The Washington Office – A Primer

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

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

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

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

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

How do we do this work?

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

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

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

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

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

About Karen Saxe

Karen Saxe is Director of the AMS Office of Government Relations which works to connect the mathematics community with Washington decision-makers who affect mathematics research and education. Over many years she has contributed much time to the AMS, MAA, and AWM, including service as vice president of the MAA and in policy and advocacy work with all three. She was the 2013-2014 AMS Congressional Fellow, working for Senator Al Franken on education issues, with focus on higher education and STEM education. In Minnesota she has served on the Citizens Redistricting Commission following the 2010 census and serves on the Common Cause Minnesota Redistricting Leadership Circle. She has three children and, when not at work especially enjoys being with them and reading, hiking and sharing good food and wine and beer with family and friends.
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