Some fun and interesting summer reading: A brief history of the National Science Foundation

I blog regularly about annual appropriations for the National Science Foundation (NSF), and about NSF policies that might affect you. But, what is the NSF? When did it come to be? Why? What makes it different from all other federal agencies?

Read on. I will try not to get too weedy.

The NSF will celebrate its 70th anniversary in 2020, and planning for celebratory activities is underway. It is important to recognize this anniversary, as the relationship between science and government is under some strain right now and the symbiotic relationship is old and to be cherished. In the best of times, legislators and other policymakers turn to and rely on scientists for vision, evidence and guidance on scientific matters, and, in turn, support scientists’ work.

NSF headquarters, Alexandria VA

The NSF is the major source of federal funding for mathematics research done at colleges and universities in the US. Overall, the NSF funds about 24% of all federally funded basic research done at colleges and universities (it is over 64% in the mathematical sciences). The Department of Defense, National Institutes of Health, and Department of Energy are other significant funders of mathematics research. Money (“appropriations”) for these agencies is allocated each year, and making the case for our country’s continued and strengthened investment in basic research is part of my job.

The NSF is only one of several Executive Branch agencies that funds scientific research. NSF is unique as it is the only agency of the federal government

  • devoted to supporting basic research and education across all scientific and engineering fields, without a mission guiding its choices of projects to fund, and
  • without any “in-house” labs.

In other words, the NSF program officers determine which proposals to fund based on potential, and there are no scientists employed doing research at the NSF.

Though the NSF is relatively young, the importance of investment in science has been recognized as long as our country has existed. On January 8, 1790, President Washington, in his first Annual Message to Congress (now the State of the Union address), asserted

“… there is nothing which can better deserve your patronage, than the promotion of Science and Literature. Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of publick happiness.”

He spoke about several science-related topics in that address (e.g., establishing a standard for weights). At his request, Congress passed an act in 1790 that led to our current Patent and Trademark Office. This can be considered as the first congressional action on science policy.

Prior to the Civil War, public health, agriculture, and geography were of great concern. As just one example, Lewis and Clark’s famous expedition was commissioned by President Jefferson. In 1862, President Lincoln’s Morrill Act established the land-grant university system focusing on agricultural research. Military concerns rose in importance during the Civil War. Concerns about food safety, public health, and environmental conservation increased in the early 20th century.

In 1884, the Senate took up the question of how the federal government might interact with science (should they fund it, get advice from scientists, etc.). The “Allison Commission” (named for Senator William Boyd Allison of Iowa who led this examination) considered establishing a federal Department of Science (and a national university, which had also been suggested by Washington in that very first State of the Union address), but this agency did not come to be. This said, several science agencies were established between the Civil War and World War I. For example, the Weather Bureau (now called the National Weather Service) was signed into law by President Grant in 1870 and in 1906 President Theodore Roosevelt signed into law the Pure Food and Drug Act, establishing what we now call the Food and Drug Administration.

During the 1940s, the Senate continued to discuss the role of the federal government in science and vice versa. During this period, President Franklin Roosevelt commissioned a report by his science advisor Vannevar Bush. This now famous reportScience, the Endless Frontiergave a vision for how federal government and science and technology might interact and led directly to the NSF’s establishment. The report came out in 1945 and, after five more years of congressional visioning and compromise, the NSF was finally established in a law signed by President Truman on May 10, 1950. As an incidental note, President Truman gave a speech at the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in 1948 that discusses a proposed NSF, and he discussed the agency in State of the Union addresses; in contrast, imagine our current President giving speeches to large groups of scientists.

Ok, that was a very quick version of the complex and seriously interesting history of how the federal government supports science (e.g., the Morrill Act) and even quicker on how science supports the government (e.g., weather information used for military purposes). You can read more at the NSF’s great history page.

Fast forward.

Today, the NSF

  • has an annual budget of $8.1 billion (FY 2019);
  • distributes 93% of this money to researchers across the country;
  • supports “disciplinary” research through seven directorates;
  • supports further research through interdisciplinary programs, including the “Big Ideas”.

The NSF funds research in all 50 states, at about 2,000 academic and other private and public institutions across the US, supporting the research of 386,000 individuals. In 2018, the NSF received over 48,000 research proposals; the overall success rate was about 25% that year. It funds everything from oceanographic research vessels to the world’s largest and highest power magnet lab to the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation.

Another cool thing the agency does is to collect reams of data and publish the Science & Engineering Indicators. These reports give interesting statistics on education, research and development, the global marketplace, and public attitudes toward science. “The State of US Science and Engineering,” summarizing indicators, will be released on January 15, 2020. In the meantime, you can look at thematic reports (on a particular topic), examine state comparisons, and lots more. If you are into this sort of thing, you can spend a lot of time at this website; it is fascinating.

Of the roughly 2,100 employees, about 200 are rotators (there temporarily, typically on leave from an academic institution). The Director of the NSF, currently Dr. France Córdova, is appointed by the President and confirmed by the US Senate. March 18, 2020 will be Dr. Córdova’s last day of her six-year term; I am eagerly waiting to see who the next Director will be (super important for our community). The President also appoints the Deputy Director and the 24 members of the National Science Board (NSB); Senate confirmation is required for the Director and Deputy Director. The NSB meets regularly, and I attend open portions of their meetings.

Most mathematicians who work at the NSF work in the Division of Mathematical Sciences (DMS). Some work in Education and Human Resources (EHR). You can spend a year or two at the NSF as a “rotator”.

Whether you are personally supported by an NSF grant, or ever have been, it is important for all of us in the mathematics community to recognize the non-partisan role this agency plays in advancing science in this country. Happy 70th NSF!






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Addressing Threats and Vulnerabilities in Critical Interconnected Systems: Common Principles in Disease Outbreaks, Internet Malware, and Bank Failures

Photo credit: Scavone Photography

On June 13, the AMS, together with MSRI hosted another in its series of biannual Congressional Briefings, with that title. Our presenter was Jon Kleinberg, the Tisch University Professor of Computer Science and Information Science at Cornell University. Introductory remarks were made by MSRI Director David Eisenbud, AMS President Jill Pipher, and me.

Dr. Kleinberg’s research focuses on issues at the interface of networks and information, with an emphasis on the social and information networks like the Web and other social media platforms.[1]

It was a great presentation. This is the fifth of these I’ve run and I am starting to feel guilty about saying they are each great. But, each one has been great. We’ve had

  • David Donoho talk about compressed sensing and MRI technology,
  • Shafi Goldwasser on cryptography and privacy,
  • Eric Demaine on the many practical applications of folding,
  • Rodolfo Torres on Fourier analysis and nanomaterials, and now
  • Jon Kleinberg on networks and highly connected systems.

Man, they’ve been good.

In the many months leading up to each briefing, David Eisenbud and I work with the speaker, developing their talk for this special audience, ensuring that it conveys content of interest and also the message we want lawmakers to hear–robust, dependable, and sustained federal investment in basic research in mathematical sciences pays off for American taxpayers and helps the nation remain a world leader in innovation. On the former, of course these speakers are all incredibly excellent communicators (one reason they are chosen) and some of them have already presented to Congress. We prep them on everything from who to expect in the room and what these people might be wearing, to avoid partisan topics in the Q & A period (in this case we thought discussion of the current measles outbreak could lead to vaccination discussions), and that “when we say ‘no formulas on your slides,’ we really mean it!” Jon Kleinberg’s very first slide (after the title slide) showed the Washington DC Metro Map. This really is a nice visualization and helped the audience feel at ease and assured them that–if they pay attention–they will be able to follow this talk (here is a big generalization: this is something we are not so good at in math, helping our listeners feel like we actually want them there).


Dr. Kleinberg was successful in showing how mathematicians and computer scientists think about abstract networks and how general approaches developed in graph theory can be used to approach problems in many areas of congressional concern. How do we identify the most critical nodes in a network? The most vulnerable edges? He talked about protecting our electric grid (a network we want to protect), and controlling the spread of disease (a network we want to disrupt).

One application that I think the audience really appreciated focused on using mathematical ideas to find early indications that (parts of) our large banking system may fail. He showed a nice slide illustrating that certain types of data only show an immediate threat, whereas a more heterogeneous collection of data shows fragility in the system earlier, and how the spread amplifies as the trouble spreads. Finding earlier signals could have prevented the great recession of a decade ago, or at least given forewarning and thus we could have worked to minimize its devastation.

He also discussed online social networks, and how information spreads over the internet; issues important in DC as we approach another election and examine the role social media played in our last presidential election.

If you are inspired to learn more, you can check out his book Networks, Crowds, and Markets: Reasoning About a Highly Connected World, which is based on an inter-disciplinary course that he teaches to undergraduates, requiring no formal prerequisites.

Representative Haley Stevens’s office secured the room for our briefing, and helped with logistics. We are very grateful for this assistance.

Photo credit: Scavone Photography

Our spring/summer briefings are fun because there are so many interns spending the summer working in Congress, and we usually have a pretty good show of them in the room. This one was no different and several of them asked great questions. Interns are normally college students (who are not math majors) and I feel good that they will go back to campus, having heard a great math talk, in Congress. I don’t think many college students (or many Americans more generally, if I have to be honest) think about the importance of mathematics in so many areas of concern for the health of our nation. I hope they go back to campus with a positive attitude about the beauty and power of mathematics.

Our next briefing will take place in December, and AMS President Jill Pipher will be our presenter. I’m excited already!


[1] His work has been supported by an NSF Career Award, an Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Award, a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, a Packard Foundation Fellowship, a Simons Investigator Award, a Sloan Foundation Fellowship, and grants from Facebook, Google, Yahoo, the MacArthur Foundation, the Army Research Office, and the NSF. He is a recipient of the Association of Computing Machinery’s Prize in Computing and the Nevanlinna Prize from the International Mathematical Union. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

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AMS Primer on Open Access


Over the past several years, traditional models of journal publications have been scrutinized, and new models of “open access” publishing have been launched. The AMS has made changes to its family of journals, and has been active in policy discussions on this issue with government officials. I have been working with AMS Director of Publishing Robert Harington on this issue. Robert has written a very informative introduction to open access. Below appears the Introduction; you can read more (and also find a one-page summary of the AMS’s position on open access) at our website. These are both found at the bottom of our page on Office of Government Relations collaborations and position statements.


Open access (OA) refers to published scholarly content (such as journal research articles, and books) made openly available in online digital form. This content is free of charge at point of use, free of most copyright and licensing restrictions, and free of technical or other barriers to access (such as digital rights management or requirements to register to access).

Communicating and sharing discoveries is an essential part of the research process. Any author of a research paper wants it to be read, and the fewer restrictions placed on access to those papers means that more people may benefit from the research. In many ways, the OA movement is very much in line with the shared mission of researchers, scholarly societies, and publishers.

Journal publishing programs perform many services for researchers including peer review, communication, and career advancement. In society publishing programs, revenue from journal publishing directly supports the important work societies do on behalf of their scholarly communities.

How do we maximize the dissemination of knowledge while at the same time maintaining both a high level of quality and a sustainable financial future for our professional society, the AMS?

The OA movement can be traced to a letter from the year 2000, signed by around 34,000 researchers, demanding publishers make all content free after 6 months. The signatories of the letter said they would boycott any journals refusing to comply. In 2002, the accepted definition of OA was encapsulated in the Budapest Open Access Initiative declaration.

While the threatened boycott never materialized, an antagonistic tone was set, and this has marked much of the discussion around OA to the present day. There has been a lot of unproductive argument and invective, rather than efforts to find common ground. Unfortunately, advocacy for rationale discourse has floundered, leading societies such as the AMS to consider how to tread independently a path of balance and reason.

Click here to continue reading about open access categories; the benefits, risks and politics of the various models; and the AMS recommendations.

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What is Congress up to, vis-à-vis the NSF? Money and Demography


During the week of May 6, I attended two hearings in the House of Representatives, both of which had to do with the NSF. Congressional hearings are (usually) open to the public. Some are easy to get in to, some are very, very popular and hundreds of people wait in line and never get in. The latter did happen, for example, when I went to the confirmation hearing for Betsy DeVos. At that one, there were two “over-flow rooms” which were also packed and in which one watched the proceedings on a tv. People had flown in from all over the country for her hearing, and some were protesting and getting dragged out of the building by Capitol police. This is typical for controversial confirmation hearings in the Senate.

That said, most are not that exciting or crowded. Usually the ones I attend are well-attended but not hard to get in to. Who the heck goes to these? My counterparts at other disciplinary science societies, staff from Congressional offices of members who are not on the committee, and media writers from journals like Science.

Roughly what it looks like from where I sit, in the committee’s hearing room. The people facing us are the members of Congress, witnesses who are testifying are at the table facing them. Incidentally, the paintings on the wall are of past committee chairs; all are white men, soon Eddie Bernice Johnson’s image will join. She is a black woman. Source:

On May 8 I attended A Review of the National Science Foundation FY 2020 Budget Request, and on May 9 it was Achieving the Promise of a Diverse Workforce. At those links you can listen to the entirety of the hearings (if that’s your thing), or just choose to read statements made by the congressional members and the witnesses. For less effort, just keep reading. There are articles covering these online already and I will try to add to these in this blog, and not give a blow-by-blow of each hearing. Here is just one good account of the second hearing.

May 8 hearing: How much money should the NSF have to invest in research in FY2020?

How these hearings (generally) go is that the committee chair and the ranking member give opening statements, and these are followed by opening statements from each witness. After that, the congressional members in the room ask questions, in 5 minute installments, to the witnesses. The May 8 hearing came after President Trump released his own idea about how much money the NSF should get for FY2020, and before the House appropriators give their recommendation. Freshman Haley Stevens (representing Michigan’s 3rd district, and Chair of the Subcommittee on Research and Technology) opened with:

It worries me that this Administration does not truly understand the importance of scientific funding to our nation’s innovation goals. This proposal represents a vision for science that, if realized, would be disastrous for our nation’s long-term welfare, security, and competitiveness.

It is not a surprise to you, I bet, that President Trump proposes a massive cut to the NSF. The good news is that Congressional support for the NSF is, truly, bipartisan. In mathematics, about 64% of all research done at colleges and universities that is federally-funded, is in fact funded by the NSF. This system for supporting our work is relatively recent, as witness National Science Board Chair Diane Souvaine explained in her opening statement:

Before NSF was founded, S&E research was focused on using new discoveries to develop technologies used toward victory in World War II. In Science – the Endless Frontier, Vannevar Bush presented a vision for a new model, in which individuals with advanced degrees working at elite universities performed government-supported research. Since then, our national S&E ecosystem has changed and grown.

 While the President’s budget “is only a proposal” and Congress is prone to ignore it in their final appropriations, it can still hurt scientific progress. As House Science Chair Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX, district 30) said about his proposed cut to the NSF:

A cut like that would keep us from funding excellent research and slow progress in critical areas of technology development. Unfortunately, this is a pattern we’ve seen from this White House over the past three budget cycles. To make matters worse, the recent shut down of much of our government for 35 days, including the National Science Foundation, resulted in delays for 2,000 grant applications. While that may seem minor to some, delays in grant funding derail academic careers, sometimes permanently. Increasingly, U.S. students and early career researchers are packing up for better opportunities abroad or leaving STEM altogether.

This hearing on the NSF budget for FY2020 was in the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. They oversee NSF policy, but do not get to decide how much money the NSF gets each year. That responsibility lies with the House Appropriations Committee and, in particular, with the Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science. On May 16, the appropriators put out their proposal for NSF funding in FY2020. They propose \$8.64 billion.[1] Their summary of the bill says that “These funds will foster innovation and U.S. economic competitiveness, including funding for research on advanced manufacturing, physics, mathematics, cybersecurity, neuroscience, and STEM education.” So, we observe that they highlight mathematics (and a few other areas) out of all the many science fields supported by the NSF. Now we wait for the House to finalize this, for the Senate to come out and then finalize their number, for the two chambers to agree, and finally for President Trump to sign on.

Perhaps because the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology has oversight of NSF (but not budgetary power), attention during the hearing often turned to non-budgetary issues. One of the most interesting lines of questioning had to do with current concerns that NSF-funded research is used unfairly by foreign governments. The two witnesses explained the steps that the NSF has recently taken to address these concerns and protect research and researchers. For example,

  • individuals who rotate through the NSF each year, serving as program officers, must now be US citizens or have applied to become a US citizen;
  • the NSF is improving the quality of its monitoring, assessment, and auditing of research grant applicants’ disclosure forms; and
  • grant proposals must justify why an international branch of a US institution of higher education is the necessary site for a proposed research project (why not simply visit the domestic campus?).

The witnesses were quick to point out that it is their focus to keep the global science community open and cooperative, while balancing the (real or perceived) need for closer scrutiny of foreign influence.

May 9 hearing: Broadening participation in science: the STEM Opportunities Act

The second hearing provided the backdrop for Rep Johnson to reintroduce her STEM Opportunities Act. She has introduced this in the past, but this is the first time she has had a Republican co-sponsor (Rep Frank Lucas, Oklahoma district 3, who is the committee’s ranking member) and also the first time it has been introduced in a Democratically-controlled House.

The hearing focused on how to increase the number of women and minorities in STEM fields. Rep Johnson began by noting that there has not been a hearing of this committee focused on STEM participation since 2010, and by listing some of the well-known and troubling statistics about minority PhD attainment. The arguments for making STEM fields more inclusive include the argument that to stay globally competitive we need all minds, and that we are not using the minds of 50% of our population (an argument for getting more women into these fields).

NASA astronaut Mae Jemison, the first black woman to travel to space. (Source: NASA)

Witness Dr. Mae Jemison added with the observation that “The relative homogeneity of the leadership of the STEMM (the second “M” is for medicine) workforce and industries has far-reaching implications for the nation’s broader research and innovation agenda.” For example, how does the demographic make-up of the family of scientists skew the actual science that gets done? She continued, “For instance, issues related to car crash-test dummies are designed based on the “average” male, such that when a woman is involved in a car crash, she is 47% more likely to be seriously injured and 17% more likely to die, even when controlling for factors such as height, weight, seatbelt usage, and crash intensity.” Dr. Jemison was very impressive as a witness and is very impressive for her individual accomplishments: she is a doctor, she served in the Peace Corps, she speaks Russian, Japanese and Swahili. Oh, and did I mention that she is the first black woman to travel in space? In the early 1990s, she travelled on the space shuttle Endeavour on 126 orbits around the Earth. All five of the witnesses are impressive individuals.

There are many bills introduced that are aimed to broaden participation in STEM fields; the STEM Opportunities Act is the only one I know of that specifically addresses barriers for faculty at colleges and universities. There are many bits to this bill. If it were to become law, here are examples of what would happen:

  • The NSF would have to collect data from universities on the number of faculty members at different ranks by gender, race, ethnicity, citizenship status, age, and years since completion of doctoral degree.
  • The Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) would have to develop written guidance for institutions of higher education for conducting periodic climate surveys of STEM departments, with a particular focus on identifying cultural or institutional barriers to the recruitment, retention, or advancement of women, racial and ethnic minorities, and other groups historically underrepresented in STEM studies and careers.
  • The OSTP Director would also have to work with agencies (including the NSF) to get provisions in place for grantees who are caregivers (those who have caregiving responsibilities, including care for a newborn or newly adopted child and care for an immediate family member who is sick or disabled). This would include, for example, flexibility in timing for the initiation of approved research awards.

We have made progress with our efforts to achieve STEM faculties at colleges and universities that mirror the general public’s demography, but there is still so much to be done. I admire and thank the five witnesses for their hard and determined work over so many years. I truly appreciate Representatives Johnson and Lucas combined efforts on this front and for raising this issue to their colleagues.


[1] In FY2018, the NSF had \$8.1 billion; Trump proposes \$7.1, and the AMS supports \$9 billion for FY2020.

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President Trump issues his FY 2020 budget, what does it look like for the mathematical sciences, and what happens next?


On March 11 President Trump released his proposal, titled “A Budget for a Better America,” outlining how the government should make investments for the FY2020. As in his first two, his third annual budget includes massive cuts for science. In FY2019, the NSF received \$8.1 billion. There are areas connected to the mathematical sciences that are prioritized by the White House (and described on page 269 of the Analytic Perspective on Research and Development), including artificial intelligence and cybersecurity.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) continues to be the single biggest funder of research in the mathematical sciences done at colleges and universities. Jeff Mervis, of Science, writes “If adopted, the 2020 budget would be NSF’s smallest since 2013. NSF officials estimate that the foundation would make 1000 fewer new awards (the figure was 9000 in 2018) and that the success rate for grant applicants will dip by 1%, to 21%.”

For FY2020, the President has proposed a 12% decrease (to \$7.1 billion) from FY2019 for the NSF overall. The AMS is advocating for \$9 billion for the NSF; we have submitted written testimony to the Senate Appropriations Committee describing our rationale for this amount. Most of the NSF’s budget goes directly to “Research and Related Activities” which, for FY2020, is budgeted at \$5.7 million (a 13% decrease from FY2019).

The NSF has the final say about how the \$5.7 will be distributed amongst the eight directorates but proposed cuts to those range from an increase of 4% (to Integrative Activities) to a cut of 20% (to Polar Programs).[1] Mathematical and Physical Sciences (MPS) is marked for the second largest decrease, of 16%. For FY2019, MPS had one of the largest increases. Inside MPS, funds get distributed amongst seven disciplinary sciences and the Office of Multidisciplinary Activities. The Division of Mathematical Sciences (DMS) is slated for a 14.5% decrease; the only division in MPS doing better is Chemistry (with a more modest proposed cut of 13%).

DMS supports core research, and building the next generation of scientists by supporting early-career researchers. About 48% of the DMS funds go to new research grants each year, and the remaining funds support grants made in prior years and the infrastructure of the community of mathematical scientists. At the recent annual meeting of the AMS Committee on Science Policy, DMS Director Juan Meza reported that about 75% of DMS grants go to individual investigators, about 15% to the math institutes, and the remaining to infrastructure. The success rate for individual investigators proposals is now about 25%, and this is pretty uniform for early and later career proposers.

Working with other NSF divisions, DMS provides support for the Big Ideas, primarily for “Quantum Leap”, “Harnessing the Data Revolution”, and “Understanding the Rules of Life”. In addition, DMS partners with other NSF divisions, and with other agencies (e.g., NIH) and private foundations (e.g., Simons Foundation) to support a broad set of research areas. There are many concerning details about the President’s budget proposal for the NSF; in addition to the cuts discussed above, the Graduate Research Fellowship Program would support only 1600 new fellows, as compared to 2000 that NSF has been able to support in recent years.

Higher education is also under fire. For example, the TEACH Grant program would be diminished; this program helps students pay for college if they agree to teach in subjects–including in mathematics–that lack teachers. There would be a very large cut (over 55%) to the Federal Work Study program, which provides part-time jobs for undergraduate and graduate students with financial need. These, and other cuts to programs that assist with college tuition, would make a college education unavailable to even more Americans.

While I am (mostly) writing here about slashes to scientific research, and this certainly is a huge concern for our community, I am hyper-aware of my privileged position as a tenured academic mathematician. My heart truly goes out to the millions of kids living in poverty. Low-income kids will lose big, even without much left to lose. If the President’s budget were adopted, food stamps would be cut significantly and subsidies for housing would too. Public education would get less funding. Money now used for after-school programs for low-income students would be diverted to help support vouchers for private schools. There is less and less possibility that these kids will be showing up at college after (if) they complete high school. This outlook does NOT fit with the message to “Make America Great Again.”

The next step in the budget process is for Congress to respond to the President’s budget with their own version. And, ultimately, Congress and the White House must agree. Congress has begun this process but no numbers from either chamber are out yet about the NSF. The House has already indicated that it is not agreeing with the President on many of the cuts to higher education.

You can help by asking your Congressional delegation to ensure strong funding for the NSF — take action here:

Despite knowing how the budget process is supposed to unfold, it has not done so in many years and this has resulted in us living with continuing resolution after continuing resolution, interspersed with government shutdowns. There are various proposals out there for changing the process altogether. Some reform is needed; we are stuck and this is hurting Americans and America.

It is interesting, even ironic, that the administration touts “America First” while failing to support the scientific research and investment in education that is necessary to make the US truly competitive. Other countries are making large, and increasing investments in basic research. Lest you think this criticism of slashing science is partisan, Senator Lamar Alexander, a senior Republican who holds positions of leadership in the Senate, said “I would tell President Trump and the Office of Management and Budget that science, research and innovation is what made America first, and I recommend that he add science research and innovation to his ‘America First’ agenda.”

Let’s end with some good news. Last year the President proposed similar cuts but Congress did not take his advice. Congress typically does not follow the President’s lead on the budget. Trump had proposed a cut to the NSF of 4% last year, but Congress in fact raised it, by about 4%.

[1] In this paragraph, percentage changes are from FY2018 to FY2020, as final numbers for the FY2019 distribution within NSF are not yet known.

Posted in Advocacy, Appropriations, Federal support for science, National Science Foundation, NSF | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

We are not doing so well

Editor’s note: This was updated on April 26. The original had a few errors. Thank you to Tom Barr at the AMS for help getting the correct numbers.

Ok, so that title doesn’t tell you much.

Two reports came out recently, both based on data collected by the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES). Both interesting, one downright troubling.

This post falls into the category of “I think you should know this,” and I ask you to think about what you can do about the implications of the reports.

One is referred to as an “InfoBrief” and titled “Higher Education R&D Spending: Spending and Funding Sources Differ by State.” The other is a biennial report on “Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering.”

The InfoBrief

The InfoBrief shows–for each state–where funding originates for research and development (R&D) at colleges and universities. Data are from the Higher Education R&D Survey, from the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics within the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Academic institutions depend on a variety of funding sources — including the federal government, state and local governments, businesses, nonprofit organizations, and institutions’ own funding. Table 1 shows the total contributions from these sources, and that there is great variety from state to state.


Funding sourcePercentage of R&D total funding from this sourceLowHigh
Federal government54%35% (ND)70% (CO)
State and local governments6%1% (VM)27% (ND)
Business6%1.7% (NV)12.1% (NC)
Non-profits6.4%5% (CA)35% (MA)
Institution25%9% (CO)46% (RI)

Sixty-six percent of funding from nonprofits supported R&D in the life sciences. State and local funds have largely been used to support life sciences (61%) and engineering (17%). Businesses funds have also largely been used to support life sciences (61%) and engineering (25%). And, institutional funding largely supports the broad fields of life sciences (54%) and engineering (13%).

In 2016, the federal government provided the majority of funding in life and physical sciences, engineering, computer sciences, geosciences, mathematics, and psychology.

Where does this (from all sources) investment go, by field?


FieldGets this % of investment (from all sources)
Life sciences57%
Physical sciences7%
Computer sciences3%
Mathematical sciences1%

Note that further funds went to multi-disciplinary work.

The Report

The report provides statistical information about the participation of the three groups of the title in science and engineering education and employment. NSF reporting on this topic is mandated by the Science and Engineering Equal Opportunities Act (Public Law 96-516). It includes data on the participation of women and minorities that are not favorable for the mathematical sciences.

Recently I was perusing the Annual Survey of the Mathematical Sciences. I was specifically looking to find out what percentage of tenured faculty–at a particular research university–I might expect to be female. Among tenured faculty in PhD-granting mathematics departments, about 14% were women; among tenured faculty in master’s and bachelor’s-granting math departments about 27% were women; among tenured faculty in stats/biostats, the percentage was about 24%. The school I was looking for is a university classified as “Math Private Small”; at this group of 28 departments just under 14% of the full-time tenured faculty are women. This is for 2016. Ugh.

In the back of my mind is the idea that we are doing worse in academia than in other employment sectors, and worse in mathematics than in other fields. Wishful thinking on my part; this report shows otherwise.

Figure 1

Of all science and engineering (S&E) degrees awarded in 2016, women earned about half of bachelor’s degrees, 44% of master’s degrees, and 41% of doctorate degrees, about the same as in 2006. Figure 1 shows that while more women are getting PhDs in mathematics and statistics than were twenty years ago, we are actually doing worse than we were a decade ago. At the bachelor’s degree level, it has been a slow decline.

Even for women who are “making it” in S&E professions, we see salary discrepancies. Among scientists and engineers working full time in 2017, women generally made less than men did. Overall, women’s median annual salary was \$66,000, whereas the median salary for men was \$90,000. In the mathematical sciences, it is \$70,000 and \$81,000, rosier but not exactly a fact of which we should be proud. According to the US Census Bureau, women’s median earnings as a percentage of men’s median earnings was 80.7% in 2017, which is worse than in the mathematical sciences.

What about with minorities? In 2016, underrepresented minority students received 22% of all S&E bachelor’s degrees and 9% of all S&E doctorate degrees. The share of S&E bachelor’s degrees awarded to Hispanics or Latinos has increased over the past 20 years. Over the past two decades, African Americans have seen increased shares of bachelor’s degrees in psychology, social sciences, and biological sciences, but their degree shares have declined slightly in the other fields. Important to us, the share of bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and statistics earned by African Americans declined from 7% to 4%. It is worth noting that the top US baccalaureate institutions of S&E recipients from various groups (2013-2017) are, in this order, Howard University, Spelman College, and Florida A&M University.

According to the Annual Survey, 39 African American men and 14 African American women received PhDs in the mathematical sciences during the period July 1, 2015-June 30, 2016 (the most recent year data are available). This means that African Americans earned roughly 2.7% of math PhDs during that time.

The primary purpose of the report is to serve as a statistical abstract with no endorsement of or recommendations about policies or programs. So what is to be done?

In an ideal world, the demographic of the mathematics community would be closer to that of the US as a whole. What it takes to work toward this will be institution dependent. I urge you to figure out what can be done at your own institution to move the needle, and work with your colleagues to take action. Even small achievements are successes. Awareness is a first step.





Posted in Broadening particpation in STEM, Federal support for science | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Meet the AMS Committee on Science Policy

The AMS has five “policy” committees, which were established in 1993 to correspond to the five major areas in which the mission of the AMS is concentrated: Education, Meetings and Conferences, the Profession, Publications, and Science Policy. Each policy committee provides major direction for AMS activities in its area.

The Committee on Science Policy is one of the five. 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 help set the agenda for the annual meeting, and give logistic and content support throughout the year for the committee’s work.

The Committee meets for two days each spring, 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).[1] Our meeting this year will take place very soon — on April 15 and 16. Typical committee business includes planning for a policy session at the next Joint Mathematics Meeting, visiting Congressional offices (those of CSP member’s Senators and Representatives as well as key committee staff), and discussing AMS policies, programs and activities related to the CSP charge. On occasion, CSP brings statements to the AMS Council; one such recent example is the Policy Statement on Drawing Voting Districts and Partisan Gerrymandering, which was adopted by the Council in 2018.

In addition to the business portion of the meeting, we are looking forward to hearing from a handful of speakers who keep us up to date on legislation and other policies currently under discussion that may impact mathematics, mathematicians, and our students:

Sara Barber is a PhD physicist and professional staff member on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology and on the Subcommittee on Research and Technology.[2] Last year Sara gave a great presentation on the legislative outlook for science for 2018. At that time, her party was the minority party. Following the November election, the Democrats are in the majority and we look forward to hearing a revised version of their priorities for the coming year.

Rush Holt is Chief Executive Officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). He is a PhD physicist and was the U.S. Representative for New Jersey’s 12th congressional district from 1999 to 2015. This is the first time we will hear from him.

Kei Koizumi is the Senior Advisor for Science Policy at the AAAS. He joined AAAS in February 2017 after 8 years in the Obama White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). Kei has been a regular visitor to our meetings, though has not been with us in a few years. He is a great resource on the federal investment in research.

Juan Meza holds a PhD in Computational and Applied Mathematics and is currently Director of the Division of Mathematical Sciences (DMS) at the National Science Foundation. The AMS CSP always has the opportunity to hear from DMS about opportunities.

James Ricci is the 2018-19 AMS Congressional Fellow and is serving in the office of Senator Amy Klobuchar. 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 about her or his work in Congress, and the experience overall in the program.

Francis Slakey, the Chief Government Affairs Officer at the American Physical Society (APS), holds a PhD in physics and, in 2009, became the first person to summit the highest mountain on every continent and surf every ocean. Francis will speak with us about how the APS Government Affairs Office does its work within the society, and linking the society to decision-makers in DC.

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:

  • Terrence Blackman is the Dean of the School of Science, Health, and Technology at Medgar Evers College, CUNY. He has served as Martin Luther King, Jr. Visiting Professor in the Mathematics Department at MIT. His research concerns aspects of the Jacquet-Langlands correspondence, andtouches on the areas of number theory, spectral theory, hyperbolic geometry, and algebra.
  • Jeffrey Brock is Professor of Mathematics and Dean of Science at Yale University. He recently moved from Brown University, where he chaired his department from 2013 to 2017. In 2016 he served as founding Director of Brown’s Data Science Initiative. His research focuses on low dimensional geometry and topology.
  • Edgar Fuller is Distinguished University Professor, Associate Director of the STEM Transformation Institute, and Coordinator of Undergraduate Mathematics Education at Florida International University. He recently spent almost two years as an AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow at the US Department of Homeland Security.
  • Wolfgang Kliemann, Iowa State University, is Interim Associate Dean. He has served as department chair for the Department of Mathematics, Associate Dean for Research for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and as the university’s Associate Vice President for Research. His research focuses on stochastic and deterministic system theory.
  • Francis Su, Benediktsson-Karwa Professor of Mathematics at Harvey Mudd College, is a Past President of the Mathematical Association of America. His research is in geometric combinatorics and applications to the social sciences.
  • Michael Vogelius, Board of Governors Professor at Rutgers University, is the current Chair of the committee. He recently served as Division Director of the Division of Mathematical Sciences at the NSF. His research interests lie in the areas of mathematical analysis, partial differential equations and numerical analysis.
  • Suzanne Weekes, is Professor of Mathematics at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Her research work 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:

  • 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 President and thus sits on the committee.
  • Kenneth Ribet, University of California, Berkeley, is the AMS Immediate 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.
  • Carla Savage, North Carolina State University, is the AMS secretary and thus sits on the committee, as a non-voting member.
  • Joseph Silverman, Brown University, is on the AMS Board of Trustees and represents the board on the committee.
  • Katherine Stevenson, California State University, is the Chair of the Committee on Education and thus sits on the committee.
  • Anthony Várilly-Alvarado, Rice University, is a member of the AMS Council and represents the Council on the committee.

How can you get involved?


[1] CSP meetings are invite only and typically only speakers and committee members are present.

[2] Read more about this committee and why it is important to the mathematical sciences community:

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Why care about the American Association for the Advancement of Science as an early-career mathematician?

Photo courtesy of author.

Editor’s note: Guest columnist Luis Sordo Vieira is a PhD mathematician and Postdoctoral Associate at The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine, a SIAM Science Policy Fellow, and a member of AMS, SIAM, SMB, AACR, and AAAS. I had the pleasure of meeting Luis at the AAAS Annual Meeting in February, and I am so happy he has written this opinion piece about why early career mathematicians should be more engaged with the AAAS.

I received my PhD in 2017 in number theory where I was funded by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. I am now a postdoc working with Dr. Reinhard Laubenbacher on multiscale modeling of disease. I want to share what I see as an underused resource for early-career mathematicians, from the humble perspective of a Latino-American postdoc. That is, I want to share why I think the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the largest general scientific community, is a truly valuable resource for us and why we need to get more involved with the AAAS. I will attempt to break it up into three main sections—1. Science! The reason we all do what we do, 2. Networking, and 3. Advocacy.

To be clear, I write this as an individual citizen and I do not represent any company, institution, association, or entity as I write this. Hence, every nonsense statement is my own fault.

Robots built by high school students at AAAS Annual Meeting. Photo courtesy of author.

Science- I just attended my first AAAS annual meeting in Washington, DC. The AAAS annual meeting felt like the grown-up version of watching the magic school bus! I learned that NASA has a publicly available database of biological experiments done in space! I learned that we can now distribute entangled photons over 1200 kilometers by satellite (Yin et al.), and I learned about The Artificial Pancreas project, a device that delivers insulin to patients as-needed based on mathematical modeling. I heard about the wonderful work of Dr. Kristin Swanson—how she is using mathematical methods to study response in glioblastomas, the same type of cancer that took Senator John McCain’s life in 2018. I saw a talk by the first female CERN director, Dr. Fabiola Gianotti, who taught her audience about the discovery of the God Particle and the importance of international collaboration. I met a fantastic group of people that are interested in the role of science communication. I attended sessions on how to better communicate my research, a skill that surely will help me write better grants and papers. I even went to a session on how to improve my LinkedIn profile! And yes, employers actually do use LinkedIn, so if you don’t have one, make sure you get one. I got to see some robots in action, built by high school students! There were sessions on reproducibility and data-sharing, and even a session to bring your kids to learn science. The AAAS Annual meeting made the science world look bigger than ever.

During the Business Meeting of the Mathematical Section, I got to request scientific sessions I would like to see at the next AAAS meeting. I suggested two that are close to my heart: The Mathematics of Gerrymandering and Mathematics for Social Justice. Furthermore, AAAS offers several webinars, some of which are of direct interest to mathematicians. Their flagship publication, Science, is an incredible resource to learn about current policy issues as well as general science and career advice.

Lastly, I would argue that it is critical to see what sort of science you can contribute to that is interdisciplinary, and/or what sorts of positions are available applying your mathematical and analytical skills outside of traditional math departments.   Interestingly, the Annual Report of the AMS from 2015-2016 (Golbeck et al.) shows that out of the 1,746 new US PhD recipients for which employment is known, 1,449 are currently employed in the US, for which 495 (34%) of them end up in Business and Industry and 70 of them are in Government (5%). Thus, it is not at all unlikely that you will end up outside of a math department. The reality is that getting a tenure-track position at a research institution is becoming more difficult. Thus, attending the AAAS annual meeting and reading general science magazines, such as Science and Nature, will give insight into the kinds of positions that will use your skills. I truly believe that the training as a mathematician will allow you to work effectively in several different roles. However, you must not be passive, waiting for opportunities to happen. Be proactive, and expose yourself to the larger science community. I would be willing to argue that mathematics departments across the country should encourage their students to attend general scientific meetings. Not only will this benefit the students, but a mathematics community more connected with the larger scientific community will benefit the mathematics community itself.

Networking– Within three days at the AAAS annual meeting, I met Dr. Deborah Lockhart, the Deputy Assistant Director of the Assistant Director for Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the NSF, Dr. James Crowley, Executive Director at SIAM, Dr. Jennifer Pearl, the Director for the AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowship (if you don’t know about this program, take a break from this blog and go look at it!) and Dr. Karen Saxe, Director of The AMS Office of Government Relations. To be clear, when I say meet, I mean I had one-on-one conversations with them about what I want and need as a young mathematician. I even got the chance to personally thank Dr. France Cordova, Director of the NSF, for the service that the NSF provides graduate students through their Graduate Research Fellowship Program. I met several scientists working in diverse areas of science. As transdisciplinary collaborations are becoming increasingly valuable to funding organizations and science as a whole, this is a perk that is incredibly valuable for today’s science world. I also got the chance to meet several postdocs that now work in the federal government through the Science and Technology Policy Fellowship program. I was thoroughly impressed by the posts that these fellows now hold. I will give two examples, although I met several others. Dr. Anita Burgos works in the office of Senator Tina Smith (D-MN) and helps her draft legislation. Dr. Zulmarie Perez Horta is a Program Officer at the NIH. Both of these fantastic scientists now have an excellent background on how the federal government works, an outstanding understanding of the grant process, and an incredible ability to communicate. These are transferable skills for any job that you might want in the future.

White House science adviser Kelvin Droegemeier gave his inaugural public address at the 2019 AAAS Annual Meeting. Credit: AAAS, Robb Cohen Photography & Video.

Advocacy– Lastly, I wanted to talk about what I believe to be one of the most significant and important perks of the AAAS. We live in a world where facts are often confounded with opinions and feelings. We feel the pressure of existential problems for our generation—climate change, measles outbreaks, discriminatory usage of AI, etc. It is critical for scientists to stand up for what we believe. Through our training, we have the analytical expertise to dispel myths, to explain the difference between correlation and causation and to understand and explain p-hacking. We have the ability to literally create new math. Our training has led us to develop skills that can literally save the world. It is here that I ask for your help. The AAAS offers significant resources for science advocacy. Critically, AAAS has over 120,000 members, many of whom are actively participating in science advocacy. Not too long ago, I went to a talk by Dr. Jeff Hasty at UCSD on engineering genetic clocks through the principle of quorum sensing. Loosely speaking, quorum sensing is when a population reacts once a certain threshold of numbers of members is reached. To me, the principle of quorum sensing applies to science advocacy, and thus why the number of members of the AAAS is a significant resource. The AAAS offers several tangible resources on science advocacy, policy and communication. This includes several workshops for communication, a communications tool-kit, fellowships to participate in science policy at the federal level (one of these co-sponsored by the AMS), fellowships to advance the public knowledge of science, and a workshop for graduate students to learn about policy and advocacy. The AMS sponsors math graduate students and faculty for these fellowships and the Office of Government Relations website gives application and deadline information as well as about former fellows that their experiences.

Several extremely influential mathematicians came to me after the meeting and expressed how much they value my opinion. My voice was heard at the table, and yours should be heard too. You know what is best for your future, your training, and opportunities that will help you advance. I suggest all young mathematicians attempt to take an active role in the decision-making processes in our scientific societies. We know how we best receive information and process it (I get a lot of my information through the usage of social media, don’t you?). We know that not all of us want to pursue a traditional path in a mathematics department, and hence, we would like alternative training and skills that are readily transferable. Previous generations are willing to listen, and we are willing to speak. Will you join me?

Posted in Advocacy, Communicating Mathematics, Graduate students | Tagged | 3 Comments

Mathematical Sciences and the NSF Big Ideas

Editor’s note: Guest columnist Juan Meza is the Division Director of the NSF’s Division of Mathematical Sciences. Immediately before joining the NSF, he served as Dean of the School of Natural Sciences at the University of California, Merced.

In 2016, the National Science Foundation proposed ten new activities called the 10 Big Ideas. These were intended to be “long-term research and process ideas that identify areas for future investment at the frontiers of science and engineering.” The Big Ideas also represented “unique opportunities to position our Nation at the cutting edge – indeed to define that cutting edge – of global science and engineering leadership”. Three of those activities should be of particular interest to the mathematics community: Harnessing the Data Revolution (HDR), Quantum Leap, and Understanding the Rules of Life. Each of these Big Ideas has a planned budget of \$30M per year for five years. In total, these three activities represent a \$450 million investment from NSF and therefore represent an excellent opportunity for fundamental research. In this article, I would like to present a brief introduction to one of the Big Ideas and suggest some ways for mathematical scientists to engage in these activities.

Harnessing the Data Revolution

The activity that I’ll discuss is called Harnessing the Data Revolution, which seeks to establish theoretical, technical, and ethical frameworks that will be applied to tackle data-intensive problems in science and engineering. Based on several trends over the past 10 years, this activity will use insights gained from data to transform science and engineering and contribute to data-driven decision-making that impacts society. The HDR vision has five interrelated efforts:

  • Foundations of data science;
  • Frameworks, algorithms, and systems for data science;
  • Data-intensive science and engineering;
  • Data cyberinfrastructure; and
  • Education and workforce development.

One component of HDR that the mathematics community is already involved in is the Transdisciplinary Research in Principles of Data Science (TRIPODS) program that is part of the first effort in foundations of data science. In 2017, NSF funded 12 new Phase I institutes across the country ( press release). This program encourages teams of mathematicians, statisticians, and computer scientists to develop the foundations of data science. We anticipate having two phases for this program with a solicitation for larger Phase II proposals in the future.  Based on feedback from the community and the popularity of the original round of awards, NSF decided to support a second round of Phase I awards.  This new round of awards has the same underlying structure, but with an additional feature of including researchers in electrical engineering.

Another new component of the HDR Big Idea will be a set of Institutes for Data-Intensive Science and Engineering.  This activity will seek to create an integrated set of institutes that can accelerate discovery and innovation in multiple areas of data-intensive science and engineering. The goal will be to harness diverse data sources and develop and apply new methodologies, technologies, and infrastructure for data management and analysis. The HDR Institutes will also support convergence between science and engineering research communities, data science expertise in foundations and applications, and systems and cyberinfrastructure. In addition, we envision that the HDR Institutes will enable breakthroughs in science and engineering through collaborative, co-designed programs to formulate innovative data-intensive approaches to address critical national problems.

HDR Institutes will also be developed through a two-phase process involving a conceptualization phase followed by a convergence phase. The conceptualization phase will be implemented in 2019 via two complementary funding opportunities. The first opportunity will encourage individuals with compelling science problems and/or technical expertise to self-organize into teams with the aim of developing innovative, collaborative research proposals through an IDEAS Lab process.

Ideas Labs are based on a British model called Sandpits, which has been around since the early 2000s. Several groups at NSF have used this mechanism as a way to bring together individual PIs to form proposals that address challenging scientific problems. The Ideas Labs themselves will take place in May over the course of a week. Groups will be formed from the applicants to the program based on the skills each person brings to the workshop. Each group will work together to study the designated challenge and to generate novel ideas for research proposals. Ideas Labs are especially suited to individuals who are willing to step outside of their particular area of interest or expertise, enjoy creative activity, can think innovatively, and are open to, or seeking, new collaborations.   Successful teams will be invited to submit a full conceptualization proposal pursuant to the solicitation.

The second opportunity will encourage applications from teams of researchers proposing a framework for an integrated set of science and engineering problems and data science solutions. The conceptualization process will result in two-year awards aimed at building communities, defining research priorities, and developing interdisciplinary prototype solutions. The subsequent convergence and co-design phase will be implemented in the 2021 timeframe with awards that integrate and scale successful prototypes and new ideas into larger, more comprehensive institutes that bring together multiple science and engineering communities with computer and computational scientists, mathematicians, and statisticians around common data science approaches.

For more information on the HDR Big Ideas please visit:

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Which Members of Congress have a say over the NSF?

Another shutdown has been avoided. Science did well in the final deal, and this includes \$8.1 billion for the NSF for the fiscal year 2019 (FY2019); this is the first time the NSF has received appropriations over \$8 billion and marks a 4% increase over last year. Negotiations for fiscal year 2020 have begun, and we expect the president’s proposal in mid-March (the first step in the process). You can read about how the annual “appropriations” works at the AMS Government Relations website.

The recent partial government shutdown rudely reminds us that the NSF is part of the government and, therefore, subject to its whims. “Huge” whims these days.

You might wonder:

  • Which Senators and Representatives have the most say over how much money the NSF has to give out in grants?
  • Can members of Congress tell NSF how to spend their funds and thus determine the direction of NSF-funded research?
  • Can we trust them to make decisions about the research trajectory for the country?

There are scientifically trained people in Congress, and on November 18, 2018 I wrote about the newly elected members who have some background in STEM fields. [Note that in that piece I overlooked at least one new member with a science background—Jim Baird (IN 4) has a PhD in Animal Science Monogastric Nutrition.] Roughly 5% of the current congressional members have STEM backgrounds, and about 10% of the new members. 

It is not necessarily those individuals who make decisions about the NSF or about the US science enterprise more broadly.

Congressional members can introduce legislation on any topic they want; they are most easily able to introduce legislation and promote policies through the committees on which they serve. Scientifically trained congressional members might well want to serve on the committees overseeing the NSF and other science agencies, but committee membership is subject to rules, is by rank and status, and members—especially newly elected members—might not get their desired committee assignments.

Digression: In November, we elected nine new Senators and 92 new members to the House (this is the “freshman class”). All 435 seats in the House were up for grabs, as were 35 Senate seats (all House seats and one-third of the Senate seats are up for election every two years). In the Senate, 32 incumbents ran, and five of them lost. Republicans gained seats and now have a majority of 53 (up from 51). Different story in the House, where Democrats took control and now hold 235 seats (with one seat, NC 9, still undecided as of this writing). You may know this already and can read about the election results for Senate and House all over the web. You can read interesting factets about the demographics of the freshman class, too. For example, for the first time ever we have Congressional members (in fact, we now have 2) who are female and Muslim; one—Ilhan Omar—is from my home state of Minnesota. And, while we are on the topic of the great state of Minnesota, it is the only state left with a divided state legislature (Democrats control the state House and Republicans the state Senate). Oh, and while we are on state legislatures, for the first time in US history a state has a legislature that is majority female (Nevada)!

Back to Congress and the NSF………

The NSF was signed into law in 1950 and its funding is renewed each year by Congress, through the annual appropriations process. There are four congressional committees with power over the NSF—the “appropriating” and “authorizing” committees for each of the House and Senate. The Appropriations Committees—specifically, the Subcommittees on Commerce, Science and Justice in each chamber—decide how much money the NSF receives each year. This money is in turn awarded to scientists to support their research through grants. The NSF is the only federal agency that funds research broadly, without an “mission driven” agenda. The majority of funding for mathematicians working in academia that comes from the federal government comes from the NSF. For FY2018, the NSF received $7.8 billion. This is up over 2017, but (still) less than the amount appropriated in 2010 and arguably not what the US needs to remain global leaders in scientific discovery and education. I work with decision-makers to provide increased and sustained funding for the NSF.

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 Subcommittee on Science, Oceans, Fisheries, and Weather. [Note: if you are wonky about this sort of thing, yes, some of these are new. In particular, the Senate CST reconfigured its subcommittees in January.]

To review, or put in a more visually-easing format, the four committees I am talking (uh, writing) about right now are:

SubcommitteeOf what committee?ChamberPower
Commerce, Science and JusticeAppropriations CommitteeSenateAppropriating
Commerce, Science and JusticeAppropriations CommitteeHouseAppropriating
Science, Oceans, Fisheries, and WeatherCommittee on Commerce, Science and TransportationSenateAuthorizing
Research and Technology Committee on Science, Space, and TechnologyHouseAuthorizing

The authorization committees provide guidance about how the NSF spends and manages their appropriated amount. In January 2017, just as he was leaving office, President Obama signed into law the most recent NSF authorizing law—the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act.  To give you an idea of what sort of things are in such an authorization law, the Republicans had been pushing for Congress to have the power to determine how much money goes to each research area supported by the NSF. That is, they were pushing to fund the NSF “by directorate.” Due, in part, to efforts by scientists reaching out to their members of Congress and the concerted efforts of scientific society government relations staff, this particular provision did not succeed in making it to the final law, and leaves (at least for the time being, especially with the Democrats in charge in the House again) the NSF to determine for itself how to distribute funds among research areas.[1]

It is arguably important that members of the mathematics community know who sits on these committees. (Why? members of congress pay particular attention to their own constituents and if yours are listed below in any of the tables, you can play a bigger role informing them about the importance of basic research as funded by the NSF). Appropriations committees are powerful and membership on these committees is sought by many members of Congress.[2] Here are the current members of each of these four committees:

Subcommittee on Commerce, Science and Justice (of the Senate Appropriations Committee)
Chair Jerry Moran (KS)
Ranking member Jeanne Shaheen (NH)
Republican membersDemocratic members
Lamar Alexander (TN)
Lisa Murkowski (AK)
Susan Collins (ME)
Lindsey Graham (SC)
John Boozman (AR)
Shelley Moore Capito (WV)
John Kennedy (LA)
Marco Rubio (FL)
Patrick Leahy (VT)
Dianne Feinstein (CA)
Jack Reed (RI)
Christopher Coons (DE)
Brian Schatz (HI)
Joe Manchin (WV)
Chris Van Hollen (MD)
Subcommittee on Commerce, Science and Justice (of the House Appropriations Committee)
Chair José Serrano (NY 15)
Ranking member Robert Alderholt (AL 4)
Republican membersDemocratic members
Martha Roby (AL 2)
Steve Palazzo (MS 4)
Tom Graves (GA 9)
Matt Cartwright (PA 8)
Grace Meng (NY 6)
Brenda Lawrence (MI 14)
Charlie Crist (FL 13)
Ed Case (HI 1)
Marcy Kaptur (OH 9)
Nita Lowey (NY 17)
Subcommittee on Science, Oceans, Fisheries, and Weather (of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation)
Chair Cory Gardner (CO)
Ranking Member Tammy Baldwin (WI)
Republican membersDemocratic members
Ted Cruz (TX)
Ron Johnson (WI)
Rick Scott (FL)
Dan Sullivan (AK)
Roger Wicker (MS)
Richard Blumenthal (CT)
Gary Peters (MI)
Brian Schatz (HI)
Maria Cantwell (WA)
Subcommittee on Research and Technology (of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology)
Chair Haley Stevens (MI 11)
Ranking member Jim Baird (IN 4)
Republican membersDemocratic members
Roger Marshall (KS 1)
Neal Dunn (FL 2)
Troy Balderson (OH 12)
Anthony Gonzalez (OH 16)
Dan Lipinski (IL 3)
Mikie Sherrill (NJ 11)
Brad Sherman (CA 30)
Paul Tonko (NY 20)
Ben McAdams (UT 4)
Steve Cohen (TN 9)
Bill Foster (IL 11)

One interesting note here is that Congresswoman Stevens is a freshman. In fact, four out of the five subcommittees of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology are being chaired by freshman. This could be a strategic move to let these newly elected members of Congress show their constituents at home that they are active in areas that they campaigned on, as opposed to only following the lead of party leadership.

The whole committees, of which these are subcommittees, are also important for us, and committee membership is easy to find at the websites of the full committees.

There are, of course, other congressional committees with jurisdiction over matters of concern to many mathematicians. For example, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee considers matters related to open access, and the House Education and Labor Committee covers topics ranging from workforce training to student financial aid in higher education to improving employment conditions for contingent faculty.

If you would like to reach out to your Congressional delegation, please refer to the resources on the AMS Office of Government Relations webpage. Topics you might want to discuss with your members of Congress include: the importance of fundamental research in mathematics; your own grants and how important federal funding is for you and your students; policies that support the global mathematics enterprise; the important role of mathematics in all STEM education; and broadening participation by women and under-represented minorities in our field.

[1] For much more on the Democrats’ priorities for the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, see:

[2] Each of the House and Senate have rules for how committee assignments are made, the structure of each committee, how many committees each member can sit on, etc. These rules are updated and evolve with each new Congress; each chamber has a website with explanation:
This site is also informative:

Posted in Congress, Federal support for science, National Science Foundation | Tagged , | Leave a comment