by Republicans, is that more states and institutions that have historically received a lower share of research funding from the NSF should be prioritized. Many lawmakers are generally concerned that the country maintain its ability to compete with China, and with making sure strong research security is in place. Indeed, the Endless Frontier Act addresses research funded by the federal government through the lens of national security and global competitiveness. (I might add that there is at least one other bill in the NSF reauthorization mix–the Securing American Leadership in Science and Technology Act (SALSTA). This bill does not promote a new directorate at NSF, authorizes a number of agencies, and is focused on securing our research enterprise from challenges presented by China.) Congressional members from both sides who have national labs—which are funded by the Department of Energy—in their states question why these labs are not getting similar boosts. The most recent version of the Endless Frontier Act was expanded to include programs administered by agencies other than the NSF, including by the Department of Commerce and the Department of Energy. In contrast, the NSF for the Future Act is solely focused on the NSF.

While an earlier version of the Endless Frontier Act authorized \$100 billion (over 5 years) for the NSF with no less than \$2 billion specifically for the new directorate, the latest version suggests that all \$100 billion is for the new directorate; this is a major change, and one that I will keep an eye on.

In terms of keeping competitive with China, we can look to data about investments. In his testimony before the House on April 15, Carnegie Mellon University President Farnam Jahanian said:

“The United States’ R&D investment as a percent of GDP now ranks 10th in the world, behind major global competitors such as Taiwan, Japan, Germany, and South Korea, which rank at the top in this metric. With the nation’s federal spending as a percent of GDP dropping from more than 2 percent at the end of the 1960s to just slightly less than 0.7 percent currently, we have ceded considerable ground in the race to discover, innovate and create the fair, equitable and productive economies of the future.”

At that same hearing, Norm Augustine said:

“In China over half of baccalaureate degrees are awarded in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields, whereas the comparable figure in the U.S. is 19 percent. Forty percent of K-12 students in the U.S. are underrepresented minorities that ultimately receive only 7 percent of the doctorates granted in STEM fields. Women receive 58 percent of U.S. undergraduate degrees, yet receive only 17 percent of the doctorates awarded in the U.S. in the natural sciences and engineering. The U.S. could vastly increase its number of contributing scientists and engineers were it simply to attract representative portions of all its domestic groups into the STEM fields.”

Mathematician and Notre Dame Provost Marie Lynn Miranda testified at another hearing on the Endless Frontier Act. Her opening testimony pointed out “that nearly all of the technological innovations that enable our modern society emerge from a deliberately built foundation of federally funded research conducted over many years at universities or federally funded research laboratories.” She focused some of her remarks on “education as a foundation of innovation” and urged the committee to broaden participation by “thinking outside the pipe.” In a later line of questioning, she gave a shout out to the AWM for building and supporting community amongst women in mathematics (this was a highlight moment for me!). She talked about the low percentage (61%) of U.S. high schools that are able to offer physics; students from such schools “will start college facing a much tougher path for pursuing STEMM degrees.”

We need aggressive strategies to make sure that all children in this country have the opportunity to become scientists and engineers, and we must invest more in our excellent and complex higher educational system including to support scientific research done at universities. The proposed legislations discussed here provide support for doing just this.

 

 

[1] https://ncsesdata.nsf.gov/fedfunds/2018/html/ffs18-dt-tab059.html

[2] This phrase was offered to me by a congressional staff member when I asked how we might all think about this if not as “competing with China.”

[3] https://www.appropriations.senate.gov/about/budget-process

[4] For a discussion about the legislative origin of the NSF, and a history of its reauthorizations, see the appendix beginning on page 18 of https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/R/R46753. On page 22, you will find an interesting history of proposed and actual growth rates for the agency.

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Science Policy at the AMS

 

I feel confident that your first question is “how can I get involved in the policy work and advocacy in support of mathematicians and our students?”

Each spring the AMS Committee on Science Policy holds its annual meeting. This year, it was March 23-24 and was held virtually.

The AMS has six “policy” committees. Five were established in 1993. A sixth launched last year—the Committee on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. Each policy committee provides major direction for AMS activities in its area.

The Committee on Science Policy (CSP) is one of the six. From the Committee website:

The Committee on Science Policy serves as a forum for dialogue about matters of science policy involving representatives of the Society, government and other interested parties; interacts with Federal agencies and policymakers; provides advice to the Society on matters of broad science policy; conducts periodic reviews of Society activities in areas of science policy; and selects those elements of AMS meeting programs which bear directly on policy questions that are within the purview of the Committee.

I serve as the staff support for this committee. This means that I work with the committee chair to set the agenda for the annual meeting, and give logistic and content support throughout the year for the committee’s work.

CSP meets for two days each spring, normally in Washington DC, giving us the opportunity to interact with important players in the policy arena (including congressional staff, from agencies that oversee funding in the mathematical sciences, and from other professional societies with missions with overlap to that of the AMS).

The meeting in DC gives us the opportunity to make visits to CSP members’ congressional delegations. This gives congressional members insight into what mathematicians’ research looks like, why their funding of the National Science Foundation (NSF) is so very important to us, and the level to which we are involved training a future STEM workforce and future math teachers. They care very much about what goes on at colleges and universities in their home districts and states, and how we use federal funding to further research and train the next generation of mathematicians (and all scientists). They love personal stories, and need to collect them for their work in Congress.

This year we could not do the Hill visits, but were able to meet with other decision-makers in DC. The following joined us; each gave a terrific presentation and then we engaged in meaningful conversations:

Sara Barber has been with the staff of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology since 2016. Her portfolio includes National Science Foundation oversight, STEM education, diversity/equity/inclusion in STEM, interagency R&D programs, and research policy issues such as academic security and access to data and publications. Sara came to the Hill in 2015 as an American Institute of Physics Congressional Science Fellow after graduating from the University of Oklahoma with a PhD in Physics. She gave an overview of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, including its jurisdiction, membership, recent achievements and priorities in 2021.

Mark Green & Michelle Schwalbe spoke with us about their work with the Board of the Mathematical Sciences at the National Academies. The BMSA organizes studies, workshops, and other activities that provide top-quality mathematical science advice to policy makers, helps strengthen connections between mathematical sciences communities and diverse application areas, supports the health of the mathematical sciences ecosystem, and increases public awareness of the expanding role of the mathematical sciences. BMSA Chair Mark Green and BMSA Director Michelle Schwalbe discussed recent projects from the board as well as emerging opportunities for the mathematical sciences in policy discussions.

Sean Jones is the Assistant Director (AD) for the Directorate of Mathematical and Physical Sciences (MPS) at the NSF, comprising of the Divisions of Astronomy, Chemistry, Mathematical Sciences (DMS), Materials Research, and Physics. He spoke with us about the new NSF Director’s visions, and opportunities for mathematicians within DMS and also outside of DMS.

Rachel Levy is the 2020-21 AMS Congressional Fellow and is serving in the office of Senator Maggie Hassan. Each year the AMS sponsors one Congressional Fellow who spends a year working on the staff in a personal office or for a committee. The Fellow is a standing presenter at our annual committee meeting, telling us about their experience as a mathematician in the program, and about their day-to-day work in Congress.

The AMS CSP includes several at-large members, and also some who serve on the committee by virtue of some other position they hold within the AMS. The current at-large members of the Committee are:

  • Jeffrey Brock is Professor of Mathematics and Dean of Science at Yale University. His research focuses on low dimensional geometry and topology.
  • Duane Cooper is an Associate Professor and Academic Program Director of Mathematics at Morehouse College.
  • Moon Duchin is an Associate Professor of Mathematics and Senior Fellow of Tisch College of Civic Life, Tufts University. She also serves as the director of Tufts’ interdisciplinary Science, Technology, and Society Her mathematical research is in geometric group theory, low-dimensional topology, and dynamics. She is one of the leaders of the Metric Geometry and Gerrymandering Group, a Tisch College-supported project that focuses mathematical attention on issues of electoral redistricting.
  • Fern Hunt works at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Her research interests focus on ergodic theory, probability, information theory and bioinformatics.
  • Deborah Lockhart, retired, served in a variety of positions at the National Science Foundation—including as Deputy Assistant Director for the Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate—beginning in 1988.
  • Rosa Orellana is a professor at Dartmouth College. Her research is in algebraic combinatorics. She’s received the John M. Manley Huntington Memorial Award for newly tenured faculty for outstanding research, teaching, and mentoring. She co-founded a chapter of the Association for Women in Mathematics, in an effort to increase the number of women taking and majoring in mathematics at Dartmouth.
  • Natalie Shiels is an applied mathematician and works as Senior Principal Research Scientist at the UnitedHealth Group in the Twin Cities area.
  • Suzanne Weekes is the Executive Director of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM). Her research is in numerical methods for differential equations including applications to spatio-temporal composites and cancer growth. She is the recipient of the 2019 Humphreys Award for Mentoring from the Association for Women in Mathematics, co-directs the national PIC Math (Preparation for Industrial Careers in Mathematical Sciences) Program, and she is a founding co-director of the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute Undergraduate Program (MSRI-UP).

Additional members are:

  • Ruth Charney, Brandeis University, is the AMS President and thus sits on the committee.
  • Ralph Cohen, Stanford University, is a member of the AMS Board of Trustees and represents the Board on the committee.
  • Boris Hasselblatt, Tufts University, is the is the AMS Secretary and thus sits on the committee.
  • Kasso Okoudjou, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is a member of the AMS Council and represents the Council on the committee.
  • Jill Pipher,Brown University, is the AMS Past President and thus sits on the committee.
  • Catherine Roberts, American Mathematical Society, is the is the AMS Executive Director and thus sits on the committee.
  • Katherine Stevenson, California State University, is the Chair of the AMS Committee on Education and thus sits on the committee.

 

 

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Washington Update on the first months of the Biden presidency and new Congress

 

We are now a few months into the Biden/Harris administration, and the 117th Congress. Here is a quick overview of some highlights for the math community.

Legislation

President Joe Biden signed a \$1.9 trillion pandemic response package into law on March 11. The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 focuses on public health and economic stimulus measures. It also contains some funding for research, including \$600 million for the NSF to “fund or extend new and existing research grants, cooperative agreements, scholarships, fellowships, and apprenticeships, and related administrative expenses to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus.” The NSF provision appears on page 108 of the 242-page bill.

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 also provides \$40 billion in general relief for higher education institutions. This is far less than is needed, as determined by a group of university associations in a recent letter to Congressional leaders.

The amount in that bill was not nearly what is required for the academic research community, and does not address research disruptions not directly related to coronavirus research. We continue to push Congress to provide additional research recovery funding, as proposed in the Research Investment to Spark the Economy (RISE) Act and the Supporting Early-Career Researchers Act. These are bipartisan efforts, and are important for the math community. You can “Take Action” now by asking your Congressional delegation to support these bills.

The RISE Act, should it become law, provides the NSF with an additional \$3 billion to support non-COVID-related research impacted by the pandemic.

The Supporting Early-Career Researchers Act is very targeted and would give funds to the NSF to support over 3000 new postdoctoral fellows over the next few years, to help bridge the gap for new PhDs during this terrible job market. During a hearing on this bill last week, Committee Ranking Member Frank Lucas (OK 3) stated that faculty openings in the sciences have decreased by more than 70% since 2019. As you may know, the pandemic is particularly affecting the work of women in the STEM fields; the Senate version of the bill specifically requires this funding help those most adversely affected, including women, faculty of color, and faculty at minority serving institutions. The AMS has endorsed the Supporting Early-Career Researchers Act—both the House version and the Senate version.

If you haven’t used the AMS Take Action tool before, it only takes a minute or so. After you have done one, returning is even easier. These two appear first and second on that page, and are not math-specific, so please feel free to share with other scientists at your university.

New congressional leaders charged with NSF oversight

Also in Congress, the House and Senate have both now finalized their committees’ structures and membership. This task was more complicated in the Senate, because for the first time in six years, the Democrats have control. Some of what follows is an update to my post at the start of the 116th Congress, and that post gives more information about committee structure in Congress.

For the NSF—and in each of the House and Senate—there is an “appropriations” committee and an “authorization” committee. The determined authorization committee provides guidance about how the NSF spends and manages the amount given the NSF by the determined “appropriations” committee. The House and Senate appropriators responsible for determining how much the NSF gets each year are members of the respective (House or Senate) Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies.

While the Appropriations Committees in each of the House and Senate are the same in their names and subcommittee structure, this is not the case for the authorizing committees. The NSF authorizing committees are the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology (SST) and the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation (CST). In the House, the SST’s Subcommittee on Research and Technology holds jurisdiction over the NSF, as well as university research policy and all matters relating to STEM education. In the Senate it is the CST’s Space and Science Subcommittee; this is a new subcommittee and it has jurisdiction over the NSF and also NASA and NIST. Committee and subcommittee membership can be found at each link above.

I am always looking for mathematicians who have benefitted from NSF grants to collect stories. Stories about students are especially important to gather. If you live in the district or state of NSF appropriators and are interested in meeting with their staff to tell your story about why NSF is important to you, your students, or your department more broadly, please contact me.

Making visits to congressional staff is fun (at least I think so), important for the math community (other sciences are much more visible on the Hill), and now easier to do (because they are virtual).

Posted in Advocacy, Congress, Federal support for science | Tagged | 2 Comments

Update on the Census, Reapportionment, and Redistricting

 

The first official Census took place in 1790 and was conducted under Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson; it was taken by U.S. marshals on horseback and counted approximately 3.6 million inhabitants.

The original legal purpose of the Census was to determine the number of seats each state gets in the House of Representatives. Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution mandates that an apportionment of representatives among the states must be carried out every ten years. Over the years, the amount of data collected has increased and we now also do the decennial census to

  • gain a better understanding of where people live and establish patterns of settlement, and
  • help determine the allocation of federal funds for community services, such as school lunch programs, and new construction, such as highways and hospitals.

As a result of the 2020 census, more than \$675 billion per year will be distributed to local, state and tribal governments for many purposes, including those just listed.

The Census is an expensive undertaking—estimates for the cost of administering the 2020 census are roughly \$15.6 billion, or about \$108 per U.S. housing unit.

The Census is also a big employer—the Bureau hired about 500,000 temporary workers across the country to help with the count. Historically, the Census was one of the first big employers for women.

What is (re)apportionment?

It is the process of (re)allocating the 435 House seats to the states.

Any method of apportionment for the House must consider three key variables:

  • the number of House seats;
  • the number of U.S. states;
  • the apportionment population (as reported by the Census Bureau) of each state.

The first congressional apportionment (in 1790) involved 15 states, and 105 House seats. To illustrate how we think about this—the population of Virginia was 630,560 at the time and the U.S. population was 3,615,920. Thus, one could say that the ideal number of seats for Virginia would be (630,560 ÷ 3,615,920) × 105 = 18.310. Of course, this is a problem, as the number of House seats must be an integer. Should we round up? Round down? An apportionment method will tell you how to do this rounding.[1]

The choice of method was not determined in the Constitution and so each decade a method had to be proposed in Congress and work through the legislative process. Following the first census, a bill was passed by both House and Senate and delivered to President George Washington for his signature into law; this bill included the proposal to adopt an apportionment method developed and supported by Alexander Hamilton. President Washington used the veto power to veto this bill, this was the very first presidential veto. Subsequently, a method developed by Jefferson was passed into law. It gave one more seat to Virginia (19) than did Hamilton’s (18). Virginia’s gain, incidentally, came paired with the loss of a seat to Delaware.

Several methods have been used throughout U.S. history, and other methods have been devised and debated by Congress but ultimately never adopted.

The Apportionment Act of 1941 fixed the method to be used—the Hill-Huntington method (also called Method of Equal Proportions)—as well as fixing the House size of 435 (with exceptions), at least until another law replaces this law. The map shows predictions for the change in seats from the 2020 Census, and the final numbers will be in effect for the 2024 and 2028 presidential elections.

Source: https://www.esri.com/arcgis-blog/products/esri-demographics/state-government/reapportionment-projections/

When the reapportioning algorithm is implemented, each state receives one Representative, as required by the Constitution, and the remaining seats are distributed using the Hill-Huntington method. Essentially, a ranked list is created that indicates which states will receive the 51st-435th House seats.

Biographical factets: Joseph Hill was the Chief statistician at the Census Bureau and mathematician Edward Huntington taught at Williams and Harvard and served as MAA president, AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) president, and AMS vice president!

And, on to redistricting…

One could say that the fun only begins AFTER reapportionment, as the redistricting process unfolds. Of course, there is a year’s worth of lectures possible on redistricting. I will limit myself to one short paragraph.

In listening to the January 29 edition of NPR’s “Politics with Amy Walter” conversation with Dave Wasserman, I learned that we are self-sorting geographically—in 1992, 38% of Americans lived in “landslide” districts and in 2020 it was 58%. Consistent with this, and as compared to 2011, there are more Republican trifecta states (now 23 versus 22 in 2011) and also more Democratic trifectas (now 15 versus 11 in 2011). This observation certainly implies we might see more partisan gerrymandering than last time. Many people—including many politicians—push for the redistricting process to be in the hands of commissions (as opposed to state legislatures). In the about-to-begin redistricting round, we have some states (including CO, MI, NY, OH, UT and VA) that have moved to commissions; some of these commissions are structured to be powerful, some less so. The strength in redistricting that a trifecta can bring is intertwined, of course, with who is in charge of redistricting in the state as well as with state laws and guidelines. All I can say is…….tighten your seatbelts.

The promised update on the Census

Oops, that turned into a lecture. I miss teaching.

My original goal when I sat down to write this was to provide an update on the status of the Census.

Census results are not all published at one time. This is what was supposed to happen:

Source: https://www.rpc.senate.gov/policy-papers/the-2020-census

For a variety of reasons—including delays due to the COVID pandemic—the Census numbers for reapportionment that were expected in December of 2020 were not delivered on time. On January 28, 2021, the Census Bureau issued a statement announcing an April 30 delivery date.

In Congress, there are efforts to enforce the timeline. Senator Brian Schatz (HI), together with Alaska Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, will very soon (and depending on when you read this, maybe already has) reintroduce(d) the 2020 Census Deadline Extensions Act. This bipartisan bill reinforces the Census Bureau’s April 30 target date for the delivery of reapportionment data. The AMS has endorsed this bill.

Obviously, the March 31 date for redistricting data delivery will also not be met. The Census Bureau announced on February 12 that it will deliver the redistricting data to all states (and to the public) by September 30, 2021. According to that announcement, other support products that states will use during their redistricting process have already been delivered.

During the previous administration, work at the Census Bureau had become increasingly politicized. This eventually resulted in the resignation of its Director, Steven Dillingham, whose departure was applauded in the statistics community. During her confirmation hearing to become commerce secretary, Gina Raimondo stated her intention to depoliticize the Census, stating “The experts and statisticians at the Census Bureau are top notch, so I, once confirmed, intend to rely on them.”

One last thing: President Trump issued an executive order on June 21, 2020 that laid out a plan to violate the U.S. Constitution by excluding undocumented immigrants from the 2020 Census. And, on January 20, 2021, one of President Biden’s first executive orders overturned the Trump order.

And, finally, a very short note on why should mathematicians specifically care about all this?

Each step in the decennial three-step process—census, reapportionment, redistricting—involves mathematics and statistics; ensuring sound methodologies are used is important to the mathematical sciences community.

The Census uses sophisticated statistical methods and—for the first time—differential privacy to protect Census data. The American Statistical Association was founded in 1839 in part to support an accurate and reliable census. Data sets released by the Census Bureau, which is the nation’s largest statistical agency, are used by researchers across many fields and ensuring good quality data are released is also a priority for us.

Reapportionment is a fun math problem. You can find lots on the internet about the many apportionment methods. It is an important problem not only in apportionment of our Congress—countries that have legislatures elected via proportional representation use an apportionment method, an apportionment method must be used to calculate win/loss ratios for sports teams, and apportionment methods are used by insurance companies when two or more insurance policies are taken out on a property.

And, as most of you will know, there are mathematicians and statisticians around the country whose research focuses on redistricting and who have served the public by providing expertise to courts and line-drawers.

[1] For additional information, see Michael L. Balinski and H. Peyton Young, Fair Representation: Meeting the Ideal of One Man, One Vote (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1982)

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